Sexism refers to prejudice, stereotyping or discrimination, based on gender or sex. It is typically targeted against girls and women.
What is sexism?
Sexism is based on the notion that women are inferior to men and that women and men have different roles to play in society. The dominating sexist assumption is that men are inherently superior to women because of their sex, and thus more valuable.
This idea can be defined as the baseline of gender stereotypes and the building stone for hierarchical thinking.
Sexism can be conscious and unconscious, benevolent and hostile, depending on the context. It can manifest as unconscious bias and target any individual or social group. However, it is most often women who are affected by sexism.
The definition of sexism and its origin
Prejudice or discrimination based on sex, especially against women and girls, is the most basic definition of sexism. The term is thought to have emerged during the 1960’s women’s rights movement. It sets barriers for what men and women, boys and girls, can and should do, and what they can’t and should not do.
The concept of sexism was originally intended to raise awareness about the discrimination of girls and women. However, for the past 20 years it has been continuously expanded to include other minority groups, such as intersex and transgender individuals, genderfluid people, and even boys and men.
How sexism reinforces patriarchal societal structures
Sexism is an effective vehicle for reinforcing patriarchal prerogatives through the oppression of girls and women. This may take on many different forms, such as stereotyped socialization, economic exploitation and the upholding of traditional gender roles.
According to traditional gender roles in patriarchal societies, women and men are different, and their roles are defined as such. According to this view, women should be relegated to domestic duties and childbearing.
They are expected to prioritize the home and raising children. Contrary to this, men are expected to prioritize work and provide for the family.
This has led to women being grossly underrepresented in leadership roles and systematically paid less than men, even when they carry out the same work.
The cost of sexism
Sexism creates inequality, reinforces harmful stereotypes and perpetuates gender-based violence. According to a study made by the OECD, the economic cost of institutional gender discrimination worldwide is 12 trillion dollars, roughly 16 % of the world’s global income.
This means that gradually reducing gender-based discrimination could lead to an annual average increased of our global GDP growth rate of up to 0.6 percent by 2030.
Tackling discriminatory practices should be a key factor for national development strategies. However, this can only be achieved by actively focusing on gender equality and challenging harmful gender norms.
This requires collaborative efforts, policy reforms, and targeted interventions that dismantle gender biases, empower marginalized groups, and promote equal access to education, healthcare, employment, and decision-making.
Examples of sexism
Sexism can be found in almost all aspects of daily life. Here are some examples:
- Gender-biased treatment in the context of education: male students are more often encouraged to study science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) than female students. This has led to the underrepresentation of women in these fields of study.
- Gender disparities in the workplace: Women still face pay gaps, limited opportunities for professional growth, and hiring biases across many different industries. They also encounter gender-based harassment.
- Objectification and sexualization: Women are frequently objectified and judged based on their appearance. This can lead to discrimination, harassment, and a devaluation of women’s worth beyond their physical attributes.
- Political underrepresentation: Women are often underrepresented in political leadership roles. This reduces their ability to influence decision-making processes and shine a spotlight on gender-specific issues.