Sexism is a major topic nowadays. I talk about it here in big and small ways all the time. You see stories in the news about people coming forward and accusing major public figures and celebrities of harassment and assault. And the good news is that it is slowly starting to work. Boys will be boys is becoming an unacceptable standard, when people speak up others are starting to listen.
But what about the smaller moments? The moments that aren’t really worthy of going to HR about, but are definitely still a part of the problem. Moments that are the pre-requisites for the big moments later on. Maybe your uncle isn’t a full blown misogynist, but his views are definitely sexist. Maybe your boss isn’t harassing you, but his behavior is still problematic. These little comments or actions that don’t seem worth calling out in the moment, but are definitely reinforcing a world where women are devalued. They aren’t crimes, they aren’t harassment, they might not even be aggressive. But they still are not right.
Here are some examples of low grade sexism in our daily lives.
Low Grade Sexism at Work
Again, I am not talking about the big HR stuff. I’m not talking about inappropriate comments or touching or power plays. I’m talking about those small socialized moments that aren’t quite worth talking to HR about, but are definitely creating sexism in the work place.
Delegation – studies have shown that women are the most likely to do non-promotion worthy work in the office. Take notes during meetings, supply runs, small office tidying. And it perpetuates this idea that women are homemakers and caregivers first, that they should be the ones taking care of an environment and the people in it. But men of similar levels are not expected or even asked to make the coffee for the meeting or run to staples for office supplies. There are tasks that are seen as “women’s work” and there is an unspoken expectation that women will just take care of those things but men should never be expected to let alone asked.
Nicknames – the fact that anyone would dare call a women sweetheart in a professional setting any more still baffles me, and yet I have experienced it both on the superior side of things and the client side of things. Endearing pet names for women you work with is anything but.
Working Moms – women still get promoted less, women still get paid less, and having children is still a negative impact to a lot of professional women. A lot of women are forced to choose between being a mom and being a successful career woman still. But men still do not have to make this choice. No one hesitates to hire a man with children, but it is assumed a woman with children will not work as hard and require more time off.
Low Grade Sexism at Home
I think even the most well intending feminist of men will fall into this trap. Even through the progress of women in the work place over the last century, the home front has probably seen the least amount of change.
Chores – again, a lot of cleaning and care work for an environment is seen as women’s work. Cooking, cleaning, planning most often falls to the woman. It is often an unspoken assumption that women will just manage the home. I am baffled by how many couples I know where the man never cooks and doesn’t even know how, and therefore the woman is cooking and prepping meals for the entire family all week long. I’ve talked a lot about emotional labor before, and most emotional labor falls to the woman.
Parenting – I do think this is getting better, but still slowly. The idea that dads babysit their children when left alone with them.
Low Grade Sexism in Our Views of Women
And of course, our day to day views and perceptions of women. Comments, expectations, views. All of these socialized and unconscious thoughts that are really just meant to put women down and keep men on top.
She’s too pretty to be smart – this idea that the greatest currency a woman has to offer is beauty, and therefore it must be the only thing she should really want. That if a woman is beautiful she has no need for ambition or aspirations, and if a woman is not beautiful then she better have something else to offer.
You only got that because you are pretty – the other side of the coin. Resenting accomplishments of women and belittling their achievements.
Sluts – the endless double standard. An independent woman who is confident in her sexuality must be shamed. But the judgment of a sexual woman is more about the fear of her rejection.
Low grade sexism is definitely part of the problem. It perpetuates socialized ideas that women are here for the benefit and service of men and when they challenge that role and expectation they must be shamed or belittled or bullied. Low grade sexism in our daily lives leads to major sexism being socially acceptable later on.