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Wednesday, December 6, 2023

Lessons from Billie Eilish on internalised misogyny

Billie Eilish is going through the same emotional struggle that many of us are facing right now. “It’s hard to be a woman out here, guys,” she recently said at the Power of Women event before delving into a heartfelt speech that brought the audience to tears. Eilish’s sentiment wasn’t only about what we already know – the fact that women are having an incredibly hard time – it was also about the battle we’re all experiencing with something even more insidious than external factors: internalised misogyny.

Eilish, known for her confidence when venturing out of the norm and what’s expected as a woman, has had a hard deal of it during her entire career. She’s polarising, as is practically every woman who challenges convention out there, but she knows that to be true only because it’s based on one very important factor: her attitudes towards other women.

Up until now, Eilish admits to her internalised preconceptions manifesting in various ways. The first is her desire to exist as a separate entity from her female peers, as evidenced by her appearance and the subjects covered in her songs. The second is the way that she has previously talked about other women, effectively siloing them into ‘others’ while essentially forgetting the fact that she is, in fact, too, a powerful woman.

Her platform, she said, is something that she would rather “give my platform to people who know what the fuck they’re talking about,” which is funny because Eilish knows precisely what she’s talking about. It’s the awareness she has gained of her precise type of ignorance that gives her power — she is aware that she’s previously been unconsciously biased towards women. In fact, it’s a period of her life that she actively “resents”.

At the same time, though, Eilish speaks to the inherent bigot in all of us: having an awareness of it is the first step. As women, we’re constantly battling with external sexism every single day, but what about ourselves? What about the misogyny and prejudice that we hold inside, that we forget to challenge, or god-forbid, that we’re not aware of in the first place? It exists within us more than we know, and it’s a huge part of the problem.

Growing up, Eilish recalls, she struggled with constantly trying to fit in. To her, being a woman meant fitting in with what a woman was supposed to be. “I’ve never felt truly like a woman,” she admitted, “I’ve spent a lot of my life not feeling like I fit in to being a woman”. However, what Eilish realises, and what many of us ought to, is that being a woman doesn’t mean forcing ourselves into boxes. Eilish is still a woman when she wears bagging clothes. She’s still a woman when she discusses horror being one of her favourite movie genres. She’s still a woman, even when she doesn’t feel like one at all.

That’s because being a woman means anything you want it to mean. For one powerful moment in history, Barbie made a lot of us feel like society was capable of change, but what about the years and decades that follow? We can forget about a film, but we can’t remain ignorant of our own thoughts and feelings. If we hate women, how are we supposed to convince society not to?

“I love women,” Eilish says. But there’s a self-conviction to her voice that says, I love women; why did it take me so long to realise that? She speaks from the heart through teary eyes, concluding: “I feel very grateful to be a woman right now,” and it seems completely earnest — a self-reflective moment where she realises the power of letting internalised misogyny go because it’s OK to do so.

Internalised misogyny is something that we all have to realise on our own, and that’s the sheer power of its endurance. However, being accountable and open-minded regarding others and, more importantly, challenging our values and beliefs will ultimately change our attitudes towards ourselves and the people around us. “What was I made for?” Eilish sings in her power ballad, and it’s clear that she finally knows the answer: love and acceptance of herself and those close to her.

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