By the students, For the students

The Navigator

By the students, For the students

The Navigator

By the students, For the students

The Navigator

The Plague of Sexism

What it is, and how we can overcome this disease.

I know.

I used the word.

The “s” word.

The word that has people on both sides of the political spectrum up in arms.

“Sexism’s been eradicated in the twenty-first century, women have all the same legal rights as men! What else could they possibly want?” or, “All men are sexist pigs! They should never be trusted.”

Although I tend to humorously align myself with the latter quote, I think it’s important to take an objective approach to understanding, revealing, and ultimately combatting, sexism within our modern age. Now, I know, many of you might be thinking: “We’ve moved past sexism!” That’s not entirely true. Although women’s rights have continued to progress since the dawn of history, sexism, misogny, and the oppression of women is still ever-present within our society. To many, it might seem like an odd topic to bring up—out of the blue, of sorts. But, with recent geopolitical events, and the consistent domination of male-centric beliefs and opinions, I find it important to call attention to the plague of sexism.

What is sexism?

The word sexist—or sexism—seems to be thrown around a lot, especially within the political sphere; therefore, I think it’s incredibly important to identify what sexism is, and what is looks like materially in the world. Oxford Languages defines sexism as: “prejudice, stereotyping, or discrimination, typically against women, on the basis of sex.” It’s important to note here that sexism and sexist actions aren’t always committed by men—women suffer by internalized sexism and misogny, which can then be projected onto other women within their community. There are many different “forms” or manifestations of sexism, just to name a few: misogyny, which has more violent connotations; misogynoir, which is a form of sexism that specifically targets Black women; and finally, fetishization and objectification, two forms of sexism, which denote women’s existence to their body, and the sexual pleasure that men can derive from it.

Sexism and the oppression of women isn’t just an abstract concept, rather, these beliefs about woman transfer into material action. In less violent forms, this can look like women being spoken over or undermined in the classroom, workplaces, or other public spaces, women being denied certain jobs—or being stereotyped to want, or are more likely to be better at specific jobs, and, lastly, making jokes that deny women’s humanity. Because these actions don’t necessarily results in physical harm, we are often quick to down play them.

“It was just a joke,” or “Why do you have to take things so seriously,” are common dismissive remarks I’ve received after calling out male friends for problematic behavior and jokes. Even if it’s meant to be taken light-heartedly, it’s important to ask yourself: “Do I truly believe this?” and “How can and will this affect women?” You shouldn’t respect women just because they are your mothers, sisters, girlfriends, and friends, but because they are human beings deserving of respect.

Sexism and misogny can take on more violent forms. The sexual and physical abuse of women, ignoring or downplaying a women’s statement when expressing violence she’s faced, or instating laws and legislation that limit women’s freedoms and choices. The words we use have influence. When we speak and treat women as if they aren’t deserving of autonomy and respect, those beliefs get transcribed into law. Even though I very rarely see physical violence against women at school, I do notice underlying trends of disrespect against girls. Only respecting girls you find attractive, making sexual comments about girls to undermine their success, or laughing when we speak up passionately about what we believe.

I’ll repeat what I said previously: women can be sexist too. Internalized misogny, as the internet has coined it, influence women to be sexist against other women. Treating them as “less than” if they do not fit a certain standard of womanhood or femininity. This can also look like women recreating or re-inscribing problematic stereotypes about other women—arguing that all women are “good at cooking and cleaning,” or that “women are more emotional than men.” These often seem harmless, but hold a darker history. Therefore, as women, it’s important to take notice about the ideas we are spreading about womanhood, and check ourselves when we feel the urge to judge other women for misogynistic reasons.

What are steps I can take to help eradicate sexism?

In the world of academia, writers love to critique, discuss, and talk. Writers sure do love to talk. But, I think it’s important to not just critique sexism—whether that just be in the classroom, or in an online article, like myself—but to take tangible action to fight against it. Thus, here are some tangible and technical ways that you can grapple, and stand up to, sexism within the world around you:

  1. Educate yourself. [I know! I bet you’ve heard this one before.] Educating yourself is the first step in taking action—read article, books, watch youtube videos, or listen to a podcast. All of these forms of media can be great resources of education. But, don’t just let it go in one ear and out the other—apply it to your real life. Take a step back and challenge yourself if you feel as though you’ve thought something sexist or made a sexist remark. It’s okay to backtrack and remind yourself—and the people around you—that “hey, I didn’t mean to say that. I don’t actually agree with that.” For many women, especially for white women, I think it’s important to do research and understand the unique struggles of women of color. Doing so, can help you to support women who face both the intersections of racism and sexism, and make you community a more inclusive place.
  2. Speak out. Whether that be in the classroom, at home, or in the workplace, it’s important to speak out. If your friend says something sexist, challenge them. Tell them that what you think they just said was wrong, and you don’t think it’s okay for them to say that. If a family member makes a problematic comment at family dinner, take note, and speak to your siblings and parents later about it. Clarify that what you think they said was wrong. Even if you are too afraid to speak out, make sure to guard your mind. If someone says something misogynistic don’t join in. Make a note in your head that what they said was wrong, so in the future, you aren’t likely to say or be influenced by their way of thinking.
  3. Protest and Vote. The second part of this might not be applicable to all students, but if you are voting age, make sure to vote! Attend a women’s march, protest, or boycott institutions and brands that hurt women. Advocate for women’s rights—whether that be by calling and discussing issues with your local legislators, or petitioning those on the federal level. It’s the power to the people, therefore use your power! Your voice.
  4. Protect Women. Protecting women doesn’t necessarily mean being an overbearing, chivalrous, “knight in shining armor,” but rather, if you notice someone pestering or harassing a woman, step in. Pretend to be her friend, boyfriend, anybody—get her to safety. If a women shares an experience of physical or mental abuse, believe her. Get her help. For many women—especially young girls—it can be scary to speak up about the violence that they’ve faced, in fear of extreme judgement or disbelief. Therefore, it’s very important to take action and do they best you can do get them out of a potentially dangerous situation. And, if you see something, say something. Someone slipped something into a girls drink at a party? Tell her. Does she seem too drunk to consent? Step in. Your buddy made a rape joke? That’s not your friend, say something.
  5. Support and Uplift the Women Around You. A simple compliment can really go a long way. But, in all seriousness, uplift and support the women around you. Be joyous when women succeed, celebrate their achievements, opinions, and world-changing actions. Listen to what they have to say, in the classroom, in the workplace, at home. Lighten the load! Don’t just let your mom, or your sister, do all the work at home—clean up after yourself, step in to do the dishes, take out the trash, or cook a meal. Women labor constantly, both emotionally and physically. When possible, ease that burden.

In conclusion, sexism can’t be solved in a day, or a week, or a month; however, if we all work together to fight against the plague that is sexism, we can make the world a better place for all people. Women don’t just deserve rights because of their relation to men—wives, sisters, mother, and girlfriends—but, we deserve joy, peace, love, respect, and decency because we are human. Our labor, both visible and invisible, holds up the world and keeps it going. We are change makers, lovers, joy-creators, hope-givers, and so, so much more.

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About the Contributor
Grace Carmody
Grace Carmody, Writer