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What is Sexism?



Sexism hurts everyone.

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Question: What is Sexism?

The term "sexism" was only coined in the 1960's, but discrimination based on someone's gender is nothing new. As About's Guide to Civil Liberties, explains, "A sexist system is any system in which people's life decisions are unnecessarily preordained on the basis of perceived biological sex. In the United States and most of the rest of the West, it specifically refers to any belief or behavior that puts women and girls in a position of subservience to men and boys."

What this means, is that many people view the role of women and girls as being less important or worthy than that of men and boys.

Sexist views allow people to justify treating women and girls worse than men and boys, or to deny them rights and opportunities.

What Are Some Examples of Sexism

Sexism can show up in many forms. Here are a few examples:
  • Using offensive language or making offensive jokes.
  • Only allowing one sex to participate in certain activities or classes.
  • Not calling on one sex in class as often as the other.
  • Not supporting girls sports teams the same way support is given to boys sports teams.
  • Paying someone less or giving them fewer opportunities based on their gender.
  • Creating an environment where one gender feels unsafe or uncomfortable.

How Sexism Hurts the GLBT Community

There are many ways that sexism hurts the gay community. There is a theory that this occurs due to a combination of sexism and inaccurate beliefs about what it means to be gay. A lot of these have to do with sexist negative gender stereotypes that hold it is better to be male than female, coupled with a multitude of outdated views about what sexual orientation is and how it works.

Many people hold the mistaken view that lesbians want to be men and gay men want to be women. For people like this, it doesn't make sense that a man would want to be the inferior sex and so they justify homophobic acts and beliefs with the rationale that gay men have chosen to be inferior.

Messed up, I know.

Can Boys and Men Be Victims of Sexism?

Though the traditional definition of sexism focuses on how women and girls have been hurt by a male orientated system, this system can also hurt men and boys. For example, rigid gender stereotypes, often born out of sexist beliefs, make boys police their actions for fear of being labeled gay. One result that Warren J. Blumenfeld points out in his book, Homophobia: How We All Pay the Price is that some people, particularly men and boys, find it hard to form close, intimate relationships with other boys and men.

Others feel they have to live up to unrealistic expectations of masculinity. A gay teen writes to the forum that sometimes he feels the need to act straight around guys at school. How does he do that? As he says, "I use this deeper voice and I become a sexist pig."

How You Can Fight Sexism

The fight against sexism is nothing new. Back at the turn of the last century suffragettes fought for women's right to vote. This fight that was won in 1920. Then in 1972, something called Title IX passed as part of an educational amendment. This banned sex discrimination in schools and as a result, girls have been able to do things like take shop class, and boys have been allowed in home economics (does anyone even have that any more?), and girls sports were supposed to see the same investments as boy's sports.

But while there have been a lot of positive changes, some old beliefs persist and there are still many battles to be won.

If you want to be part of the fight, here are some tools you can use:

  1. Don't excuse sexist behavior as being natural or normal or "just the way things are."
  2. Don't tolerate sexist jokes or comments. Call people out or leave when you hear them.
  3. Start a women's issues or gender issues group at your school.
  4. Know that discrimination based on gender is illegal in the United States and many other countries.
  5. Find out what your school's policy on sexism is. If there isn't a policy abut sex discrimination based on gender, ask for one to be created.

None of these things are easy, but, they sure are empowering!

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