Because whether it’s casual or overt, sexism is wrong.
It was one of those questions that makes you go, “Ooh.” But then we immediately realized, we didn’t really have an answer. We’ve all be in those terrible hours-long sexual harassment training courses. So it’s old news: sexual harassment = wholly unacceptable. But sexism in the workplace is (maybe unfairly and definitely unfortunately) more of a gray zone: less “unacceptable,” more “uncool.” And gray zones are hard.
Since we’re a women’s career advice site, it’s a topic we should have covered in detail—so we decided to take it on, one sexist instance at a time.
what is workplace sexism?
This is probably the main reason we’ve subconsciously avoided the topic so far. To face a problem, you have to know what that problem is. And defining workplace sexism is pretty difficult.
We’ll start by splitting the term in two:
But for Women in the Workplace? The Difference Doesn’t Actually Matter
4 WAYS women can deal WITH SEXISM IN their OWN OFFICEs
1. First and Foremost, Don’t Settle for Double Standards
That is to say, if your boss calls all your male coworkers by their last names but calls you by your first (or God forbid, “Toots”), speak up. Ask why. It can feel scary, but often the double standards are so ingrained, people don’t realize they’re enabling them. Asking why brings perspective into the situation, forcing the offender to consider their actions publicly. In fact, Bustle suggests that you might want to “ask that person if he or she would have done or said the same thing if you were a man.”
By calling him or her out (in a clear, but non-abrasive way), you bring light to the issue and force them to assess their own behavior. Sometimes, sexism really is just someone being insensitive. Still not cool, but speaking up will solve that issue. And if it doesn’t? We’ll be real with you: speaking up now means that you’ve created a paper trail of sorts, so that you can lodge a formal complaint later if necessary.
BTW, all this also means that if you happen to be a manager or in a position of seniority, you should confront sexist behavior even if it’s not targeted at you. Speak up for other women just as you would want them to speak up for you. Again, office sexism is cultural so you’ve got to address it as such—one bad joke or inappropriate comment affects the entire team dynamic and your employees’ morale.
2. Find Allies in the Workplace
If there are other women in the office, speak to them about their own experiences. How are they feeling? Resigned? Alienated? If it’s clear that there’s a deeper issue with company culture, it’s worth bringing up to your HR department. Even if your experiences are different, it helps to discuss things with coworkers, especially if they’ve had more experience in the industry or have been working at the company longer. It puts things in perspective. Speaking to other women also means you’ll have someone more objective to consider your problems—it’s easy to feel like you’re being overly sensitive when you’re one woman facing a fraternity-style workplace.
But the concept of an “ally” goes much further than simply comparing and sharing experiences. The most crucial element is to build power in numbers. A true ally will join you when you protest. You’ve probably seen this at one point or another: one person speaks up having been offended by a comment. An awkward pause ensues. Then others begin to speak up, like “Yeah, that really was uncalled for,” “She’s right, that makes me uncomfortable, too,” etc. Hopefully this is done as constructive criticism, but honestly? Sometimes people are jerks and the quickest way to stop them from repeating the behavior is to publicly call them out for it (we’re a selfish bunch—embarrassment goes a long way).
3. HR: That’s What They’re There For
4. But If It’s Overt Sexism? You Must Speak Up
OK, But What About Retaliation?
It’s real, unfortunately. Especially if your office has a “good old boys” mentality, being the one to speak up will cause some friction. It’s not all flowers and sunrises, but in case you haven’t caught on, we still think it’s worth it.
If you’re truly concerned about retaliation, though, there are ways to preserve your anonymity. A private conversation with HR. Even submitting an anonymous report. We don’t recommend this approach, though, unless it’s your only choice. Part of the issue with workplace sexism is that it goes unconfronted. An anonymous note doesn’t exactly expose it publicly.
to Handle a Sexist Boss
1. Point It Out (But Don’t Condemn)
Per our earlier note, don’t settle for double standards. There are ways to question your boss’s behavior without antagonizing him (or her). Yet again, we’d suggest you start by asking why—without losing your cool.
Let’s leave sexism aside for a moment and think about bias in general. You’ve probably witnessed a moment where a good friend, your partner, your parent, whoever said something that was a bit. off-color. We’d be willing to bet you’ve said something before that wasn’t exactly politically correct.
So let’s go with the assumption that your boss isn’t aware of his guffaw. Especially in male-dominated workplaces, making space for women may require a major cultural shift. If your cubicles were just a boys’ club up until the last few years, your boss’s sexism may not be intentional at all—it could just be ingrained from years spent in a dated company culture.
