What is sexism?

What is sexism… And can men experience it?

According to Wikipedia sexism is: 

Sexism or gender discrimination is prejudice or discrimination based on a person’s sex or gender. Sexism can affect either gender, but it is particularly documented as affecting women and girls. It has been linked to stereotypes and gender roles, and may include the belief that one sex or gender is intrinsically superior to another.

The first line of that definition, taken alone (as it often is) conflates “sexism” and “sex discrimination” as being one and the same thing, but they’re not quite.

In truth sex discrimination is only part of the puzzle required for something to be considered sexist.

Sex discrimination is the first line:

“prejudice or discrimination based on a person’s sex or gender.”

So what is sexism?

From my understanding – sexism is the inclusion of the second & third lines:

“it can affect either gender, but it is particularly documented as affecting women and girls. It has been linked to stereotypes and gender roles, and may include the belief that one sex or gender is intrinsically superior to another.”

Of course, being from Wikipedia someone has thrown in a “may” before the very important words “include the belief that one sex or gender is intrinsically superior”…. Who want’s to bet that was done by a man?

The “may” should be removed from this definition, as it is the presence of that superiority/inferiority paradigm which defines whether or not something is sexist.

This is sleight of hand and is also commonly heard in discussions about ‘racism’ too. How many times have you heard someone say:

But isn’t that racist?

When talking about jobs that are only for Aboriginal people? I bet it’s lots.

And the answer is no. It’s not racist to have positive forms of discrimination which helps break down existing forms of oppression and inequality.

Something is only sexist/racist when it contributes to sustaining or worsening an imbalance, not when breaking one down.

Can men experience sexism?

Yes, men can be effected by sexism. But only situations where those men are experiencing systemic oppression.

Men are often sexist towards other men.

Now this may be seen as controversial by some of my friends, but I think it’s a fair analysis. And it happens a lot.

I’ve definitely experienced it. When tough-men tell other men, like me, to “harden the fuck up” when we’re experiencing emotional struggles. An example of a sexist attitude being used to oppress a man.

This is because it reinforces an existing social paradigm, and does so in a way that is damaging.

A counter-point to this, is that many examples of where men do ‘experience sexism’ occur when they are partaking in ‘feminine’ activities, or acting out ‘feminine’ personal qualities.

Perhaps actually, these are actually further examples the oppression of female identity and the nurturing/vulnerable qualities we associate with femininity?

So you can see, it’s not a cut and dry issue. 

It’s not about sexism existing for any one group of people and not for any other group of people. It’s entirely about circumstance and power.

The word “sexism” applies when it refers to the right situation, and meets the required circumstances.

Is there a power imbalance at play? Is oppression happening? Is someone being treated as ‘lesser than’? And is this happening because of the persons gender or gendered behaviour?

If you answered yes to the last question, plus any of the first three questions: Congratulations, you just identified sexism.

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