We all know what blatant “get back in the kitchen” sexism is (or at least I hope so). But what about the subtler forms? Prejudice, stereotyping, or discrimination based on gender are usually not recognized as sexism by many because it is perceived to be normative (and therefore does not appear to be unusual). Most of the time, the offender is not trying to be intentionally harmful.
Subtle sexism is primarily manifested in speech. Some examples would be:
θ Calling someone “just a housewife”
θ Expecting men to always pay for dates
θ Making PMS comments when a woman is mad
θ Calling guys “sissies” or “p*ssies” as an insult
θ Limiting a man in planning his own wedding
θ Making sweeping comments about women or men as a group (“women just like to gossip” “men only want one thing”)
The list goes on.
Women in typically male professions and men in typically female professions are even more likely to experience this kind of sexism. A nurse will routinely be singled out as a MALE nurse, and, similarly, an engineer will frequently be singled out as a FEMALE engineer.
An automatic response by many is to say that people who get worked up about this stuff are overreacting.
It’s a catch-22. To react to these comments is considered being over-sensitive, but to let them go makes such comments somehow acceptable. These examples may seem like nitpicking, but they are indicative of underlying beliefs — beliefs that have been integrated into social norms so that men and women are not fully aware of the extent of sexism in their lives.
On the macro-level, this problem reinforces traditional gender roles and preserves patriarchal social structures, but there seem to be even more consequences than previously believed. Recent studies conducted by Sezgin Cihangir indicate that subtle sexism can be more harmful than overt sexism! This study (which only looked at women) claims that it is easier for women to brush off instances of blatant sexism (while still retaining their pride) because the sexism is easier to identify, making it easier for the women to believe that the offender is wrong (or a chauvinist f*ckwad, if you will). Subtle sexism, on the other hand, is harder to identify (which makes it harder to place blame on the perpetrator), but still hurts self-esteem and leaves a woman feeling singled out.
I could go on, but I’ll leave it at that. I’m eager to use your stories for my upcoming presentation on this topic and hear what you have to say on the matter.
Have you experienced subtle sexism? Do you think reactions to these kinds of comments are overreactions? How might we address and change this form of sexism?