But that doesn’t mean it should stand, and that’s where the “asking why” bit comes in. Call attention to the behavior and see what your boss’s response actually is. Then, if necessary, explain why you feel like it could “be perceived” as inappropriate (we’d skip the more daring confrontations here due to the obvious power dynamic). Chances are, he’ll recant.
Based on BFI Working Paper No. 2018-56, “The Effects of Sexism on American Women: The Role of Norms vs. Discrimination,” by Kerwin Kofi Charles, professor, UChicago’s Harris School of Public Policy; Jonathan Guryan, professor, Northwestern University; and Jessica Pan, associate professor, National University Singapore
- Sexism experienced during formative years stays with girls into adulthood
- These background norms can influence choices that women make and affect their life outcomes
- In addition, women face different levels of sexism and discrimination in the states where they live as adults
- Sexism varies across states and can have a significant impact on a woman’s wages and labor market participation, and can also influence her marriage and fertility rates
What type of life experiences will these women have in terms of the work they do and the wages they earn? Will they get married and, if so, how young? If they have children, when will they start to raise a family? How many children will they have? According to the authors of the new BFI working paper, “The Effects of Sexism on American Women: The Role of Norms vs. Discrimination,” the answers to those questions depend crucially on where women are born and where they choose to live their adult lives.
Kerwin Kofi Charles, professor at the Harris School of Public Policy, and his colleagues employ a novel approach that examines how prevailing sexist beliefs shape life outcomes for women. Essentially, they find that sexism affects women through two channels: one is their own preferences that are shaped by where they grow up, and the other is the sexism they experience in the place they choose to live as adults.
On average, not all states are average The average American woman’s socioeconomic outcomes have improved dramatically over the past 50 years. Her wages and probability of employment, relative to the average man’s, have risen steadily over that time. She is also marrying later and bearing children later, as well as having fewer total children. However, these are national averages and these phenomena do not hold in all states across America. Indeed, the gap between men and women that existed in a particular state 50 years ago is largely the same size today. In other words, if a state exhibited less gender discrimination 50 years ago, it retains that narrower gap today; a state that exhibited more discrimination in 1970 has a similarly wide gap today. Much research over the years has focused on broad national trends when measuring sexism and its effect on women’s lives. A primary contribution of this paper is that it documents cross-state differences in women’s outcomes and incorporates non-market factors, like cultural norms. The focus of the authors’ analysis are the four outcomes described above: wages, employment, marriage, and fertility. Of the many forms sexism might take, the authors focus on negative or stereotypical beliefs about whether women should enter the workplace or remain at home. Specifically, sexism prevails in a market when residents believe that:
• women’s capacities are inferior to men;
• families are hurt when women work;
• and men and women should adhere to strict roles in society.
These cultural norms are not only forces that occur to women from external sources, but they are forces that also exist within women, and are strongly affected by where a woman is raised. For example, a girl may grow up within a culture that prizes stay-at-home mothers over working moms, as well as early marriages and large families. These are what the authors describe as background norms, and they are able to estimate the influence of these background norms throughout adulthood by comparing women who were born in one place and moved to different places, and those who were born in different places and moved to the same place. Once a woman reaches adulthood and chooses a place to live, she is then influenced by discrimination in the labor market and by what the authors term residential sexism, or those current norms that they experience in their new hometown. On the question of who engages in sexist behavior, men and/ or women, the authors are clear: men are the purveyors of discrimination in the market (whether women are hired for or promoted to certain jobs), and women determine norms (or residential sexism) that influence such outcomes as marriage and fertility.
The authors conduct a number of rigorous tests based on a broad array of data to reach their conclusions about women’s wages, their labor force participation relative to men, and the ages at which women aged 20-40 married and had their first child. For example, their information on sexism comes from the General Social Survey (GSS), which is a nationally representative survey that asks respondents various questions, among others, about their attitudes or beliefs about women’s place in society.
Sexism affects women through two channels: one is their own preferences that are shaped by where they grow up, and the other is the sexism they experience in the place they choose to live as adults.
