Cases of Everyday Sexism
An expository essay digs deep into a topic. In this sample expository essay, we dig into the many instances of everyday sexism that not many people, including women, may notice. This is an important topic to discuss because it has detrimental effects on the lives of women.
Since the first inception of the feminist movement, the status of women in society has changed drastically. For one, women now have the right to vote, seek education, own property, and make decisions independently. Women are no longer confined to the home as they have the option to seek fulfilling careers in many fields. Despite these improvements, however, sexism continues to be prevalent in society. True, in most countries, women are not traded like chattel or beaten for trying to go to school, but women still have to struggle against sexist ideas, attitudes, and behavior. Sexism nowadays is not as easy to point out as before because some of them have been normalized while others are subtler and hidden by a façade of good intentions and humor. As such, instances of everyday sexism are not always visible even to those who experience it, even less so to those who do not, yet it has a significant, adverse impact on girls and women. This expository essay delves into the subtle ways women experience sexism in various contexts and explains how such experiences affect them.
Definition of Sexism
Sexism is related to attitudes and behaviors that perpetrate stereotypes regarding the fundamental nature and roles of men and women in society (European Institute for Gender and Equality [EIGE], n.d.). Sexism often involves ranking men as superior to women and assigning them favorable treatment and power over others, while women are discriminated against. As evident in this definition, sexism is not an attitude that is confined only to one gender. Rather, it is an attitude that can be adapted by anyone regardless of their gender or any other identity. Sexist attitudes lead to hierarchical thinking, both conscious and unconscious, which results in bias and, potentially, hostility toward the inferior group, in this case, women. Such attitudes affect not just an individual or a group’s behavior but also decision-making practices, thus, resulting in prejudiced policies and the normalization of sexist behavior. Examples are bias against women who have plans to start a family, normalization and hushing of sexual harassment survivors, women being told to dress appropriately to avoid sexual harassment, and so on. Sexism espouses a dangerous way of thinking that affects both women and men.
Sexism in Media Messaging
Mass media is a tool used to reach a wide range of audiences. These include books, newspapers, magazines, recordings, radio, movies, television, and the internet. These tools produce content that the public uses to inform or entertain themselves (Santos, Carvalho, and Portugal e Melo, 2022). As such, the media selects certain themes, particularly those it believes mirror the public’s interests while silencing those it believes will not render public interest. In doing so, the media not only dictates what is known and discussed in the public sphere but also shapes public opinion (Santos, Carvalho, and Portugal e Melo, 2022). Thus, the media’s portrayal of genders plays a crucial role in how women are perceived and treated.
It is common knowledge that the media’s portrayal of women, and men, leans heavily on stereotypes. As such, men and women are treated and portrayed differently in the media, with men often portrayed in a positive light for instance, if they show traditionally masculine traits. If the man shows a traditionally feminine trait, such as vulnerability, they are portrayed as strong. In contrast, if a woman demonstrates these traditionally masculine traits such as competitiveness, resoluteness, or being commanding, they are portrayed negatively; while if they adhere to traditional feminine traits, they are trivialized. Because of such portrayals, people, in general, develop a stereotypical and limited view of women, such as believing that they are not fit for highly technical jobs. Such stereotypes are harmful to women because it results in policies and behavior that deter women from pursuing careers in the field of science or engineering, for instance. Apart from the barriers, women, as well, may internalize these stereotypes which may lead them to believe that they are only good for menial jobs or home life. Such myths were all too common in the past and still exist today.
The mass media has also been responsible for perpetrating sexist behavior through these dangerous myths. By exaggerating gender roles, the belief that women are inferior and, thus, should be subject to men, has become normalized. The exaggeration of a certain form of masculinity has also espoused toxic masculinity, which has led some men to feel entitled to a woman’s body. Thus, society hears phrases like “grab ‘em by the p***y” from powerful world leaders such as former US president Donald Trump.
