Sexism is the belief or attitude that one gender or sex is inferior to or less valuable than the other and can also refer to a hatred or distrust towards either sex as a whole (see also misogyny and misandry), or creating stereotypes of masculinity for men or femininity for women. It is also called male and female chauvinism.

Sexism can refer also to any and all systemic differentiations based on the gender of a person, not based on their individual merits. In some circumstances this type of sexism may constitute sex discrimination, which in some forms is illegal in some countries.

Generalization and partition

In philosophy, sexist attitudes can be understood or judged on the basis of the essential characteristics of the group to which an individual belongs—in this case, their sexual group, as men or women. This assumes that all individuals fit into the category of male or female and does not take into account intersexed people who are born with a mixture of male and female sexual characteristics. This also assumes a significant degree of Homogeneity in the characteristics of men and women respectively, and generally does not take into account the differences that exist within these groups. XY males and XX females who are genetically one sex but have developed the characteristics of the opposite sex during the foetal stage are usually considered with respect to their Phenotype under this system.

Certain forms of sexual discrimination are illegal in many countries, but nearly all countries have laws that give special rights, privileges, or responsibilities to one sex or two sexes.

sex condition of hatred fears discriminatory anti-discriminatory
discrimination of movement of
female femininity misogyny gynophobia gynocentrism feminism
male masculinity misandry androphobia androcentrism masculism
intersex intersexuality misandrogyny androgynophobia LGBTIQ
transsex transsexuality transphobia LGBT

Sexism against women

The term 'sexism' is most commonly applied to sexism against women, and expressed by either men or women is called male chauvinism. Related terms are misogyny, which implies a disrespect of women, and gynophobia, which refer to the hatred and fear of women or femininity.

The idea that men benefit from certain rights and privileges not available to women is referred to as Male privilege.

Historically, in many patriarchal societies, women have been and are viewed as the "weaker sex". Women's lower status can be seen in cases in which women were not even recognized as persons under the law of the land. The feminist movement promotes women's rights to end sexism against women by addressing issues such as equality under the law, political representation of women, access to education and employment, women victims of domestic violence, self-ownership of a woman's body, and the possible impact of pornography on women.

Sexism against men

The view that women are superior to men is also a form of sexism, and when expressed by a woman can be called female chauvinism or misandry. Androphobia, on the other hand, refers to the fear of men or masculinity.

Wendy McElroy refers to male stereotyping when she claims that in some "gender feminist" views, all men are considered irreconcilable rapists, wife-beating brutes, and useless as partners or fathers to women. McElroy and Camille Paglia claim that certain feminists they refer to as "gender feminists" view women as innocent victims who never make irresponsible or morally questionable choices. Other feminists such as Kate Fillion have questioned the idea that women are always innocent victims and men always the guilty victimizers when the interests of each collide with those of the other.

In 1997, the Canadian Advertising Foundation ruled that a National Ad campaign that featuring Nicole Brown Simpson's sister Denise with the slogan, "Stop violence against Women" was in fact portraying only men as aggressors, and that it was not providing a balanced message and was in fact contributing to gender stereotyping. (The murder of Nicole Simpson also included the murder of Ronald Goldman)

Sexism against transsexuals

Transsexuality (also known as transgender) is a complex condition that is defined differently by different people. Transphobia refers to prejudice against transsexuality and transsexual or transgender people, based on their personal gender identification (see Phobia - terms indicating prejudice or class discrimination). Whether intentional or not, transphobia can have severe consequences for the person the object of the negative attitude. The LGBT movement has campaigned against sexism against transsexuals. The most typical forms of sexism against transsexuals are how many "women-only" and "men-only" events and organizations have been criticized for rejecting transfemales, and transmales respectively.

Sexism and sexual expression

The expression of sexual intimacy is a part of the human condition. However, various aspects of human sexuality have been argued as having contributed to sexism.

The Sexual Revolution

During the sexual revolution, there was a change in the cultural perception of sexual morality and sexual behavior. The sexual revolution has been known as the sexual liberation by feminists since some saw this new development in the West as a leveling ground for females to have as many choices concerning their sexuality as males--hoping to eliminate the problematic virgin/whore dichotomy of traditional Western society.

Modern feminists like Ariel Levy have claimed that the current state of commercial sexuality has created a "Raunch Culture". This cultural development, (which has largely occurred in the West) the commercialization of the sexual objectification of women, has been criticized as being limiting for men and women. Rather than being liberating, some feminists argue that the "pornification" of Western society has reduced and equated the scope of feminine power to sexual power only. Some feminists argue that women are themselves objectifying other women by becoming producers and promoters of the "Raunch Culture".