The authors reveal how prevailing sexist beliefs about women’s abilities and appropriate roles affect US women’s socioeconomic outcomes. Studying adults who live in one state but who were born in another, they show that sexism in a woman’s state of birth and in her current state of residence both lower her wages and likelihood of labor force participation, and lead her to marry and bear her first child sooner. The sexism a woman experiences where she was raised, or background sexism, affects a woman’s outcomes even after she is an adult living in another place through the influence of norms that she internalized during her formative years. Further, the sexism present where a woman lives (residential sexism) affects her non-labor market outcomes through the influence of prevailing sexist beliefs of other women where she lives. By contrast, residential sexism’s effects on her labor market outcomes seem to operate chiefly through the mechanism of market discrimination by sexist men. Finally, and importantly, the authors find sound evidence that prejudice-based discrimination, undergirded by prevailing sexist beliefs that vary across space, may be an important driver of women’s outcomes in the US.
By studying adults who were born in one place but live in another, the authors reveal the effects of sexism on women’s outcomes in the market through discrimination (wages and jobs), as well as in non-market settings through cultural norms (marriage and fertility).
Amber Fletcher receives research funding from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC) and Mitacs. She is a past president of the Canadian Research Institute for the Advancement of Women (CRIAW). This project was funded by the Women Entrepreneurship Knowledge Hub (WEKH).
Christie Newton receives funding from the University of Regina Faculty of Graduate Studies and Research.
This project was funded by the Women Entrepreneurship Knowledge Hub (WEKH). Gina Grandy receives funding from WEKH to coordinate the regional hub at the Hill Levene Schools of Business. Gina is a co-researcher on a SSHRC Partnership Grant "Inclusive Innovation and Entrepreneurship Network" led by Dr. Wendy Cukier at Ryerson University. Gina has also received funding from SSHRC and CIHR in the past.
University of Regina provides funding as a member of The Conversation CA-FR.
University of Regina provides funding as a member of The Conversation CA.
The Conversation UK receives funding from these organisations
Although women have played crucial roles throughout the history of Canadian agriculture and agri-food — from food production to processing and preparation — agriculture remains a male-dominated industry. Women currently comprise 29 per cent of farm operators nationally, and this number edges up only slightly with each new census.
In Saskatchewan, one of the country’s most productive agricultural regions, the percentage of women operators is even lower than the national average, at 25 per cent.
In a new report released by the Women Entrepreneurship Knowledge Hub and the Hill-Levene Schools of Business at the University of Regina, we examined the current situation for women entrepreneurs in Saskatchewan’s agriculture and agri-food sector.
Based on a detailed review of existing studies and statistics, as well as interviews with 32 people working across the agri-food chain, our report showed that despite ongoing barriers associated with gender inequality, women agriculture entrepreneurs are optimistic about the future.
Stereotypes, sexism, invisible work
Interview participants identified significant ongoing challenges for women across the sector. These challenges were mostly caused by stereotypes, sexism and women’s disproportionate responsibility for domestic and caregiving work. Women’s agricultural work is commonly scheduled around caregiving responsibilities.
Interview participants emphasized that although women may perform different agricultural tasks than men, their contributions are no less important — despite being frequently overlooked.
In primary production (farming and ranching), women shared stories of being talked over or dismissed by salespeople, lenders and even their own employees.
One woman told us:
“When you say that you’re a woman farmer, there’s that stereotype … you know: ‘Are you a farmer? Or do you just help your husband?’”
Women also report challenges accessing financial capital. They are more likely than men to rent or lease their land as opposed to owning it, and have smaller farms on average.
‘The only woman in the room’
Increased visibility, representation and decision-making power are important for women’s advancement in agriculture, but women remain under-represented in decision-making spheres.
A study by the Canadian Agricultural Human Resource Council found that women represent only 25 per cent of agriculture managers. The same study found that of 65 national and provincial farm associations, only 12 per cent had a woman as their board chair or president, 12 per cent had a woman vice-president or vice-chair, and just 28 per cent had at least one woman on their board’s executive committees.
Participants in our study described “old boys clubs” and the feeling of being the only woman (or one of few) at agricultural meetings. One woman said:
“There’s people that don’t think that [agriculture is] your place, and you should have a man there who’s making all the decisions.”
One interview participant described how she had experienced unwanted sexual advances at a farm show, which further entrenches the notion of agricultural space as primarily a space for men.
Optimism for the future
Despite the challenges, women agriculture entrepreneurs (along with those in supportive industries or roles) are optimistic about the future.
Participants discussed how role models and supportive networks between women entrepreneurs in agriculture can help with confidence-building.
Women are leading advocacy efforts for mental health and for increased public understanding of agriculture, particularly through social media entrepreneurship. A participant noted that social media advocacy cannot be only about optics and visibility but should also help tackle key issues affecting women specifically.
Existing studies also suggest that alternative agriculture — such as on-farm processing, alternative marketing (for example, community-supported agriculture) and organics — may provide a more welcoming space for women compared to the dominant industrial model.