The media’s handling of rape cases is another strong example of how it perpetrates sexist behavior. Let us return to the rape case of Chanel Miller who, at the beginning of the case, chose to be unnamed. Brock Turner, the former Stanford athlete who raped her while she was unconscious, received a light punishment. When the case was first publicized, the media focused on portraying the rapist positively, focusing on his achievements as a Stanford student and swimmer, all while avoiding the crime he committed (Webb, 2020). In stark contrast, the media’s portrayal of the victim, despite being unnamed, focused on the fact that she was drunk at a fraternity party. This is coupled with reminders to other women on what to do to avoid becoming the victim of sexual harassment (Webb, 2020). The way the media frames stories shapes the way the public perceives them. Of great importance in sexual assault cases is who the media blames or portrays as responsible for the event. The media’s positive portrayal of men is evidently not limited to fictional works, but also in real events. As demonstrated here, the media chose to portray Turner as a student with a lot of potential and who is incapable of such a crime, whereas Miller is portrayed as a reckless party girl. So many victims of sexual assault have been portrayed in this way that people assume this immediately about sexual assault survivors without first considering the facts. The treatment of the women who stepped up with their own experiences of sexual assault during the Time’s Up Movement mirrors the experiences of Miller.
Such portrayal is harmful to women. As the nation saw, Miller immediately feared being known by the public, due to the negative portrayal and harassment most rape victims receive or experience. Rape victims, regardless of their gender, generally fear such treatment if they report their experiences. Such is so prevalent that Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN) estimates that only 310 out of 1000 incidents of sexual assault are reported to the police (RAINN, 2020). Whenever a crime is not reported and appropriately addressed, society suffers as more people are left vulnerable to danger. However, these portrayals continue to pervade in the mass media, and thus, continue to condition people to believe such harmful stereotypes.
Sexism as Microaggressions
Another common form of subtle sexism in society is microaggressions. Microaggressions refer to indirect, subtle, or unintentional statements or behaviors that demonstrate negative attitudes, hostility, and/or derogatory, especially toward a marginalized group (Desmond-Harris, 2015). Microaggressions are commonplace and often perceived or believed to be normal behavior, and anyone offended is too sensitive (Desmond-Harris, 2015). Women are one of the common targets of microaggressions.
Online, women complain or joke about men on the street or in their workplace telling them to smile more (Algner and Lorenz, 2022). In work settings, in addition to the gender pay gap , a woman who is an expert in a subject matter may be interrupted and have the thing they are explaining explained to them by a man—a phenomenon now called “mansplaining” (Boyce, Huma, Ristimaki, De Almeida, and Doehring, 2021). Stories of women executives being mistaken for interns or secretaries is common. As is women experiencing difficulties fulfilling their duties due to other people doubting their expertise. Such microaggressions are not necessarily consciously hostile or derogatory (Desmond-Harris, 2015). Often, people do them without awareness of the impact of their actions.
Even though the actor does not intend any negative meaning in their remarks or actions, they still have a negative effect on the receiver simply because they are anchored on implicit biases that perpetrate stereotypes (Desmond-Harris, 2015). The actor may not be aware because they are an outsider to the group being stereotyped, but the receiver is, naturally, aware of this. Experiencing microaggression on a regular basis takes a toll on the individual. It affirms feelings of marginalization, adversely affects mental health, and therefore, affects their productivity as well as creates a hostile and less validating environment (Desmond-Harris, 2015).
Microaggressions hinder people from doing their regular roles in the workplace as women usually have to spend additional time and effort to prove themselves or explain why they are doing certain things. The psychological toll this takes also means that women have to exert extra effort to work or break barriers in their field. For example, they may have to think carefully about the way they dress so as not to seem to feminine but also not too masculine—a mirror of the way mass media portrays women as discussed in the previous section. As such, microaggressions may also deter women from pursuing careers in fields that are traditionally dominated by men.
Sexism as Unrealistic Expectations
Sexism also manifests in the form of unrealistic expectations of women, which are also powered by stereotypes. Unrealistic expectations set by the society include expecting women to get married and have children as well as maintain a career. Such expectations add a burden to women as they feel compelled to work themselves to the point of burnout. For example, women are expected to do the majority of chores at home while being the primary caregiver of children while also working to provide for the family, while men are only expected to work. Women are bound to struggle with burnout and, possibly other mental health issues ( how to take care of your mental health ) as a result of these expectations, which would only further hinder them from living their lives (Algner and Lorenz, 2022). Such expectations are thus, dangerous for women.
