ii. society. In the same way, it could

ii. Sexism refers to “any attitudes and actions which overtly or covertly discriminate against women or men on the grounds of their sex or gender.” – Collins Dictionary of Sociology

Sexism is thus unfair discrimination on the basis of sex. In sexism, one sex is discriminated against another [normally men discriminating against women], but it is not always done openly and in the presence of all. Many a time, it is practised secretly, silently and in an undeclared manner.

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Sexism in modern societies is reflected in attitudes that reinforce the sub-ordinated status of women. It is an ideology that justifies prejudice or discrimination based on sex. It results in the channeling of women into statuses considered appropriate for women and their exclusion from sta­tuses considered appropriate for men.

Sexist attitudes also tend to “objectify” women, which mean they treat women as objects of sex. They do not consider women as individuals worthy of a full measure of respect and equal treatment in social institutions.


Institutional discrimination refers to the “denial of opportunities and equal rights to individu­als or groups which result from the normal operations of a society. In the same way, it could be said that women suffer from both individual acts of sexism and from institutional sexism.

It is quite known that in almost all the modern civilised countries, particular men are prejudiced in their treatment of women. Even the major institutions of our society such as – armed forces, large business establishments, police force, courts, the media, transport system, heavy industries, etc., are controlled by men.

These institutions, in their ‘normal’ day-to-day operations, often discriminate against women and perpetuate sexism. In the Indian context also, there are a number of instances in which helpless women who go to police station seeking justice, are often cheated there. The media continue to represent women even today in a vulgar manner.

Why is sexism practised? Why do males and male-dominated institutions discriminate against women? Questions like these naturally arise in any discussion of sexism. Barbara Bovee Polk [1974] has stated that men in their own interest to maintain power and privilege over women are practising sex differentiation.

It is, indeed, a power game in which men want to establish their supremacy over women. B.B. Polk writes: “power over women in personal relationships gives men what they want, whether that be sex, smiles, chores, admiration, increased leisure, or control itself. Men occupy and actively exclude women from positions of economic and political power in society. These positions give men a heavily disproportionate share of the rewards of society, especially economic rewards.

(a) Consequences of Sexism

(i) The Talents of Women Go Unutilised:

The practice of ‘sexism’ has made society pay a heavy economic and psychological price for it. Due to the justification of the ideology of sexism and its practice, the society is not in a position to make use of the talents of half of its population, that is, female population.

(ii) Provision of Very Limited Opportunities for Women:

Sexism places serious limitations on the options and opportunities for women, because of these limitations women are not able to assume many of the responsibilities and statuses even though they have the needed capacities and qualifications. Men on the contrary, do not suffer from these limitations.

Sandra and Daryl Bern’s [1970] views are worth mentioning here: “… when a boy is born, it is difficult to predict what he will be doing twenty-five years later. We cannot say, whether he will be an artist or a doctor or a college professor, because he will be permitted to develop and fulfil his own identity.

But if the newborn child is a girl, we can predict with almost complete certainty how she will be spending her time twenty-five years later. Her individuality does not have to be considered; it is irrelevant. “‘

Economic Costs of Sexism:

In comparison with men, the economic costs to women are greater. Even though women have equal qualifications on par with men, in many business establishments they are paid less than what men in the same profession get.

In fact, there are legislations such as “The Equal Remuneration Act, 1976.” [passed in India] which remove wage discrimination between male and female workers. But in actuality, these legislations remain in majority of the instances as dead letters. Studies have proved that families that rely on female breadwinners are found to be poorer than the ones which have male breadwinners.

Any society that ascribes low status to some of its members on such arbitrary grounds as race, caste, or sex is artificially restricting the economic contribution of part of the population. To be fully efficient, a modern industrial economy must allow social mobility on the grounds of merit, and not restrict it on the grounds of an irrational ascribed status.

The Psychological Costs of Sexism

(a) Women Being Treated as Thoughtless Objects and Not Subjects:

Sexism involves psychological costs also for women. Unlike other species, human beings are said to possess greater creative ability, capacity to act on and shape the external environment.

But in reality, this basic human experience is largely restricted to men only. Women experience it only second hand, that is, through their supportive role of the men who act, and shape the world. Women’s experience becomes passive rather than active. More than that, they tend to be treated as thoughtless objects and not subjects in the social environment.

(b) Pressures of Role-Conflicts for Women:

Since women are to bear the brunt of mother­hood, they are forced to forego many educational, political, cultural and economic opportunities, and are made to accept the feminine ideal – a thing of beauty, and perfect housewife.

If they accept these stereotypes or expectations they must give up the idea of exploring their talents. If they dare to reject them, then they risk severe role-conflicts. They may even be accused of being “unfeminine.”

(c) The Challenges of Ageing Specially Haunt Women:

Added to the role-conflicts, women have yet another psychological problem. The female self-concept depends much on physical appear­ance and a motherhood role. The process of ageing disturbs this self-concept.

Many women face this process with distaste and even shame. On the contrary, growing old is not a big trial for men. A man in his forties and fifties may still hope to attract younger women. His job also helps him to obtain continuous source of identity that is denied to a mother when her children mature and leave home.

Women especially in the Western context may find the last 2/3 of their lives something of a challenge as their youth and their children are slowly lost to them.

(d) Strains and Pressure Experienced By Men As A Result of the Practice of Sexism:

Due to the vast socio-economic and technological changes, the male role is undergoing heavy stresses and strains. The available data especially regarding the western society, cautions about the outcome of these strains. Some of the alarming facts about these outcomes are mentioned below:

i) The available data have revealed that men are 5 times more likely than women to commit suicide;

ii) Men are 3 times more likely to suffer from severe mental disorders.

iv) Men are likely to suffer more than women from all stress-related diseases such as ulcers, asthama, hypertension, and heart disease.

v) Men commit 8 times as many murders as women do and are also responsible for 95% of violent crimes.

vi) It is generally known that men are far more frequently involved in acts of violence than women.

e) The Costs of Emotionally Insensitive Roles:

Men often find it embarrassing to reveal or show too much of affection for other men. They are unprepared for the emotional closeness that is increasingly expected of a lover or husband. Their frequent assumption that women are in some ways inferior makes truly meaningful relationships with women very difficult for them. As a result, many men are virtually incapable of showing tenderness to the opposite sex.

Some others play a different role treating females as commodities and avoiding personal involvement with them, and the main emphasis is on sexually manipulating women. “The male’s nurturant potential as a hus­band and father is undermined by his continual need to strive, compete, and achieve.”