As A Good Christian Child, I Internalized These 6 Misogynist Beliefs

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serious woman
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Self

My dad and older brother wrestled on the floor as my mom captured the entertainment on video. At five years old, I felt eager to join. But when I got knocked over, I grew angry. Instead of consoling me, they laughed at me; then, my brothers’ theatrical karate moves took centerstage.

Pouting in the corner, my child-self accepted that my emotions were ridiculous. I’m not cool enough.

A patriarchal Christian lens informed my world beliefs

I unknowingly developed internalized misogyny. I became “one of the boys” to avoid seeming weak. Subconsciously, I equated feminine with stupid; believing men were inherently better. If God says so, they must be.

As I grew up, I felt too fierce to ever depend on a husband, asking for money or permission. Instead, I used people-pleasing, over-achieving, and perfectionism to secure independence. I lost my authenticity.

When I dove into shadow work nine months ago, I discovered significant repressed anger.

Sorting through waves of pain now, I ponder: How do women move forward from a lifetime of emotional gaslighting, culturally reinforced misogyny, and unearned shame? Assuming we unravel our inner wounds, how do women thrive in a world made for men?

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“The world would have been different — and better — if women had had an equal say in the development of literature, medicine, chemistry, physics, peace, and economics. Better, not because women are better, but because they are more than half of humanity, representing more than half of what it means to be human.” — writes Elizabeth Lesser in “Cassandra Speaks”

Feminist leaders like Lesser, Marion Woodman, Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estes, Amanda Palmer, and Judith Duerk empower me to feel my anger, express my whole self, honor feminine values, and redefine “power.”

Here are six sexist beliefs that seeped into my unconscious.

At 27 years old, I’m ready to set the record straight for myself and other women who live with normalized misogyny. It’s not okay.

1. Women Make Bad Leaders

All the churches I went to had male pastors and leaders; women were only allowed to lead the women’s groups. I remember hearing my mom (and other church ladies) complain about women who wanted to be leaders: “How ridiculous and ungodly.”

The God we believed in requires women to be faithful through complete submissiveness: “A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent.” 1 Timothy 2:11–12.

Despite recurring evidence that women are likely more equipped to be leaders than men, broad and pervasive cultural biases continue to disempower women.

In the U.S., Christianity, our most prominent religion (~70%), devalues and silences women. In other countries, religions such as Islam hold dehumanizing beliefs about women, treating females as a “lower part of society”: “Men are in charge of women by right of Allah. So righteous women are devoutly obedient.”

Since traditional stereotypes die slowly, I’m not surprised that only 4.9% of Fortune 500 CEOs and 2% of S&P 500 CEOs are women.

Though our culture views dominance, assertiveness, and confidence as attractive leadership qualities, traits like mentoring, collaborating, being resilient, practicing self-development, and taking the initiative — skills women score higher in — are crucial for leadership.

“The same systems that reward confidence in male leaders, punish white women for lacking confidence, women of color for showing too much of it, and all women for demonstrating it in a way that’s deemed unacceptable,” writes Jodi-Ann Burey, speaker and writer. “Leaders must create a culture for women and people of color that addresses systemic bias and racism.”

Takeaway: The cultural biases about women are wrong, not me. Before I can be an authentic leader, I must acknowledge and heal unwarranted, inaccurate, and dehumanizing beliefs.

2. Emotions and Periods Cloud Women’s Judgment

Throughout childhood, I often heard this argument against women in leadership: “Women are way too emotional. Who knows what kind of decisions they’ll make on their periods!” Being young and naive, I assumed this was sound logic.

In the media, I often heard the word “crazy” used to describe dramatic women. “‘Crazy’ is a word guys use to shame women into compliance. What we’re really saying is: ‘She was upset, and I didn’t want her to be,’” says Harris O’Malley, a dating coach.

Minimizing someone’s feelings is a way of controlling them, a form of gaslighting. When women can’t trust their feelings and instincts, they become dependent, needing validation from others.

