Unlearning toxic tropes about women/femininity

We’ve probably all (women included) had to do this at some point in our lives.

What toxic tropes did you believe in? (Spoiler if particularly toxic.)
How did you pick them up?
How did you unlearn them?

Not a shaming thread or an opportunity for self-flagellation - just reflective discussion.

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I very much bought into the tropes of ‘not being like other girls’, being particularly competitive against women (I haven’t fully unlearned that one yet) and seeing other women as a threat.

It’s largely because of going to an all girls’ school, which can be highly competitive and toxic for establishing healthy relationships with other women. I probably didn’t really start to roll back on that until I was in my mid 20s and started really cherishing my friendships with women particularly in work environments. DiS has been a massive influence for me in recognising unhealthy/misogynistic patterns of behaviour.

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This is a great idea for a thread @TheBarbieMovie2023 !

The first thing that comes to mind for me is the ‘I’m not like other girls’ stance that many of us have probably taken or espoused at some point, I know I did when I was in my 20s and it makes me cringe a bit now! The patriarchy survives by separating women and girls and of course positions what men think as important. Such a statement is often a rejection of stereotypically feminine traits and reinforces the idea that to be female is less than (and reinforces gender stereotypes).

(Edit: haha we made the same point, @TheBarbieMovie2023 )

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Just was generally brought up to believe that it was better to have male friends than women and that women caused drama (absolutely staggering this one when what’s actually happening is something awful happens to them, usually at the hands of a man and they speak out about it and everyone is like look drama, see I told you). Also stuff like not thinking women were as funny as men, that feminism was something to eye roll at etc.

Basically everything I ever learned about women was toxic, everything. I can’t really believe how I was brought up constantly being told or shown in some subtle way that people like me were worthless and the only way to evade that definition myself was to make unfulfilling friendships with men just for the sake of distancing myself from other women. Which in turn led to me heavily using sex as validation and sleeping with lots of people I wish I hadn’t.

I can see how difficult it must be for a lot of people, especially men and especially those who don’t leave the small towns where this attitude is rife, to ever unlearn this stuff. I’m so thankful that I unlearned all of this and love and value women and myself but there is so much work to do.

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Definitely!! I spent so much time sneering at ‘girly’ things and acting like I was so superior when really it was a mix of ingrained misogyny and defensiveness in response to being a laughing stock to SOME of the girls at school. In reality, most of them were probably fine and there was a lot of immaturity all around. (There was some genuinely nasty behaviour, but then I did the same to someone else. Probably the worst thing was being roundly mocked in PE, that’s still got repercussions now, but it was facilitated by teachers.)

I definitely don’t buy into girlboss stuff that no woman can ever be an arsehole - and I would still never, ever go to a school reunion - but if I have a strongly negative reaction, I do try to ask myself if my aversion is based on internal misogyny.

I have an equal number of male/female friends (I’m not sure if any of my friends identify as NB) and while my male friends are awesome allies and can be incredibly perceptive and caring, it’s very much something they’ve had to work on, and feels a lot more innate from my girlfriends. There are some things that come easier, and not (insticntively) having the barrier of envy is a blessing when it means you can truly celebrate friends’ successes and cheer them on. Compliments generally flow more easily/naturally too in my female friendships.

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Here are some of the things I learned from just the women in my family:

  • Young women should have long hair as when you’re older you have to have short hair, so you should make the most of it
  • If you have a large bum or thighs, you shouldn’t wear patterns or light colours otherwise you will draw too much attention to your bottom half, which is bad (Sweaty Betty leggings helped me to unlearn this one)
  • No one wants to buy the cow if they get the milk for free (couldn’t believe it when my husband said he’d never heard this saying, but then again I found out the other day he’d never heard the song Steal My Sunshine by Len so I think we had quite different upbringings - like, I played it to him and his face was just blank)
  • My sneezes are too unladylike and it’s not attractive - in fact, women should suppress all bodily functions apart from daintily announcing that you’re off to the ladies if you are desperate for the loo
  • Every little girl should want a dollhouse (so when I didn’t I was seen as a strange child)
  • If you don’t like metallic jewellery there is something sad and wrong with you and you have to learn to like it
  • If you don’t dress and act more feminine then boys won’t like you (I learned this wasn’t true when I was a teenager and it helped me start to learn that all the other stuff was bullshit too)
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So many rules :grimacing: To add to that I wasn’t allowed to whistle as it wasn’t ladylike either, and obviously never sit with your legs even slightly open even as a kid, even if you’re wearing trousers, even if it’s the only way that feels comfortable.