An organic farmer in our study said:
“Organic farming, too, is different. The only time I’ve felt uncomfortable as a woman in a room was when I’ve been in a conventional [i.e., non-organic] farming meeting or conference. I think there’s definitely a difference.”
Recommendations for change
Our report presents several recommendations to facilitate and support women’s agricultural entrepreneurship.
To address under-representation and lack of recognition, a clearer definition and effective documentation of women’s presence in the sector is required, including in formal business ownership agreements.
Child care is needed, especially child care tailored to the unconventional schedules of farming and business ownership, along with child-friendly spaces at agricultural meetings and conferences. Men can play a supportive role by engaging equally in child care and domestic work and by challenging sexism.
Finally, we recommend training, networking and financial supports designed specifically for women in the agriculture sector.
Addressing deeply ingrained gender inequality creates more equitable participation in policy-making and leadership for our land and food — and that benefits everyone.
While it’s no secret that inequality still pervades in women’s daily lives, it can be hard to pinpoint exactly how and where inequality becomes an issue for the individual. A lot of instances of everyday sexism are subtle, and can feel like a personal problem if not explored on a larger level. Luckily, experts ranging from psychologists, to sex ed teachers, to documentary filmmakers, have explored things you experience every day, and how they may be toxic to women.
You may not even realize that you’re experiencing these types of toxic messages. "We are so conditioned to many experiences in our everyday lives that harm our self-esteem [and] we attempt to push them away in order to get through the day," psychotherapist Emily Roberts, MA, LPC, tells Bustle. But pushing these things away, unfortunately, won’t make them any less real.
"Honestly, just about anything can be toxic if it occurs in a context of disempowerment or lack of knowledge or self-esteem,” Good Vibrations staff sexologist Carol Queen, PhD tells Bustle. And the world is constantly trying to take away women’s confidence. "For women, very often it comes down to a feeling of the world setting expectations that are unattainable and often counter to their personal beliefs,” Joshua Klapow, Ph.D. Clinical Psychologist and Host of The Kurre and Klapow Show, tells Bustle. But you can start to feel a little more empowered once you realize what these beatdowns really look like.
Here are 12 things women experience every day that are subtly toxic, according to experts.
Sexism in TV ads is still rampant. And although you may be transitioning from a literal television to streaming services, you’re likely still seeing these ads, and absorbing this messaging, in your daily life. This unfair messaging is best explored in the documentary Miss Representation, which looks into the way media impacts young women.
"Every day the media tells women that their value lies in their youth, beauty, and sexuality over their intelligence and agency,” Miss Representation director Jennifer Siebel Newsom tells Bustle. “Whether it’s the advertisements we see every day or the lack of representation in our government — these negative images have far-reaching negative consequences for women’s health and wellbeing.” Newsom and other experts agree that we can fight this by becoming educated on the type of media we consume. "Media literacy means that we ask ourselves who made a piece of media and consider the messages embedded in it. When we can see them clearly, it’s harder to simply internalize them," Queen says. It’s important to protect yourself out there.
Being Told To Smile
While street harassment is a rather obvious thing that happens both every day and is toxic to women, the kind of harassment that asks women to smile more is more subtle. "[It’s harmful that] women are expected to walk around with smiles on their faces all the time, no matter how they are feeling inside,” Susan Shumsky, Author of Instant Healing, tells Bustle. “It’s demeaning and infuriating." This sexist concept comes from the idea that women have to be appealing and welcoming at all times, which is totally unfair. While it’s obvious that you don’t need to smile for any reason other than wanting to, it can still be quite painful to hear this consistently.
Hearing The Myth Of The Aggressive Woman In The Workplace
According to research from the Elephant In The Valley study, 84 percent of women in Silicon Valley have been told they are too aggressive in the workplace. When it comes to how that affects their day-to-day, almost half of respondents also found that they have been asked to do lower-level tasks than their male colleagues (like note-taking, or ordering food, even when it’s not in their job description).
The mythology of the aggressive working woman is incredibly toxic. “We live in a country where 40 percent of Americans think it’s bad for society if women work, and yet another 40 percent of this country has female breadwinners,” founder and CEO of Chairman Mom, Sarah Lacy, tells Bustle. “Women have never been so educated or so empowered and for nearly half the country that is considered alarmingly bad news." It’s also bad for women’s’ mental health. "[The ‘aggressive’ woman] may be exhibiting the exact behavior as her male counterpart and yet the behavior is seen as ‘not right’. When she backs off she is seen as weak and indecisive.It is a no win situation, and thus her self-esteem suffers," Dr. Klapow says. So if you feel particularly beaten-down by this trope, you are far from alone.