During the decades when I prioritized logic over emotion, I lost touch with my wise intuition. Logic-based decisions about where to work and who to live with that brought so much pain. I got into multiple toxic environments and lost my sense of self.

The lack of respect for women often starts early, when we’re getting our periods. Taking my cues from the adult ladies around me, I learned that periods were embarrassing, something to hide, not meant for polite conversation.

Contrary to religious traditions that describe menstrual cycles as “unclean” or current stereotypes that women become “irrational,” we get more insightful. Dr. Estes explains how women grow closer to self-knowing during menstruation in “The Women Who Run with the Wolves."

“Women from ancient times as well as modern aboriginal women set a sacred place aside for communion and inquiry, traditionally during women’s menses. The membrane between the unconscious and conscious minds thins considerably. Feelings, memories, sensations that are normally blocked from consciousness pass over into cognizance without resistance.”

According to behavioral neuroscience research, periods don’t make women irrational, forgetful, or incapable. Those are false beliefs.

Takeaway: Stereotypes about women’s emotions and periods are demeaning, a way to enforce male superiority. Also, our emotions keep us safe and healthy, even anger guides us to act in our best interest. Instead of repressing my feelings, I will honor them.

3. Men Are Smarter Than Women

The boys I grew up with often called me “stupid.” Though I put on a brave front, the name-calling hurt. I wondered if their accusations might be valid. As an impressionable 8-year-old, I reasoned: If men are by default the “head of the home” and final decision-makers, doesn’t it make sense that they’d be smarter?

Though I did well in academics, regular “man-splaining” didn’t help my deep-rooted insecurities. I wondered if the intelligence thing referred to other women, the feminine, emotional ones — which of course, didn’t include me.

Despite cultural stereotypes, research continues to show “no average difference in intelligence.” Still, this unwarranted, disempowering belief impacts many women today. People are far less likely to recommend women for positions that require a particularly smart or “brilliant” person.

Kate Craig-Wood, a trans woman, noted how her IT co-workers began treating her with less respect the blonder her hair got and the bigger her boobs were. Her story didn’t surprise me.

The truth is, men are not smarter than women, and being feminine does not make you stupid. Let’s set the record straight.

Takeaway: As I heal the unearned shame around intelligence, I’m integrating my natural feminine qualities. I’m feeling more whole, healthy, and authentic. When I feel unsafe, I question the environment instead of blaming myself.

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4. Women Earn Value Through Sexual Purity

Evangelical purity culture had convinced me that if I did choose to have sex outside of marriage, I would ruin any chance I had at a life,” says Rebecca Renner, who sums up purity culture well.

Throughout childhood, religious leaders instructed women to save sex for marriage, ideally their first kiss.

Additionally, godly women should mute their sexuality with modest clothing (1 Timothy 2:9–10).

Or, as my dad often repeated, “Neck to knees, nobody touches, nobody sees.” Bible stories describe communities legally stoning women to death for sexual impurity (consensual or forced); that sealed in the message pretty clearly for me.

The belief that my self-worth depended on sexual purity primed me for years of confusion, emotional damage, unwarranted insecurities, and repeated sexual abuse.

Instead of being inherently valuable, Christian culture suggests women must earn their value: “Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner. But women will be saved through childbearing — if they continue in faith, love, and holiness with propriety,” 1 Timothy 2:14–15.

Our sexuality empowers us to love, heal ourselves, and be present in our bodies. When you tell women their strengths are weaknesses, you’re demeaning half the population.

“We are told that the male is made in God’s perfect image but warned that the female is not inherently divine. She must work for it. If she remains quiet, virginal, and subservient, then maybe her sacred spark will burn brighter than her sinful instincts,” said Lesser.

Like Adam and Eve's story, men wrote our histories; if Eve had told that story, how would our beliefs be different? Maybe we would have learned the value of curiosity, knowing ourselves, and speaking our truth. Instead, our culture views women as less valuable.

Regularly, I remind myself that wearing sexy clothes does not make me responsible for others’ abuse. Abusive people cause abuse, not sexy clothing.