I still battle the long hair thing with my mum, anytime I cut M’s hair my mum says loudly in front of M who loves her hair, how it’s awful but at least it’ll grow back. Absolutely not having any of that toxic BS but it’s so hard to broach as this is such an ingrained belief in my mum that she can’t even see how ridiculous it is or how remarking on it is so hurtful

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Ooh another one: my older sister told me that if I didn’t want to take my husband’s name when we got married then maybe I didn’t love him as much as she loved her partner, which I just found sad for her tbh rather than feeling chastised, and anyway now she’s wondering if she should have kept her name cos she’s not a big fan of how her married name sounds so I’m chalking that up as her hopefully unlearning something toxic

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Interesting what you say about going to an all-girls school @TheBarbieMovie2023. I did too, but I don’t think it was super competitive - it was quite a supportive environment I think. Being around people who worked hard/were exceptionally bright spurred me on a bit I think. Funnily enough my husband would say I’m super competitive (but that’s a family trait to an extent) and I do sometimes (often??) feel I’ve not fulfilled my potential so maybe some of that academic/social pressure has lingered on. There are only two people from school that I felt I had any kind of competition/rivalry/“beef” with. One I still have a visceral reaction to when she pops up on other people’s social media and I don’t even remember why now, just that after 20 years it is so ingrained in me. The other sadly died of bowel cancer a few years ago and I think prior to that had struggled to find her niche in life which I had a lot of sympathy for, so the animosity dissipated.

Probably a bit off topic there but the single sex school thing is interesting, people seemed to either love it or hate it.

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Can’t think of anything really specific but definitely had loads of preconceptions and anxieties around women which probably had a lot to do with going to an all boys school and not really having any close female friends in my early teens.

Luckily through sixth form and uni I always had a pretty mixed group of friends including close, platonic friendships with women.

Occasionally you’d have direct stuff, getting called out by a friend for something and learning that the ‘it’s just a joke’ response is weak as fuck. But more it was an indirect thing of living with women and gaining some perspective.

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Not sitting ladylike I had a problem about for years. Even now I instinctually reach for a cushion to cover my lap when I sit on a sofa. The fact that I have fat thighs means I’ve never been able to sit cross-legged and when I was younger it caused me a lot of shame, especially when (cw: transphobia) boys at my school would joke “look, ‘she’s’ got balls under there”

also cw fatphobia: I was told by all of my family that my only worth to men was to be sexually attractive and because I was fat I was going to be worthless and lonely unless I lost it. Sadly they ended up kinda being right.

I think I deffo signed up to the not like other girls thing, in part because I wanted to be useful and interesting to men so they wouldn’t just discount me if they didn’t fancy me?

Another silly thing that I mentioned to my mum the other day, was when I put up a poster of Eternal in my room along with all the ones of Leo and Paul Nicholls and whoever, and she told me to take it down because “girls shouldn’t have posters of other girls on their walls”?! She didn’t remember it and was like “that’s really stupid, why did I say that?”

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I definitely think it’s luck of the draw. The year group below me seemed to have a much more friendly and less hierarchical group of girls, generally my friends in that year group enjoyed school more and didn’t have those intense bitter feelings about their peers. We had a form group in which all the bitchiest girls were clustered (and everyone who wasn’t part of that moved form group).

My form group were kind of B-group popular. They were mean in the first few years but mostly sound by the time we went into sixth form. I really projected my feelings from one group (and most groups earlier on at school) onto everyone. I would never feel comfortable going to a reunion though as it would bring back too many anxieties.

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Oh god, the Eternal thing has reminded me of the constant and not at all subtle CW: homophobia ‘lesbians are disgusting’ messaging my mum drilled into me growing up. Why would anyone have kids and be like ‘ok, off the bat if you grow up to be this this or this then you are vile’

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Oh god I’ve had a (less intense) version of the fatphobia stuff in the last year or two from my parents :grimacing:

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cw: homophobia, racism My parents were of the “gays are fine but as long as you’re not one of them” thing going on, to the point where I was worried for a while I’d instinctually closeted myself and didn’t realise I was in fact gay. They also made it very clear they’d prefer it if I married someone white, which I’ve told them is completely unreasonable and whoever I bring home they will just have to deal with it. Although it does make me feel like if I met someone who wasn’t white, why would I put them in that situation, you know?

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One that comes to mind is the suggestion that women are uncourageous / cowardly through the whole equation of testicles and courage in the English language. It’s still so prevalent not just in older generations but our own. And I still hear it said by people who are relatively progressive on gender issues - it’s such an ingrained concept in our society that the ridiculousness of it doesn’t even seem to register for most.

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I used to get it too, my mum still doesn’t really believe that my husband likes my body as she can’t get her head around the idea that someone might be attracted to someone over size 12. Honestly feel so sad for her that she has never managed to unlearn all the awful stuff she learned and then pushed on me and my siblings, I think she really feels like she’s helping us by being so concerned about how we should be so people will like us. I think I’m still unlearning some of it myself.

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Absolutely, this all resonates with me so much. I do wonder how we managed to not uphold these beliefs ourselves when they were the regular narrative growing up.

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One that I pick up on a lot (mostly on TV but also in person, sadly) because of my partner is the “psycho gf” trope. Basically when a woman does something “calculated” or “measured” with respect to her relationships.

Doesn’t even have to be men at the centre either - the recent-ish Colleen Rooney stuff springs to mind, and basically everything Meghan Markle does. I guess that’s the unlearning aspect here: noticing that it’s not just a trope applied to women hanging onto men they’ve broken up with or whatever, it’s far more deeply ingrained in lots of other facets of life

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When they found out I wasn’t taking my husbands name my father in law suggested I wasn’t committed to the relationship and my m-i-l asked me why I’d even wanted to get married. We’d been together about 10 years (and married for a week) just so utterly wtf.

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