Sexism past and present, sexism at work. What is sexism and how to fight it?

Surely you’ve encountered the term sexism at some point. We most often associate it with behavior that discriminates against the female gender, but these days the term is gaining a wider meaning. What is sexism? When did it arise? How to fight against its manifestations?

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What is sexism?

Sexism is, by definition, discrimination against a person or group of people on the basis of gender. It is primarily associated with stereotypes, saying that one gender is better or should be more privileged than the other. Sexist behavior can result from a learned pattern of thinking, a lack of tolerance and empathy, cultural and social conditioning, or fear.

  • unequal pay for both gender groups, for example, a man will earn more than a woman in the same position,
  • lack of voting rights for one of the sexes, for example, women cannot vote in state elections,
  • sexual harassment, bullying, resulting from the perception that one gender is weaker than the other,
  • unequal rights in child custody battles after divorce,
  • unkind jokes based on stereotypes of a particular gender,
  • linguistic sexism, that is, the creation of names that discriminate against one gender.
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Sexism past and present

The term sexism was coined in the 1960s and is still with us today. It means unequal treatment on the basis of gender, that is, discrimination against one gender compared to the other. Of course, in the past, sexism focused on discrimination against the female gender, which had far fewer rights than the male gender. We mustn’t forget that just a few decades ago, life for women looked completely different than it does now. Ladies had much worse access to education, which translated into an inability to work in most career paths. In addition, their voting rights in many countries were severely restricted. In the old days, women’s role was to get married, bear children and take care of the home. There is nothing wrong with this if it is a woman’s conscious choice. Unfortunately, they often simply had no other option.

Fortunately, women have begun to fight to change this state of affairs. The battles for equality lasted for many years, but most of them were successful. Sexism against the female gender continues to exist, but it is becoming less socially acceptable every year, so that it occurs less and less often.

Nowadays, sexism continues to affect women to a greater extent, but men also face gender discrimination. It most often happens when fighting for child custody rights in divorces. Often the child’s consolation “automatically” stays with the mother, and her contact with the father is hindered. Men blame the operation of the legal system in our country, which favors the mother in parental privileges, and limits the father’s rights to child custody. Another thing is that some men are comfortable with the fact that they “have the child out of the way,” even able to evade paying alimony, and this is a scourge in in many countries.

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Sexism at work

The most common manifestation of sexism at work is the occurrence of unequal pay in the same positions for people of different genders. Unfortunately, nowadays women continue to complain that they earn less than men while performing the exact same duties. Sexism can also be related to a problem with promotion (the so-called “glass ceiling”), as well as a lack of trust on the part of a superior (yes, because most often a guy boss, but it happens that also a woman will not promote another woman because of gender!), stemming from the view that one gender is weaker than the other.

Sexism at work can affect any profession and sector of the economy. It is not easy to fight it, as it is often the case that the discriminator is a supervisor, manager, director or president. Those in high positions in a company may feel safe and unpunished, but we must remember that any sexist behavior should be met with an appropriate response.

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Sexism: how to fight it?

It is likely that each or every one of us has at some time encountered gender discrimination, for example, in the form of being accosted on the street, unfunny jokes, or even problems in achieving certain professional goals, for strictly sexist reasons. Exposure to this type of behavior can be extremely distressing and humiliating, and can even lead to a nervous breakdown in the victimized person.

How to fight sexism? First of all, do not pass by it indifferently. Any unwanted sexist behavior should immediately be reported to the appropriate person or institution. This can be a superior, the labor office, and in cases of very severe abuse, even a lawsuit. Under no circumstances should sexist behavior be ignored or swept under the rug, because failure to take action and draw consequences will contribute to exacerbating the problem.

The fight against sexism must also be based on prevention. Children should be brought up from an early age with the idea of gender equality, empathy and respect for others. Children should be instilled with the idea that every human being is equal, regardless of his or her gender, and any behavior showing any signs of discrimination should be met with an appropriate response.e

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It was the Council of Europe that adopted the first international definition of sexism

In 2019, the Council of Europe adopted the first international definition of sexism. The RE Committee of Ministers defined it as “any action, gesture, visual representation, verbal or written statement, practice or conduct based on the belief that a person or group of persons is inferior because of their sex, occurring in the public or private sphere, online and offline, as well as the manifestation of historically unequal power relations between men and women, which leads to discrimination and prevents the full development of women in society”.

  • violation of the inherent dignity or rights of a person or group of persons,
    physical, sexual, psychological, and socioeconomic harm or suffering to a person or group of persons,
  • creation of an intimidating, hostile, humiliating, degrading or offensive environment,
  • creating a barrier to autonomy and full respect for the rights of a person or group of people,
  • perpetuating and reinforcing gender stereotypes.

In the published document, the RE Committee of Ministers also shows the relationship between sexism and violence against women and girls, stressing that sexist behavior contributes to an atmosphere of intimidation, fear, discrimination, exclusion and insecurity that limits the opportunities and freedom of one gender.

Members of the Council of Europe’s Committee of Ministers stressed that sexism is widespread in all societies and sectors, and issued a call to RE member states to raise public awareness of sexism, and to respond quickly to any manifestations of it by public figures.

  • legal changes that define and condemn sexism,
  • the introduction of a range of penalties for sexist behavior and hate speech related to discrimination against one sex,
  • various ways to help victims of sexist behavior.

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