Furthermore, such unrealistic expectations are prohibitive to women. It limits the actions and aspirations of women. They are not given genuine freedom to pursue the path they wish. Instead, it contributes to feelings of inadequacy because no matter which path they choose—motherhood or a career, for example—they will always fall short in the eyes of society. When women are not afforded genuine freedom to pursue the path they want, they are unable to meet their full potential and contribute as much as they can to the progress and betterment of society. Because of these unrealistic expectations, along with other forms of sexism, women have to struggle more to follow the path they want.
Sexism as Stigma Surrounding Reproductive Health
Women’s reproductive health is the subject of much controversy as it is simultaneously considered a taboo topic and is highly regulated by governments. Women’s menstruation, along with the changes they experience with it, is considered taboo and disgusting. Women are expected to hide their periods, especially from men, such that they are taught to discreetly carry or ask fellow women for period products if necessary. Furthermore, advertisements selling menstruation products are careful in portraying the said products, such that the absorbency of a product is demonstrated with a blue liquid rather than something that resembles blood.
Despite the various side effects that they experience with their periods, women are expected to function as if nothing is wrong with them. Although women with periods generally experience severe abdominal cramps, headaches, muscle aches, lower back pain, diarrhea or constipation, bloating, and fatigue, they are expected to work and function as usual. It is not widely acceptable to seek a work leave to rest on these days. In fact, the concept of “period leave” is one topic that is still debated today. Some women even refrain from speaking of their experiences for fear of confirming sexist stereotypes. Such experiences are scientifically explained and are a natural function of the female body, yet society refuses to accept them and give appropriate consideration to those in need.
Furthermore, it is not common for women to seek medical assistance for ailments concerning their reproductive health. In general, women’s reproductive health is underexplored—there is still a lot to be studied (Dumas, 2018). This means that many of the experiences of women regarding their reproductive health are still not understood. Unfortunately, this is often experienced as a dismissal of their stigma. Such attitudes toward women’s health lead to health inequities as women either do not seek medical help when it is needed or, when they do, their needs are not met.
Another controversial debate topic is abortion, which pro-choice groups often frame as a matter of controlling women’s bodies. Abortion is the practice of terminating a pregnancy either due to medical complications, psychological needs, or the individual’s personal choice (Granger, 2021). However, this practice is widely condemned by religious groups, particularly fundamental Christians , and continues to be heavily regulated in most countries (Granger, 2021). By not providing abortion rights to women, governments are limiting women’s bodily autonomy—something they do not limit to men. More importantly, bodily autonomy is a vital element to women being able to fulfill their potential, especially since unplanned pregnancy is so closely tied to unemployment and poverty.
Everyday Sexism is Dangerous
As demonstrated in the main body of this expository essay (see our guide on how to write an expository essay ), sexism does not only manifest as violence toward women or refusal to hire women. Sexism occurs every day, masked as humor or as part of a culture, that they have become an “expected pattern of action” (Nelson 2018; Lithwick, 2018, cited in Press and Tripodi, 2021). However, these cases of everyday sexism have detrimental effects on the lives of women, and indirectly, on society as a whole. Not only do they perpetrate negative stereotypes, instances of everyday sexism also propagate attitudes and behavior that promote sexual harassment and abuse toward women, meaning that it also puts women’s lives in danger. There is still a long way to go before everyday sexism is eradicated because it is deeply embedded in the culture that not even women sometimes recognize them. However, more people are now becoming more aware of the seemingly small ways that sexism manifests and more people are becoming empowered to push back.
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Webb, T. D. (2020). Knowing her name: The framing of sexual assault victims and assailants in news media headlines [Master’s thesis, University of Cincinnati]. Ohio Library and Information Network. https://etd.ohiolink.edu/apexprod/rws_etd/send_file/send?accession=ucin1592171139720739&disposition=inline