Being Mom Shamed/Seeing Mom-Shaming
Kylie Jenner has recently been in the news again, this time getting flack for piercing her daughter Stormi’s ears. And while this may seem like just another ridiculous moment in the life of an ultra-famous person, it’s way more common — even for non-celeb moms — than you may think. "88 percent of women have witnessed ‘mom shaming’ on social media," Lacy says, according to her own research at Chairman Mom on SurveyMonkey. This means that an overwhelming amount of moms experience mom-shaming, and even non-moms absorb these events through online messaging like the discourse over Stormi’s tiny bling.
This sort of toxicity can be really harmful for moms or moms-to-be who already have enough to be concerned about when it comes to things like motherhood in the workplace. Mom-shaming may seem silly, but it really hurts.
Sick of being catcalled, or asked when you’re going to get married? Us too. Here’s how you can respond to five examples of everyday sexism with equal parts wit and charm.
By Lara Robertson
Sick of being catcalled, or asked when you’re going to get married? Us too. Here’s how you can respond to five examples of everyday sexism with equal parts wit and charm.
By Lara Robertson
From closing the gender pay gap, to giving all women the opportunity to access education, there’s a lot we still need to achieve in the fight for gender equality. While it’s important to work on fixing the big issues, it’s the small and seemingly harmless instances of everyday sexism that are also working to maintain and normalise inequality between men and women. From catcalling to being called a “good girl” as a grown woman, here are five common examples of everyday sexism and how you can respond to them.
Receiving Unsolicited Comments On Your Body
For some reason, the simple act of women being out in public seems to give some men (and women) the assurance that they have the right to comment on and even touch women’s bodies. A survey conducted by the not-for-profit Stop Street Harassment found that over 81% of women have been catcalled, groped, yelled at, stared at, intimidated, followed or harassed online. But don’t worry, women shouldn’t be alarmed by any of this, because apparently we should just take these actions as ‘compliments’ and not as creepy comments on our bodies. Unless, of course, you were wearing a revealing outfit, in which case you were obviously asking for attention.
Unfortunately, there’s not much you can say if someone harasses you on the street without compromising your safety. However, a good way to humiliate someone who has harassed you in public is to say “What?” or “Pardon?” as if you didn’t hear them. The more they have to repeat what they just said, the sillier they sound. On the other hand, if you see someone being harassed in public and there are other people around, don’t be afraid to speak up. As more people start calling out these behaviours, less people will get away with harassing women, or feel comfortable harassing them in the first place.
Being Mistaken For The Office Maid
Being pressured into doing office housework, asked to organise events, fetch coffees or take minutes. These are all common examples of the ways in which women are often coerced into doing the necessary but low-reward jobs in the office. Unsurprisingly, a recent study found that it’s women who are are shouldering most of the responsibility when it comes to office chores. But it’s a lose-lose situation: while those who undertake such work don’t receive any benefit, if they refuse they face being looked on unfavourably by their boss and colleagues. As Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant, authors of Lean In, wrote in the New York Times, “When a woman declines to help a colleague, people like her less and her career suffers. But when a man says no, he faces no backlash. A man who doesn’t help is ‘busy’; a woman is ‘selfish’.”
So if you notice that you or other women are always being delegated office chores, don’t be afraid to speak up. Write up a roster so jobs are shared equally among the team, or why not volunteer one of your male colleagues for the job?
Being Called A ‘Good Girl’, ‘Darling’, ‘Sweetie’, ‘Babe’, etc.
Women everywhere often find themselves in the awkward position of being called a “good girl” by a customer or by their boss – despite being a fully-functioning adult. While fairly harmless, and usually said with good intentions, infantilising women in this way is pretty condescending and shows they are not being taken seriously as a professional.
If someone calls you a “good girl” simply bark at them (okay, that’s a stretch), otherwise, find a later opportunity to call that same person a “good boy” or “good girl”, and see how they like it. If you’re concerned that one of those responses might result in you losing your job (or you’re worried about sounding insane), try to find a way to respectfully tell that person that being called a “good girl” makes you feel uncomfortable.
Having To Deal With Double Standards
Different expectations about the way men and women are supposed to behave are everywhere, but it’s particularly frustrating when they are treated differently for exhibiting similar behaviours. An assertive woman is called “pushy” or “bitchy”, while an assertive man is promoted; an ageing woman is called a “witch”, while an ageing man is called a “silver fox” and can still have an acting career well into his 60s ; a man is high-fived for his sexual prowess while a woman is slut-shamed for “sleeping around”; men who work long hours are “workaholics”, while career-focused women are selfish.
