Prejudice, discrimination, and oppression against people of a certain gender is defined as sexism. Sexism weaponizes gender roles to inform people what they should be, what they cannot be, and where they stand in the social hierarchy1. It forces women into passive, submissive roles and prioritizes men as the dominant, breadwinners of society. Feminists most commonly use this term to describe the ongoing oppression against women. The term’s use began around the 1960’s, but sexism itself has existed for far longer and continues to affect women today.
Sexism is caused by the taught belief that a gender is less capable or less valuable than another2. A simple prejudice then festers into a widespread belief that one gender is therefore inferior to another. When such prejudice exists with no correction of one’s beliefs or rebuttals, it becomes acceptable3. In today’s society, prejudice against women has become so normal that, in situations where action against sexism is needed, most people turn a blind eye4. As a result of sexism’s normality, the problem continues to exist in schools, jobs, and everyday life.
The problems that arise as a result of sexism are substantial, as women are known to face verbal comments as well as extreme violence simply for the sex they were born with. Casual sexism exists in everyday conversation when women are undermined for being women; for example, being told that they are good at something “for a girl”.
- Sexism is present in the children’s section at stores when the girls’ toys are meant to encourage cooking and caretaking whilst boys’ toys project ideas of construction and science. The simple assumption that the mother should be the one who takes care of the children is sexist.
- In the workplace, qualified women receive poor salaries5as well as maltreatment from their male coworkers or superiors. Women have reported feeling unwelcome or uncomfortable at jobs when compared with male coworkers6. At work, women have had to bear sexist comments regarding their capability and receive lower pay (In a Forbes article, women described the comments that men made ridiculing their lower salary, as well as other men justifying the pay gap due to the work-life choices of women). It has also been studied that when considering candidates during job applications, gender stereotypes have proven to affect who is chosen for which job based on their name. A person with a masculine name is more likely to be hired for a “men’s job” than a femininely named person7.
- In terms of salary, the motives behind lower salaries for women can sometimes stem from blatant prejudice against women as some “employers may discriminate in pay when they rely on prior salary history in hiring and compensation decisions; this can enable pay decisions that could have been influenced by discrimination to follow women from job to job” (Bleiweis, 2020).
- When it comes to schools, women are discouraged from participating in STEM programs and activities which are not considered “womanly”. The American Association of University Women reports that “teachers and parents often underestimate girls’ math abilities starting as early as preschool” and explains that, despite there being no biological incapability for women to be good at math, women are still underestimated and discouraged from pursuing math and STEM careers throughout their education. The lack of women in STEM is even partially the result of sexist attitudes as well as unsupportive, male-dominant cultures8.
- The instilled belief that women are worth less than men has also manifested into violence against women, ranging from abuse in relationships to femicide9. Around 736 million women have experienced physical and/or sexual violence at least once in their lifetimes, and in 2020 it was reported that 81,000 women were murdered. With these statistics in mind, only 40% of female victims have reported their experiences and less than 10% sought help from the police10. The urgency with which legal justice is treated has also faltered as it is more difficult for women to be taken seriously in court, making the act of receiving justice for crimes such as rape or sexual harassment all the more difficult11.
In order to prevent the effects of sexism from damaging another generation of women, it is important to start unlearning gender biases, to pass laws that will uphold gender equality, and to begin correcting the attitudes of others when they display prejudice. Sexism and gender-based prejudice must be condemned before it can be eradicated. If people continue to believe that such behaviors are acceptable, there will be no progress.
· It is important to pass laws that reinforce gender equality; laws such as Title IX (Title IX bars sex-based discrimination in schools and federally-funded institutions12) have been known to reduce gender disparity and challenge sexist ideals. Sexism can also be stopped on the individual level; if every person corrected the sexist attitudes and comments of others, it would be normalized to a minimum and it would encourage people to learn how their behavior contributes to the sexist social environment.
1. Masequesmay, Gina. “Sexism.” Encyclopedia Britannica, 28 Sept. 2021.
2. Villines, Zawn. “What Is Sexism?” Medicalnewstoday.com, 30 June 2021, https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/what-is-sexism.
3. “When Does Prejudice Become Dangerous?” Anne Frank House, https://www.annefrank.org/en/topics/prejudice-and-stereotypes/when-does-prejudice-become-dangerous/.
4. Bates, Laura. Why Are People Sexist? | What’s Behind Prejudice? Episode 3 | BBC Ideas. YouTube, 2020, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zzMK69aoEkQ.
5. “Quick Facts about the Gender Wage Gap.” Center for American Progress, 24 Mar. 2020, https://americanprogress.org/article/quick-facts-gender-wage-gap/.
6. Madsen, Susan. “Why Getting Rid of Sexism in the Workplace Is so Challenging.” Forbes, 15 Mar. 2022, https://www.forbes.com/sites/forbescoachescouncil/2022/03/15/why-getting-rid-of-sexism-in-the-workplace-is-so-challenging/?sh=247802b24241.
7 .“Four Ways Your Name Can Affect Your Job Prospects.” Four Ways Your Name Can Affect Your Job Prospects, University of Manchester, 6 June 2019, https://www.manchester.ac.uk/discover/news/four-ways-your-name-can-affect-your-job-prospects/.
8 .“The STEM Gap: Women and Girls in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics.” AAUW : Empowering Women Since 1881, 25 Feb. 2020, https://www.aauw.org/resources/research/the-stem-gap/.
9. “Series: What Does That Mean? Gender-Based Violence.” Womenforwomen.org, https://www.womenforwomen.org/blogs/series-what-does-mean-gender-based-violence.
10. “Facts and Figures: Ending Violence against Women.” UN Women – Headquarters, https://www.unwomen.org/en/what-we-do/ending-violence-against-women/facts-and-figures.
11. kiener-manu, Katharina. “Crime Prevention & Criminal Justice Module 9 Key Issues: Topic 2 – The Vulnerabilities of Girls in Conflict with the Law.” Unodc.org, https://www.unodc.org/e4j/en/crime-prevention-criminal-justice/module-9/key-issues/2–the-vulnerabilities-of-girls-in-conflict-with-the-law.html.
12. Blakemore, Erin. “Title IX at 50: How the U.S. Law Transformed Education for Women.” National Geographic, June 2022, https://www.nationalgeographic.com/history/article/the-history-and-legacy-of-title-ix.