Sexist backlash directed toward Lauren Boebert and Marjorie Taylor Greene forces feminists to confront a challenging reality: our own internalized misogyny.
Everyday social media presents us with unlimited buffet of hot takes, click-bait and viral moments. As we scroll, each of us has the choice to read passively or engage by commenting, debating or recirculating posts that provoke our passions. Not only does our choice to interact sometimes force us to exercise self-control and judiciousness, but we also regularly grapple with the deeper politics of our social media activity.
Sometimes the echoes of consensus within our social media bubbles actually give us a false sense of righteousness—the feeling that we can say whatever we want as long as we land on our chosen side of the political divide. But, in our rush to pile on and prove our political bona fides, we run the risk of perpetuating the very injustices and systems we seek to dismantle.
In recent weeks, I’ve witnessed this tension play out across social media when it comes to critiques of the two newest right-wing women to join the U.S. House of Representatives: Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.) and Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.). Since taking office in early January, these two women have supplied endless fodder on social media, often triggering fierce backlash for their controversial positions. Their performances—harassing fellow representatives and political opponents, carrying weapons and skirting mask ordinances—have become a daily spectacle that seems to fill a void left by the former president.
The two Congresswomen are also well-known for promoting various Qanon conspiracy theories, including those that promote antisemitism and white nationalism. In fact, less than a month after her first term in office began, the Democrat-led House voted to strip Greene of her committee assignments in response to her harmful rhetoric. Both women also voted to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election and have perpetuated erroneous claims about massive voter fraud.
And, more recently, both Boebert and Greene have launched transphobic attacks in response to the passage of the Equality Act that prohibits discrimination on the basis of factors like gender identity, sex and sexual orientation.
Thus, it comes as no surprise that these two Congresswomen have become the newest magnets for our collective outrage at the seemingly endless attack on democracy, empathy, facts and justice. However, as social media users and media pundits repudiate Boebert and Greene’s latest provocations, I’ve noticed an all-too-familiar surge of hashtags and memes attacking them for more superficial aspects of their appearance, intellect and sexuality.
Boebert has been labeled a “bimbo” and mocked for being a teen mom and receiving a GED. Greene has faced similar jabs at her age, appearance and sexual past. Recently, popular shows like Saturday Night Live have also lampooned Greene as “crazy” or a “nutjob.” Such characterizations might score cheap laughs and retweets, but they actually reinforce a number of ‘isms’ such as ableism, classism and sexism among others. Ad hominem attacks also divert our attention away from the real threats these women present as radical right-wing legislators.
And here is where we confront a challenging reality: our own internalized misogyny. We are left questioning how we can productively condemn Boebert and Greene’s anti-democratic, conspiracy-laden and discriminatory words and actions without turning to superficial, misogynistic attacks.
Internalized misogyny refers to the manifestation of sexist, or anti-woman, thinking within us. It occurs when we reproduce the entrenched sexism that exists in society in our own behaviors and interactions. We can internalize and eventually filter our thinking through any system of oppression, such as ableism, heteronormativity and white supremacy, for example.
Even members of the very groups targeted by such systems of oppression can subconsciously adopt the oppressor’s mindset and wield that power against others. Yes, women can and often do reproduce misogyny in a number of ways. As Suzannah Weiss argues, internalized misogyny is insidious and shows up in the most feminist and socially-conscious among us.
It is also compounded by intersecting axes of oppression such that women of color and those with other historically-marginalized identities face more intense, often violent, varieties of misogyny. Our privilege often shelters us from confronting the subtle ways misogyny and other oppressive constructs invade our thinking and lead us to inflict harm on those with whom we might otherwise build alliances.
And when the slow creep of sexist thinking evades our detection, we end up reinforcing the very systems of oppression we seek to uproot. Even in cases where feminist allyship or coalition-building is not possible—as is likely with extremists like Boebert and Greene—we have to assess whether misogynistic attacks and tropes are part of the arsenal we deploy against our political opponents.
Becoming aware of our own internalized misogyny does not mean we simply disregard the harm public figures like Boebert and Greene cause. As Loretta Ross argues in her work on “call-in culture,” the goal is not to let other people off the hook for the hurt they inflict, but instead choosing not to respond to their oppression with more oppression.
Pushing back our misogynistic impulses means that we first ask ourselves if we dislike these two Congresswomen more simply because they are women. It entails sidelining our gender-based biases or opinions about superficial characteristics in favor of condemning their actions and ideas. For example, do we condemn Boebert and Greene more vociferously for things their male counterparts do in equal measure? Can we mentally separate the harm they cause from the way they look?
Perhaps most importantly, rejecting misogyny should involve assessing how we venture into the fray on social media and asking if we are drawn to the posts that criticize Boebert and Greene for their physical appearance, for their mothering, or their emotional or mental health, for example. The Denver Post editorial board in Rep. Boebert’s home state of Colorado recently chided these kinds of attacks on the new Congresswoman as both sexist and elitist, urging that the Congresswoman “deserves to be judged on the merit of her ideas, on her actions and on her words, which are damning enough.”
Faced with an unrelenting global pandemic, economic uncertainty, and ongoing racial injustice, we cannot afford to waste our energy building alliances with those among us who peddle conspiracy theories and fear-mongering as political ideology. But we also shouldn’t expend precious energy stoking the fires of misogyny on social media and in our everyday lives.
We should continue to loudly condemn Boebert and Greene for their support of anti-democratic, unjust and white nationalist motivations. At the same time, we should remain vigilant for the ways that superficial attacks end up reinforcing misogyny. Anything less is self-defeating.
After all, true and lasting liberation requires the elimination of sexism for everyone, everywhere—including for our worst enemies.