If you hear someone exhibiting double standards when talking about a woman, don’t be afraid to call it out. Pulling someone up on their sexism is the first step to creating lasting change regarding the way we talk about men and women.
Being Asked About Marriage And Having Children
From their twenties onwards, women find they are constantly asked when they’re going to get a boyfriend, get married and/or have children, as if women’s worth lies only in their marital status and childbearing capabilities. Unfortunately, in the 21st century, this is what most people still believe: that a life without children is a life unfulfilled, that a woman who is unmarried and childless is an “Unwoman”, to borrow Margaret Atwood’s phrase.
If someone takes one look at your ringless left hand and thinks it’s fine to ask you about your personal life and tell you why having children is just so important, you have a few options. If you want, you can choose to answer truthfully, or say nothing at all, but if you want to give them something to really think about, hit them with the following response: “I would get married and have children, but I’m too busy smashing the patriarchy that tells me that my self-worth lies solely in my ability to be a wife and mother.”
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Louise Mansfield works for Brunel University London and receives funding from UK research councils, government organisations and charities. She is affiliated with the Leisure Studies Association, the International Sociology of Sport Association and the North American Society for the Sociology of Sport.
Belinda Wheaton works for The University of Waikato, NZ. She receives funding from UK and NZ research councils, and charities. She is affiliated with the Leisure Studies Association, the International Sociology of Sport Association and the North American Society for the Sociology of Sport.
Jayne Caudwell works for Bournemouth University. She receives, occasionally, external funding including government-funded, foundation or research council grants. She is affiliated with Leisure Studies Association, Amnesty International, the Labour Party and the University and College Union,
Rebecca Watson works for Leeds Beckett University. She receives, occasionally, external funding including government-funded, foundation or research council grants. She is affiliated with Leisure Studies Association and the University and College Union.
University of Waikato provides funding as a member of The Conversation NZ.
University of Waikato provides funding as a member of The Conversation AU.
The Conversation UK receives funding from these organisations
Female athletes and leaders are undeniably more visible and increasingly successful in sport – putting in incredible performances both on and off the field. But these achievements still occur in a male defined sport sector – where female stars have to tackle marginalisation and sexualisation of their sporting performance and leadership skills.
Recent research also suggests that coverage of women’s sports has actually become more sexist over the past four years – making it clear that in the current age, everyday sexism characterises the culture of sport.
Elite sportswomen who gain public visibility and acceptance tend to embody a femininity that appeals to white, male heterosexual audiences (and TV producers). This means that women and girls can be subjects of unparalleled achievements in sport, but at the same time, they will be looked at as sex objects – and often applauded for their commitment to heterosexual domestic mothering roles.
Take Jessica Ennis-Hill, undoubtedly one of the world-leading heptathletes of all time, yet reports and pictures claiming her “golden girl” status are based more on her looks, model poses and domestic relationships than her athletic achievements.
In surfing, women have increased recognition by the World Surf League via media coverage of women’s events and increased prize money. Yet imagery of the female surfer is still highly sexualised and objectified. Professional female surfers highlight that the industry is sexist and sponsors ignore surf talent in favour of model looks. Many struggle to find sponsorship and report feeling pressured to “show their arse” rather than “kick arse”.
Alana Blanchard, for example, remains the highest-paid female surfer via sponsorship and endorsements. She is a darling of social media and tops polls for being the “most popular athlete”, or “best photo” among male and female surfers. But she did not make it into the world top 30 in 2016.
Female athletes, including the boxer Nicola Adams, have highlighted the fight for sporting equality. Adams has called for boxing to have more female ambassadors – like herself. Casey Stoney, a footballer who plays for Liverpool in the English FA Super League has also spoken about the difficulty of being female and being a sports star. She has openly identified the struggle in coming out and being a mother in sport. Meanwhile Heather Rabbatts – the FA’s first female non-executive director and board member – has been vocal about the restricted professional roles for women in the male culture of sport.
A man’s world
So it’s good news then that some governments and international organisations are beginning to address the inequalities that female coaches and administrators face in sport. The recent UK Government’s Women and Sport Report also recognises the scale of the problem.
The International Olympic Committee has additionally claimed that the “real” problem for gender equality in sport is not simply fewer numbers of female athletes and events, but the lack of women in leadership and decision-making roles more generally.
