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Do You Have Internalized Passiveness?


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Elissa Bassist is the editor of the Funny Women column on The Rumpus and author of Hysterical. She teaches humor writing at The New School, Catapult, 92NY, and the Lighthouse Writers Workshop. In this episode of Motivational Mondays, she shares how women have internalized misogyny and passiveness, and how to overcome that mindset.

The Inspiration Behind Hysterical

It took Elissa 11 years to write and publish her book, and she spent many of them figuring out how to make people care about what she had to say. She wrote about topics she knew well, including representation in the media, the problems of sexism and misogyny, and the forces continuously conspiring against women.

While Elissa was writing, she became very sick. When she went to the doctor, she experienced the same sexism that she’d experienced in her personal life and career. The doctors dismissed her pain as psychosomatic — as they do with many women — and downplayed her symptoms.

Gaslighting in Women’s Health

Doctors said things like, “You’re not in the pain that you’re in,” or “It can’t be that bad.” They treated her like she was an unreliable narrator of what was happening IN HER OWN BODY. They constantly said, “There’s nothing wrong.” What’s worse is that Elissa started to believe them. She didn't want to annoy or act better than them, so she stopped advocating for herself.

She finally got answers when she was diagnosed with a fatal blood disease called Hypernatremia, a herniated disc, and struggled with side effects from medication that caused muscle and nerve damage. Women are constantly invalidated in many areas of life, which is a symptom of the patriarchy wanting to maintain a grasp on their power that they feel is slipping away as women become more self-sufficient.

Confronting Internalized Passiveness

Sadly, women around the world do have a real reason to be afraid of backlash. Women will stay in bad situations because they’re afraid that speaking up will hurt them instead of save them. Elissa believes that dismantling the patriarchy starts with complete awareness.

You have to give voice to your feelings and frustrations. Don’t be afraid to say “no” more and apologize less. Voice your unsaid thoughts and avoid internalized passiveness. Elissa emphasizes, “You begin to dismantle the patriarchy by empowering one person at a time to speak up for themselves.”

Listen to this episode to learn about...

[1:28] Elissa’s humor-inspired writing
[4:34] The inspiration behind her first book
[8:39] Men's reactions to her work
[10:20] Her experience of being silenced by doctors
[13:10] Challenging the white, male patriarchal construct in America
[21:18] Confronting programmed internalized passiveness
[24:29] What the term “self-gaslighting” means

Listen to the bonus episode to learn about Elissa’s discussion on sexism with actor Bill Murray and why men must be included in efforts to stop sexism.