Internalized Sexism / Internalized Misogyny

When I Doubt Myself and other women
challenging internalized sexism / internalized misogyny

Internalized sexism is defined as the involuntary belief by girls and women that the lies, stereotypes and myths about girls and women that are delivered to everyone in a sexist society ARE TRUE. Girls and women, boys and men hear the sexist messages (lies and stereotypes) about women over their entire lifetimes. They hear that women are stupid, weak, passive, manipulative, with no capacity for intellectual pursuits or leadership.

There are two logical, predictable consequences of a lifetime of such messages. First, boys / men will grow to believe many of the messages, and treat women accordingly. They will be thoroughly indoctrinated into their role in sexism, protecting their male privilege by colluding with the perpetuation of sexism.

But there is a second logical consequence – the same messages also stick to girls and women, resulting in internalized sexism / internalized misogyny. Women and girls are taught to act out the lies and stereotypes, doubting themselves and other females (sometimes called “horizontal hostility.”) This is the way women collude with the perpetuation of sexism.

For the sexist system to be maintained and passed on to the next generation, we all must believe the messages (lies and stereotypes) to some degree, and collude with sexism by performing our assigned roles.

Most progressive, non-profit organizations, whether in human services or social change, recognize that their mission cannot be completely fulfilled until all forms of oppression (racism, sexism, heterosexism, classism, ableism, anti-Semitism, et al) are addressed. Many of these same organizations, however, do not recognize the forms of internalized oppression that interfere with accomplishing their missions.

Women’s organizations, in particular, must take conscious action to recognize, acknowledge and interrupt internalized sexism / internalized misogyny as it affects individual women and the organization as a whole.

This workshop encourages women to recognize and examine the harmful impact of a lifetime of sexist messages on their own self image, as well as their attitudes toward other women. Exercises and skills are offered to affirm women, women’s skills and to challenge internalized sexism, in our own lives, for girls in our lives, and in our women’s organizations.

Sample Objectives

  • To provide a framework and common language for genuine dialogue about sexism and internalized sexism, and to create an environment which encourages such dialogue.
  • To clarify the historical, political and social context for sexism and violence against women in the U. S.
  • To probe the reality and daily experience of sexism and internalized sexism for women in U. S. America.
  • To identify concrete examples of internalized sexism in the lives of girls and women.
  • To identify concrete examples of internalized sexism within institutional structures and programs.
  • To develop attitudes and tools for interrupting internalized sexism – personally and organizationally.
  • To examine the interconnections of sexism and racism, and the negative impact internalized sexism has on anti-racist action by women.
  • To offer individual participants opportunities to deepen their own awareness and understanding of sexism, and their commitment to gender justice.
  • To develop specific leadership skills and relevant strategies for challenging internalized sexism.


  • One to two days, unlimited number of participants, one or two facilitators.
  • Women only.
  • Both days are interactive and experiential.
  • A variety of teaching/learning modalities is used: small groups, fishbowls, interactive exercises, caucuses, lecture, graphics, music, poetry, and journaling.
  • Includes handouts and a personal journal.
  • The focus is on the personal impact of sexism and internalized sexism.

Intended Outcomes

Upon successful completion of the INTERNALIZED SEXISM WORKSHOP participants will:

  • be familiar with language and a framework related to the historical, political and social realities of sexism in the United States.
  • define internalized sexism, and distinguish between internalized misogyny and internalized male supremacy.
  • explore examples of internalized sexism in their own lives and the lives of other women and girls.
  • begin to identify examples of internalized sexism in organizational structures, policies and programs.
  • identify and nurture attitudes and actions to counteract the impact of internalized sexism for adult women and reduce its recycling to future generations of girls.
  • have created a personal bond with one or several other participants with the potential for future collaboration.
  • leave the workshop with a tangible plan of action for themselves in their organizational role.


The “When I Doubt Myself and other women” workshop offers women an intense, personal and interactive experience with opportunities to examine, question and challenge the harmful impact of a lifetime of sexist, misogynist messages on their own self image and their attitudes toward other women. Exercises and skills are offered to affirm women, women’s skills and to confront internalized sexism.

No woman, or women’s organization, can avoid the challenges presented by internalized sexism. Internalized sexism is defined, at its most basic level, as “the involuntary belief BY women and girls that the sexist lies, stereotypes and myths ABOUT them are true.” Some of the results of this involuntary internalization process are self-doubt, self-hate, self-censorship, plus doubt or mistrust of and competition with other women. Internalized sexism results in women’s collusion with sexism and male supremacy.

Internalized sexism, or more accurately its fraternal twins: internalized misogyny and internalized male supremacy, have thoroughly taught women two key lies. First, women are not completely competent, trustworthy, or capable of “real” leadership, and second, men are.

There can be devastating consequences for individual women and women’s organizations who do not challenge internalized sexism.

Organizations who have sponsored this workshop:

Sample Non-Profit Sponsors:

  • Community Against Violence (Domestic & Sexual Violence program)
  • Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape / National Sexual Violence Resource Center
  • YWCA Regional Northeast and Heartland Regional Councils
  • YWCA of Lancaster, PA
  • Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival (1998 – 2011)

Sample Emergency Service Organization Sponsors:

  • London Fire Brigade
  • International Women in Fire and Emergency Services (2001 – 2009)
  • Tulsa Fire Department
  • Virginia Progressive Firefighters Association
  • Alexandria (VA) Fire Department

Gender Justice Programs

How blessed we are to have these women with us, and what challenges they’ve given and awakened in us to be more purposeful and act with intent – and not with our heads in the sand.

—state sexual assault coalition

This was such a revitalization for the “empowering women” work we do.

—Internalized misogyny workshop participant

The focus on internalized sexism helped me understand the concept and how it affects my opinions, perceptions and the way I deal with others.

—YWCA participant