In our forthcoming book, we highlight how every sporting era is characterised by gender regulation, discrimination, sexism and misogyny. Yet throughout history, feminist work has helped to challenge the sexualisation of female athletes – helping to open up the sporting world for females, while at the same time transforming gender-related rights and athlete welfare.
It is in this way that men and women across the sporting sector can continue to help to challenge and change the everyday sexism in the culture of elite sport. This is something that is vitally important – because, for women, pathways to power are invariably littered with reminders that sport is still very much a man’s world.
When people are being bigoted or obliviously discriminatory, they tend to cover as many bases as possible.
Case in point: Racialized sexism.
Racialized sexism is what happens when Women of Color (or WOC) are targeted not as gender minorities, not as People of Color, but as both at the same time.
What makes it trickier than racism or sexism alone is that Men of Color, even those who claim to be progressive, often perpetuate racialized sexist ideas.
Also, some self-proclaimed feminists make a mistake in thinking that sexism and racism are separate issues, or that all women share a universal experience of sexism that can be talked of generally.
For WOC to have their experiences with race being denied on the basis of their gender is invalidating, and it keeps their concerns from being addressed by a movement that needs to include them.
Furthermore, Black women, Asian women, Latina women, and other WOC are rarely just read as “women.” They are read as Black women, Asian women, and Latina women, and as such, are pressured to meet white expectations of beauty and culture in ways that Men of Color and white women don’t encounter.
That’s why, even when generalized racism and sexism are weeded out, racialized sexism sneaks into spaces that claim to have the best interests of women and People of Color at heart.
What Racialized Sexism Looks Like
This is what racialized sexism sounds like: Black women are so sassy. Asian women are so submissive. Latina women are so exotic. Arab women are so oppressed.
It also sounds like the hateful language hurled at Nina Davuluri after her Miss America win.
All of these stereotypes and insults that are specifically meant to mock and devalue WOC cannot be treated as sexist or racist alone – because they’re both.
WOC are also pressured to meet Western standards of beauty, which overwhelmingly favor stereotypically “white” (or Eurocentric) features: Straight hair, light skin, and light eyes. From the time of birth, the eye shape, hair texture, and skin color of WOC are under scrutiny.
Judgments come not only from the kids at school or the lack of representation on television, but from friends and family.
Dark-skinned girls are pitted against light-skinned girls, girls with “good hair” against girls with “bad hair,” all based on the erroneous belief that being acceptable or attractive to men — especially white men — is a source of power and social mobility.
This is not the same as the pressure to be beautiful that all women face, or the pressure to fit into white culture that all People of Color in white-dominant societies face.
Nor is it the same for all WOC.
The issue of skin color is different for Southeast Asian women than it is for East Asian women, for example, and it doesn’t apply to People of Color worldwide.
In all of these cases, the racism and sexism can’t be isolated and treated as separate issues. For WOC, they intersect.
In Social Movements
Another problem with racialized sexism is that it isn’t just “society” or “the patriarchy” that dishes it out. It can come from people who believe they’re working against those systems.
When a Woman of Color stands for gender and racial equality, her allegiances get pitted against each other.
For example, within her own community, a pro-choice Black woman gets accused of supporting Black genocide or hurting Black families – at times by other Black women.
In a feminist space, the same woman is dismissed or talked over when she tries to discuss issues that specifically affect Black women due to the combined influences of racism, sexism, and classism.
The lack of visibility and inclusion WOC face in the very movements meant to benefit them are symptoms of privilege.
Men of Color may feel that the racism they experience somehow entirely negates their male privilege, or white women may feel that the sexism they experience negates their white privilege.
This allows unchecked, unacknowledged issues of sexism and racism to trickle into social movements.
The fact of the matter is, privilege doesn’t go away because of oppression, a hard life, or having it “worse” than someone with less privilege.
And so you get white, Western feminists trying to “rescue” women from hijabs, or Men of Color asking that their women stand by them while limiting their choices.
The autonomy of WOC is therefore ignored not only by those who are both racist and sexist, but also by racist feminists and sexist Men of Color who should know better.
Dealing with racialized sexism means dealing with the fact that every person holds multiple political and social identities that blend and intersect.
I don’t get to take my race hat off and put my gender hat on or vice versa. It’s a packaged deal.
In the case of feminism, ignoring people’s racial identities in favor of their gender identities unintentionally excludes the majority of women from women’s rights. Feminists can’t afford to ignore race or the way it colors different women’s experiences.