Takeaway: As a woman and a human, I am inherently valuable; I never needed to earn my worthiness through sexual purity. I will share my truth, even when it’s uncomfortable or inconvenient. Also, women were never responsible for “inspiring” bad behavior in abusive men.

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5. Women Talk Too Much

Besides the Bible verses about “silent women,” childhood conditioning pushed me towards the “nice and pretty” box for women. Adults in my life praised me far more often for those qualities, then gave me demeaning nicknames for talking too much, i.e., “chatty Cathy,” “motor mouth.”

Our culture carries long-held stereotypes that women are gossipy and over-talkative, while men have “important” conversations. These beliefs “disempower girls by treating their talk as marginal and unwelcome,” writes Valerie Fridland, Ph.D.

We learn that men’s voices matter more from an early age, i.e., American high school reading lists overflow with male authors:

“These are the books from which young people learn what it means to be human, and yet the stories they tell are predominantly from the perspective of men, a certain kind of man and his experiences, struggles, desires, and values. They’re the ‘Great Books.’ But memoirs that chart women’s experiences, struggles, desires, and values are given their own category: ‘Women’s Literature,’ as if gender could be a genre,” writes Lesser.

Reducing the validity of women’s voices damages our self-worth and hurts everyone. Biases about “oversharing” diminish the value of vulnerability. Without vulnerability, we don’t experience love and connection.

At work, women still experience sexist treatment: “Women get interrupted a lot, or people talk over them. I think in the workplace we actually condition women not to speak,” said Nicola Mendelsohn, vice-president of Facebook for Europe, the Middle East, and Africa.

As historian Mary Beard says: “If women are not perceived to be fully within the structures of power, surely it is a power that we need to redefine rather than women.”

Takeaway: My voice matters because I am human. Embracing both masculine and feminine stories, desires, struggles, and values makes us whole, not weak.

6. Masculinity Is Superior to Femininity

“Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church. Wives should submit to their husbands in everything,” Ephesians 22–24.

I cringe as I read this verse now; I saw how church leaders used it repeatedly: “It’s in the Bible, black and white; men are meant to be the leaders.”

Growing up, I learned about masculine heroism through war stories, i.e., “Brave Heart,” “Saving Private Ryan,” “Black Hawk Down.” Meanwhile, nursing mothers hid in back rooms, largely unnoticed, uncelebrated. I overemphasized my masculine qualities to avoid seeming fragile; I even wanted to be a man on some days. Wouldn’t that be so much easier?

Now, as I integrate feminine values and study feminist movements, it’s clear that creating equality won’t happen by merely giving more leadership roles to women. We have to redefine power in a way that honors masculine and feminine stories, desires, and values equally.

As long as kids feel flattered when they’re called a “tomboy” but insulted to be called a “sissy” or “girly,” we won’t have a balanced culture.

Takeaway: In addition to being determined, focused, efficient, and assertive, I embrace my feminine qualities: vulnerability, compassion, creativity, empathy, intuition, and authenticity. My power comes from wholeness, not by morphing to a socially acceptable masculine form of power. 

Final Words

“What’s the greater risk? Letting go of what people think — or letting go of how I feel, what I believe, and who I am?” says Brene Brown.

Though I’m still figuring out how to thrive in our patriarchal culture, I know uncovering the roots of unearned shame will move me towards wholeness. Instead of suppressing my anger, I will metabolize it into:

Studying feminine literature
Supporting other women
Untangling early conditioning
Honoring my pain
Strengthening my authentic voice

Maybe when we stop accepting normalized misogyny, we won’t tame our feelings, bodies, and ambitions; we’ll start flourishing.

“May I have the courage today to live the life that I would love, to postpone my dream no longer, but do at last what I came here for, and waste my heart on fear no more.” — John O’Donohue

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Alice Crady is a writer who studies abuse recovery, sex+ feminism, and depth psychology. She's written for The Ascent, Fearless She Wrote, and The Virago. Visit her Medium profile here.

This article was originally published at Medium. Reprinted with permission from the author.