To the women who bent my reflection: How internalized misogyny creates toxic relationships among women
I, too, was like you. In other women, I saw competition, not sisterhood.
by Ashley Nkadi
This essay contains a brief discussion of sexual violence
To the women who turned a gala honoring my work as an activist into a conversation about how “inappropriately” I was dressed, or rather, how “inappropriately” my full-length dress held my curves: You are no friend.
To the women who were even quicker than men to undress me with their eyes, making me feel naked and uncomfortable when they finished their assessments with words of discontent about my clothing choice: You are no sister of mine.
To the women who have leapt to slut-shame me, pointing out my cleavage as an indicator of my own self-hatred, who have humiliated me, who have made me feel ashamed and inadequate: You are no feminist.
It is an awe-inspiring conundrum, women who hate other women. Because when women police other women, we are doing the work of the oppressor. We are but little complicit puppets, propagating the imperialist, white-supremacist, capitalist patriarchy. Don’t you know that when you hurt me, you hurt yourself?
The respectability politics you project onto me are a reflection of your own internalized misogyny, not of my lack of worth.
But before you bent my reflection, someone bent yours. They taught you to be soft and docile, to deny yourself and suppress your power. They taught you to always give and to never get. To feed society from your own bosom, remaining un-thanked and unnoticed. To slowly, but surely become nothing and no one as you magnify those around you, all in the name of a culture that rapes us and tells us that it is our own fault. In turn, you passed this on to the next woman, who passed it on to the next woman, who passed it on to me.
To the women who tried to make me loathe myself: You are no feminist. But you can be. There is a pattern we must break among women who have hated other women. I, too, was like you. In other women, I saw competition, not sisterhood.
At a young age I had an intensely toxic friend group, one in which only one person could be lifted up, and the cost of that elevation was the diminishing of all other members. Like a see-saw, we vacillated, selling our souls to rise, even for a fleeting moment, as the others fell.
It was like a dance. We moved to the rhythm of making another feel uncomfortable in her body in order to gain confidence in our own. We tapped to the beats of sabotage and negativity. It was a tiring tango. Every day we left our dance circle exhausted, only to return the next morning and start all over again.
We were like fighters in their final rounds, badly bruised with barely enough energy to take another swing, and though we staggered and moved sluggishly around one another, each of us refused to give in.
We became so weary. Not just from our offense, but from our defense. We pored over ourselves, picking out any minor defect in ourselves before another could beat us to it. We refused to confide in one another about personal matters for fear it may be a set-up to solicit information that might be used against us. It was hell, this cycle, but it was the price of a moment in the sun.
Soon, the price became too high. The group learned that one of our members had recently been raped. She wanted to impress us by hooking up with an older guy – one that could drive. I remember watching her drive off if the car with him, jealousy rising in my bones, wishing I had thought of the idea first. That same week, it was revealed that another member had developed an eating disorder, purging her food in order to avoid the weight jabs we would lob at her.
Following these discoveries, the six of us had an emergency sleepover. That night was a powerful revival and critical restoration of our sisterhood. And as I held my friends whom I had both graciously loved and bitterly hated, Malcolm X’s words rang in my head: “Who taught you to hate yourself from the top of your head to the soles of your feet? Who taught you to hate your own kind?”
These women were me, and I them. You see, we didn’t hate each other. Not really. Society taught us to hate ourselves, and instead of rallying together and spitting in its face, we destroyed one another, which didn’t help any of us win. In the words of Audre Lorde, “the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.”
So, women who have hated other women, please take heed. When you come across another woman, support her. Give her love and light. Nurture her talents and guide her path. Make it your duty to fight for her.
Do not force respectability politics on other her. Do not police her clothing choices. Do not criticize her size, sexuality, beauty, intelligence, or worth. Because a reflection can only bend so much before it breaks.
I’m Ashley Nkadi. I love God, my mama, being Bliggity Black, Gucci Mane, cheese, potatoes, and eyebrow maintenance. In that order. Feel free to read more about me at www.ashleynkadi.com!