Racialized sexism has given birth to a range of stereotypes about the sexuality of WOC that increase their risk of sexual assault.
Racialized sexism means that WOC are often fetishized, othered, treated as “exotic,” or passed over in the dating world.
Racialized sexism says that it’s okay for people to reach out and touch a Black woman’s hair because it looks “different.”
Racialized sexism treats WOC like token minorities in self-proclaimed feminist spaces that haven’t made themselves truly safe.
All of these things, big and small, that sometimes fall under the radar of white feminism and the broader feminist movement, need to be acknowledged as real – not for the sake of playing the oppression Olympics and finding out which race has it hardest, but for seeing each other’s realities and vulnerabilities.
Assuming that all experiences of sexism are just variations of the same thing is a mistake, and it ignores the way people move through space in the world – as whole beings with multiple identities and ways of presenting them.
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Jarune Uwujaren is a Contributing Writer for Everyday Feminism. A Nigerian-American recent graduate who’s stumbling towards a career in writing, Jarune can currently be found drifting around the DC metro area with a phone or a laptop nearby. When not writing for fun or profit, Jarune enjoys food, fresh air, good books, drawing, poetry, and sci-fi. Read her articles here.
T he comedian Kate Smurthwaite received 2,000 abusive tweets for objecting when a men’s rights activist called her “darling” in a TV debate. Some called her “bitch”, “slut”, “harpy”; some were explicit threats of violence and rape.
After going on Question Time, the historian Mary Beard received hundreds of messages attacking her appearance. And the scientist Emily Grossman received so many hostile, sexist tweets when she talked about sexism in science, she was forced to take a break from social media.
But it’s not just public figures. I’ve heard stories of teenagers who have stopped going into college, women who have withdrawn from social media or been forced to change their work after being bombarded with online attacks.
We shouldn’t stand for this. The internet is an amazing thing – a way to give a voice to the voiceless, reinvigorate democracy, inspire debate. A third of us use Facebook. A fifth of us are on Twitter. Social media is where we live our lives: work, play, gossip and chat – our new streets, offices, pubs, parks and public spaces. And that means everyone should be part of it.
The internet has to be a way to speak truth to power and to hold the powerful to account – not a way for the powerful or the abusive to silence the truth. We need to be able to express anger, disagreement or contempt in an argument – and it’s really important in a democracy for those in power to see the strength of feeling about decisions they take.
But, just as we would on the streets, in the pub or at work, we have to challenge misogyny, racism, homophobia and intimidation or threats against others that are designed to silence debate.
Let’s be honest: technology and new media move fast, and this is all so new that no one is sure where we should draw the line, or whose responsibility it is to act. And I won’t pretend to know all the answers. But as Stella Creasy, who has led campaigning in this area, has argued, we can’t keep ignoring it because it’s hard. So here’s where the debate should start.
First, we need new guidelines and capacity for the police and prosecutors to deal with violent threats, hate crime and stalking, which clearly break the law. Too many people feel they don’t get the protection they need.
Second, institutions could do more. Pubs give people warnings if they are being abusive, or kick them out if they are harassing other customers. The new social spaces – social media and newspapers that publish online comments – need to think about their responsibilities too. Membership organisations can set standards of behaviour they expect. The Labour party has rules to prevent sexism, racism or bullying in meetings; it’s time to apply the same principles online. Why don’t the Tories, SNP, Lib Dems and Ukip do the same?
Third, more support and advice. Those who have suffered the worst persistent abuse say they feel very alone. But right now the rest of us don’t really know how to help or stand with them – whether to confront any online sexism thrown at us or ignore it. I’ve always tended to ignore it, feeling I can’t really be bothered to give it any oxygen. But @EverydaySexism has shown the power of shouting back and speaking out.
And fourth, we need to do more to prevent the next generation thinking online misogyny, racism or hatred is OK – and to prevent it from contaminating offline relationships too. We need compulsory sex and relationship education in schools to promote respect in relationships and zero tolerance of violence or threats.
But whatever the answers, we can’t ignore this issue any more. A century ago, the suffragettes fought against the silencing of women in public and political life. In the 70s and 80s feminists began the campaign against the violence, threats or harassment that silenced women in the home or on the streets – founding the first refuges and organising marches to “reclaim the night”.
Each time, campaigning women challenged and changed culture. We need to do the same again now so women are not silenced on the new streets of social media, so no one is drowned out by bullying and abuse.
It’s time for women and men to stand together against sexist abuse, misogyny, racism and violent threats online – so the web can be the amazing democratic space we need it to be. It is time to reclaim the internet.