Some masculist theorists posit that prior to the sexual revolution the idealized male was expected to be virile while the idealized female was expected to be modest. They note that after the sexual revolution, women were given more liberty to express virility while the reverse has not been true for men, who have yet to be given a choice to be non-virile. They argued that the dual identity of hypersexuality and asexuality is a luxury and special status that only exists for women. However, many feminists believe that this dual identity rather allows men to condemn a women for her sexuality for being either modest or virile (see double standard).


Some individuals express the view that pornography is contributing to sexism, arguing that in usual pornographic performances for male spectators the actresses are sexually objectified. They claim that the narrative is usually formed around men's pleasure as the only goal of sexual activity. The German feminist Alice Schwarzer is one representative of this point of view. She has brought this topic up repeatedly since the 1970s, in particular in the feminist magazine Emma. The reverse, where female spectators are objectifying male actors, has also been identified as sexism.

On the other hand, some famous pornographic actresses such as Teresa Orlowski have publicly stated that they do not feel themselves to be victims of sexism against women. In fact, many female pornographic stars and sex-positive feminists view pornography to be progressive, since they are paid money for performing consensual acts, and also since many directors and managers of the industry are women as well. Porn positive feminists often support their position by pointing out the situation of women in countries with strict pornography laws (e.g., Saudi Arabia) versus women in countries with liberal pornography laws (e.g., the Netherlands). Many opponents of pornography believe that pornography gives a distorted view of men and women's bodies, as well as the actual sexual act, often showing the performers with synthetic implants or exaggerated expressions of pleasure. Some opponents believe pornographic films tend to show women in particular as being extremely passive, or that the acts women perform are degrading and solely for the pleasure of their sexual partner, and that this is evidence of sexism.

Sexism and linguistics

It has been argued that sexual dichotomies exist in language, though it is disputed whether certain language causes sexism or sexism causes certain language (see the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis).

Occupational sexism

Occupational sexism refers to any discriminatory practices, statements, actions, etc. based on a person's sex that are present or occur in a place of employment. One form of occupational sexism is wage discrimination, which is prohibited in the US.

Sexual discrimination

Though sexism refers to beliefs and attitudes in relation to the gender of a person, such beliefs and attitudes are of a social nature and do not, normally, carry any legal consequences. Sex discrimination, on the other hand, may have legal consequences. Though what constitutes sex discrimination varies between countries, the essence is that it is an adverse action taken by one person against another person that would not have occurred had the person been of another sex. Discrimination of that nature in certain enumerated circumstances is illegal in many countries.

Sexual discrimination can arise in different contexts. For instance an employee may be discriminated against by being asked discriminatory questions during a job interview, or because an employer did not hire, promote or wrongfully terminated an employee based on his or her gender, or employers pay unequally based on gender. In an educational setting there could be claims that a student was excluded from an educational institution, program, opportunity, loan, student group, or scholarship due to his or her gender. In the housing setting there could be claims that a person was refused negotiations on seeking a house, contracting/leasing a house or getting a loan based on his or her gender. Another setting where there have been claims of gender discrimination is banking; for example if one is refused credit or is offered unequal loan terms based on one’s gender.

Socially, sexual differences have been used to justify different roles for men and women, in some cases giving rise to claims of primary and secondary roles. While there are non-physical differences between men and women, there is little agreement as to what those differences are.

The United Nations has stated (2006) that women struggle to break through a "glass ceiling," and that "progress in bringing women into leadership and decision-making positions around the world remains far too slow." The Special Adviser to the Secretary-General on Gender Issues, Rachel Mayanja, said, "The past ten years have seen the fastest growth in the number of women in parliaments, yet even at this rate, parity between women and men in parliaments will not be reached until 2040."

The term "glass ceiling" is used to describe a perceived barrier to advancement in employment and government based on discrimination, especially sex discrimination. In the United States, the Glass Ceiling Commission, a government-funded group, stated: "Over half of all Master’s degrees are now awarded to women, yet 95% of senior-level managers, of the top Fortune 1000 industrial and 500 service companies are men. Of them, 97% are white." In its report, it recommended affirmative action, which is the consideration of an employee's gender and race in hiring and promotion decisions, as a means to end this form of discrimination.

Transgendered individuals, both male to female and female to male, often experience problems which often lead to dismissals, underachievement, difficulty in finding a job, social isolation, and, occasionally, violent attacks against them.

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