What is Sexism?

What is sexism? Is it when someone says “Boys can’t wear pink!!?” Is it when kids call girls bossy but they call boys captains or leaders? Or is it that girls get paid 20% less than men? These are all examples of sexism. Sexism is when people are discriminated against on the basis of sex. However, we don’t always realize that we are judging people on the basis of sex because of the very narrow gender roles in our current society; these gender roles are caused by the way we are socialized to think and act.


Girls are taught to be perfect, to make their lives a straight line, no excitement, and no grief… no mistakes. They’re taught to stay out of the mud and dress in beautiful clothes. They are told “You can do anything,” but they aren’t shown that. On the other hand, boys are taught to take risks, to let their lives be a roller-coaster. They are taught to roll in the mud and let their hair be a mess. In the Reshma Saujani TED talk, “Teach girls bravery, not perfection,” Reshma Saujani tells us: “An HP report found that men will apply for a job if they [meet] 60 percent of the qualifications, but women [will] apply only if they meet 100 percent of the qualifications.” This comes to show you that men are more self-confident and because of that, they are more willing to take a risk. However, many women lack this self-confidence and as a result, they are more afraid of rejection and they lose more opportunities than men. If we can teach girls from young ages that they are just as smart and powerful as boys, then they will be more self-confident and then the amazing ideas that women have would be recognized.


Why are women called bitchy or aggressive in the same situation in which men would be called captains or leaders? We are used to seeing a man give orders, and we don’t usually see women in a high position. All of our presidents have been men; 182 out of 190 heads of state are men, 87% of parliament are men, and in the nonprofit world at the top 80% are men. Because not many women are high up in the chain of command, we have prejudiced beliefs that lead us to think that a woman can’t give orders to a man, and that it is unreasonable for a woman to be chosen over a man for any job. However, over time and with more laws these prejudiced beliefs could change. If we were able to convince women that they are capable of doing everything a man can do, then our world would advance much faster in science, education, technology, and architecture: with more women — and therefore people — in different fields, new advancements and ideas would be made more frequently.


Women do think about their careers, education, and general success, but outside pressure to follow certain beauty standards are oftentimes equally important. Male beauty standards don’t hold as much weight in a man’s life in comparison to the weight that female beauty standards hold in a woman’s life. These standards have to be challenged and changed. Because of these stereotypical beauty standards, women often feel forced to buy and use beauty products for their hair and makeup to leave the house, whereas men can easily put on a t-shirt and pants and go outside without being judged. However, if a woman walks outside without makeup they will be given comments like, “Are you feeling sick?” or, “You look tired today.” These are the kinds of comments that bring down a woman’s confidence, making them feel that it is necessary to wear and buy beauty products. These comments also prove how over time we have gotten so used to women wearing beauty products that it has turned into the default.


What we watch, what we read, what we see, and what we hear affects what we think about certain groups of people. We are products of our environment. In the case of women, they are affected by all of these things to uphold certain standards regarding appearance, attitude, and demeanor. To change all of these stereotypes, parents have to be aware of their subconscious biases and educate their children outside of gender roles.

To challenge the beauty standards women have to stand up for themselves when they are given sexist comments. Women can also support each other to look and act in ways that they feel comfortable with. Once these changes are made, women won’t feel held back by the stereotypical gender roles, and our society as a whole can advance much faster.

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