What is Sexism TODAY?



The term "sexism" was coined in the late 1960s in the context of the civil rights struggle in the United States. Many young women found that supposedly ‘progressive' anti-racist and left-wing groups, as well as anti-war, new left, and student movements in North America, Europe, and Australia, were not immune from the ‘feminine mystique' identified by Betty Friedan, and that they were expected to act as sexually available secretaries and housewives rather than equal partners or decision-makers.

Men's behavior was labelled as 'sexist' to emphasize the political gravity of women's demands and complaints, implying that prejudice, discrimination, and ill treatment based on gender were just as important and unacceptable as those based on race.

In the decades after, the terms 'sexism' and 'sexist' have proven to be extremely helpful shorthand for describing a wide variety of ideas, attitudes, and behavior that reflect, sustain, or produce an environment or results that disadvantage one sex, generally women.

Examples include deliberate acts of discrimination, intimidation, or exclusion, such as refusing to hire or promote women or sexually harassing them on the street, as well as the uncritical acceptance of gender stereotypes, such as boys don't cry and women are naturally suited to housework, and the use of non-inclusive language, such as referring to all potential students at a school open day as "he," Sexism, like racism, isn't only about individual acts of discrimination; it can also take institutional forms:

An organization may be full of well-intentioned individuals who want to treat everyone fairly, but it may also be riddled with beliefs that favor males over women.

For example, when choosing a candidate for a parliamentary election, political activists may search for someone with trade union or commercial expertise, while overlooking the fact that establishing a play program for local children also requires politically relevant abilities.

Computer algorithms learn from people's prior patterns of behavior, thus institutional sexism can now exist without explicit human participation; for example, adverts for particularly well-paid or typically masculine positions have been targeted to males on Facebook and Google.

Although the term sexism is most often used to ‘call out' individual acts of bad or inappropriate behavior, it can also help us understand their larger social context:

To describe our society as sexist is to see the connections between different instances of discrimination, not just to say that some people do or think discriminatory things.

Laura Bates, who created the online ‘Everyday Sexism' initiative in 2012 in reaction to her own low-level, negative experiences, such as being yelled at on the street and grabbed on a bus, obviously saw this link.

The steady drip-drip-drip of sexism, sexualization, and objectification is linked to the assumption of ownership and control over women's bodies, and the background noise of harassment and disrespect is linked to the assertion of power that is violence and racial profiling, according to Bates.

Bates was able to clarify her findings and, by defining the problem, take the initial steps in confronting it by labelling a variety of different situations as "sexism." She believes that grassroots activism is critical in changing the culture of sexism, and she worked with others to encourage companies whose Facebook ads appeared on pages that appeared to condone or encourage sexual violence to leave the platform. After fifteen advertisers, including Nissan, left, Facebook promised several changes, including improved moderator training.

The term 'sexism' is still frequently used today, and it plays an important role in shaping a worldview that represents and expresses many women's experiences, as well as informing practical feminist politics.

It can be difficult for a woman to use the word without being stereotyped as an old-fashioned, pessimistic, humorless whiner who invents issues where none exist and sees the world through a distorted, feminist lens. This implies that, although silence or involvement in sexist society generally goes unnoticed, sexism criticism is frequently penalized, resulting in a situation in which "when we name what we come up against, we come up against what we label."

Sara Ahmed argues that, in this setting, female academics have frequently stopped doing the hard and often fruitless job of detecting sexism wherever they find it, and that as a result, "sexism appears to have "fallen out" of feminist theoretical vocabulary."

In some ways, academic apathy toward the term may appear to be a good thing, because feminist academic theory can appear almost deliberately obscure at times, a way of signaling membership in an elite group whose language is impenetrable to "outsiders," a category that includes most black and/or working-class women.

Feminist theory, on the other hand, may, at its finest, bring seemingly disparate ideas together and infuse greater rigor into public debates.

My impression is that the term "sexism" has become almost too simple to use, and that it is being thrown around to the point that it is losing its potency; it's possible that a lack of academic interest contributes to its seeming lack of analytical or critical edge.

You may also want to read more about Feminism and Activism here.