“Internalised oppression refers to ways in which we, mostly unconsciously, take into our psyches and ways of thinking and being, oppressive ideas, attitudes and beliefs.”

Oppression comes in all shapes and sizes. It can be fuelled by bias, judgement, ignorance – or just plain hatred. Oppression within cultures has taken place throughout human history – groups or individuals getting treated unfairly due to misrepresentation. Luckily, in most situations, when a group or individual is faced with blatant oppression, they can turn to their community and peers for support. But what happens when the oppression faced from the outside is turned inwards?

According to research, “When people are targeted, discriminated against, or oppressed over a period of time, they often internalize the myths and misinformation that society communicates to them about their group…women might internalize the stereotype that they are not good at math and science, or people of color might internalize the myth that they are not good workers.” Once these myths are internalised, many begin to feel that they can’t break out of that misinformed assumption – making them feel unworthy or not good enough. 

This type of oppression is primarily driven by society and stereotyping – and can be fuelled by pop culture and mainstream media. Individuals begin to doubt their own ability due to how their culture is depicted on screen or in literature. Below we have listed some examples of internalized oppression – taken from The Community Box:

  1.  In response to low expectations and lack of encouragement, some teenagers from oppressed groups believe that they won’t succeed; consequently, they give up on learning and pursuing their dreams.
  2. Women, low-income people, and people of color don’t speak up as much in meetings because they don’t think their contribution will be important or “correct”.
  3. Women who work on construction join men in putting down other women who have child care problems or can’t do particular work because they are not as strong as some of the men.
  4. A Black teenager in the US is not accepted among his group of peers because he works hard and does well in school; he is told he is not Black enough.

This type of oppression can be linked to gaslighting as individuals are forced to slowly over time start to believe these myths to be true, which fuels the fire for lack of confidence or feelings of unworth. When faced with internalised oppression, it is important to try and challenge it. By confirming these types of misled ideologies – an individual will pigeon hole themselves and lose their momentum and individuality. It is important to keep the flame alive and challenge, challenge, challenge!

Activities for you and your team

  • In your next team meeting or all hands. Ask individuals to share problematic stereotypes they have observed in the media. What type of oppression does that example perpetuate?
  • Re-framing constructive feedback through the lens of bias. How well do you know your inner critic? How often do you challenge your team to explore theirs? Look into how the inner critic’s voice could reflect internalised oppression.
  • Think about your last 1:1. Consider the role internalised misogyny plays in patriarchy. What are helpful habits you can adopt to challenge sexist driven bias like affinity bias and likability bias?

New habits to make a difference

Get comfortable thinking about society through the lens of systemic oppression. Where do you see -isms like racism, sexism and ableism manifest in your personal and professional life? How can you challenge them with confidence?

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