- A male executive refers to his female colleagues as "girls."
- After a couple's dinner party, the guests immediately look to the female host to clear the dishes.
- A young man enjoys playing with the children, while those around him look on suspiciously.
Are these sexist acts?
While they may be examples of gender discrimination, these scenarios may also seem very familiar. Gender discrimination can be a difficult thing to identify in our lives, because of just how deeply ingrained we all are in social ideas of what it means to be a female vs. male. After a lifetime of learning, it can be hard to challenge these things and to start question just how "natural" these roles really are.
From birth, most of us are taught that there are certain expectations that come with our gender. Even our early nursery rhymes tell us what we are meant to be: Girls are "Sugar and spice and everything nice," while boys are "Snakes and snails and puppy dog tails." When we are young, girls are often given dolls and kitchen sets, while boys are given guns or mechanical games. Over time, one cannot help but to begin to connect these patterns with social expectations later in life. Many women come to understand that they are expected to be dainty, beautiful, domestic, nurturing, emotional, etc., while men come to feel they are expected to be the opposite--strong, tough, worldly, unemotional, thinking, bread-winning, etc.
Take the second scenario listed above. Guests expect the female hostess to play a domestic, nurturing role in her home, while her (assumed) male counterpart is not (It's important to note that the reader of this scenario may also assume this couple is a heterosexual couple, which is just that, an assumption).
Just the opposite is true for the male in the third scenario. Gender discrimination does not happen only to females. The young man in the third scenario may be discouraged from being nurturing, because that may not be considered masculine.
Sexism is the systematic economic, sexual, educational, physical, and other oppression of women as a group; the exploitation and social domination of members of one sex by another.
Gender is a cultural notion of what it is to be a woman or a man; a construct based on the social shaping of femininity and masculinity. It usually includes identification with males as a class or with females as a class. Gender includes subjective concepts about character traits and expected behaviors that vary from place to place and person to person.
Learn how other forms of discrimination are defined.
- What traits do you consider masculine? What about feminine?
- Does one set of traits sound better than another?
- How are men and women stereotyped differently in TV, music or movies?
- How can expectations that all women be beautiful have a negative effect?
- Is anyone you know 100% masculine or 100% feminine?
- How can gender stereotypes lead to violence?
Check Yourself: Ever wonder whether you have hidden biases? Click here to take a test and find out.
- Women working full-time, full-year still earn, on average, only 73 cents for every dollar earned by men, and minority women fare significantly worse. An African-American woman earns just 63 cents to every dollar earned by white men while a Hispanic woman earns only 53 cents on the dollar (U.S. Census Bureau, 1999).
- Every 9 seconds, a woman is beaten in the United States and women are more likely to be attacked by someone they know rather than by a stranger (American Institute on Domestic Violence, 2001).
- By the time women concluded four years of college education, 88 percent of the women had experiences of physical or sexual victimization and 64 percent of them experienced both (US National Institute of Justice, 11/2004).
- Only 1% of the world's assets are in the name of women and 70% of people in abject poverty-- living on less than $1 per day-- are women (Women's Learning Partnership for Rights, Development, and Peace (WLP), 2003).
- There are only 5 women chief executives in the Fortune 500 corporations, the most valuable publicly owned companies in the United States. These include the CEOs of Xerox, Spherion, Hewlett-Packard, Golden West Financial, and Avon Products(Women's Learning Partnership for Rights, Development, and Peace (WLP), 2003).
- The charges handled by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on sexual discrimination against women grew 12 percent in the past decade (The Sun Newspaper, 7/16/2004).