Sexism and gender differences can be seen in several different contexts within most modern societies. This lesson covers institutional sexism in four general areas: the workplace, family life at home, politics, and the military.
Gender differences in pay are an example of institutional sexism
Imagine that you have to talk to the following people today: a dental hygienist, a receptionist for a big company, and a kindergarten teacher. When you imagine meeting these three people, do they have anything in common? According to statistics from the U.S. Department of Labor, if you're living in the United States, there's a very strong likelihood that all three of these people will be women. There are still many professions that are dominated by only one gender.
There are other common gender differences as well; for example, men usually make more money than women, even at the same job, and men are more likely to be promoted at work. This lesson is going to talk about gender differences in a variety of modern contexts. When a society perpetuates different opportunities or advantages for one sex over the other, this is called institutional sexism. Today we're going to cover four major areas where institutional sexism could be found in many modern societies - at work, in families at home, in politics, and in the military.
Sexism at Work
A common place to see institutional sexism is in workplace settings. We've already talked about one example, which is that many professions still employ primarily men or women. Jobs like dental hygienists, receptionists, and kindergarten teachers are typically filled by women, whereas jobs like pilots, surgeons, and computer scientists are typically filled by men. There has been a lot of change in these patterns over the last 50 years, with some people going into jobs that were traditionally for the other sex, but we still have a long way to go before we'll see equal numbers of men and women in these jobs.
Even if a man and woman have the exact same job and have the exact same educational background and experience, national statistics show that many companies will pay these two people different salaries. On average, a woman will only make $0.77 for every $1.00 a man makes at the exact same job. This difference in pay is one of the most upsetting for many women, who feel it would only be fair for both people to make the same amount for the same work.
The glass ceiling is another example of institutional sexism in the workplace
Another type of institutional sexism that can sometimes be seen in workplace settings is called the glass ceiling. The glass ceiling refers to a trend in which women can rise to a certain level of promotion in a company but are blocked from reaching the highest levels of management or supervision. In other words, many women experience a feeling that they can get promoted at work to some kind of mid-level position, such as an assistant manager. However, they find that only men have the highest levels of position in the company, like a general manager or CEO of the company. The metaphor here is that women can figuratively 'rise' so high in the company, but then they hit their heads of some kind of invisible barrier that stops them from rising all the way to the top. They can't see the problem physically, but it's there. Men, however, are not blocked by the invisible glass ceiling.
Another metaphor you might have heard is the glass escalator. This is a similar idea as the glass ceiling. The glass escalator refers to a trend in which men seem to easily rise higher and higher in a company, as if on an escalator, while women stay at the bottom. Again, the idea is basically the same in the two metaphors: Men can reach the top in terms of salary and prestigious jobs, while women are stuck at the bottom, making less money and keeping jobs of lower status.
Sexism at Home
Around the world, most cultures think of taking care of a family home and the children as the primary responsibility of women. Women are typically given tasks at home, such as cooking, cleaning, laundry, errands, and anything involving looking after the children. In the United States, women do an average of 16 hours of household work each week compared to men's average of only 9 hours per week. This is true even in a heterosexual household in which both the man and woman work full-time jobs outside of the home in addition to their work at home.
Because of this common difference, the trend has been labeled the second shift for women. This refers to the fact that both a man and woman go to their first job, or first shift, at the beginning of the day. But women are expected to complete more housework than men when they return home after work, in essence becoming a 'second' shift of work that men typically don't do, or at least don't do to the same degree.
The unequal sharing of housework among men and women is an example of sexism at home
Sexism in Politics
Now, let's think about politics. Quickly, list all of the important female politicians from your country that you can. I've give you 5 seconds.
Now imagine that I asked you to think of all the important male politicians from your country. For most people, many, many more men could easily come to mind, and it would take a lot longer than 5 seconds to list all of them! Politics is one area in which we see a large disparity in the number of men versus women.
In the United States, women couldn't even vote until 1920. It wasn't until the 1980s when the United States saw women in the Supreme Court or as a final candidate for Vice President. However, there have been several changes recently showing that women are making progress in politics in the U.S. In 2011, about 24% of state legislators were women (although that's not very close to half). In 2008, Hillary Clinton was very close to being chosen as a final candidate for the presidency.
In other cultures, there's a huge disparity in the percentage of women involved in politics. In countries like Sweden and Norway, women make up about 45% and 40%, respectively, of the country's parliament members as of 2012. India elected a female prime minister all the way back in 1966. Many countries all over the world have elected female presidents or prime ministers. However, there are very few countries where women make up half of politics, which would be representative of the population. One of the countries where this is the case is the tiny African country of Rwanda; there, 56% of parliament members were women as of 2012.
Sexism in the Military
The fourth and final context in which we'll discuss institutional sexism is the military. In most countries all over the world and throughout history, soldiers are much more likely to be men than women. Some countries require men of a certain age to serve in the military for a certain number of years; this is true today in around 25 countries, including Switzerland, Greece, and Brazil.
In the United States, women have served in the military since colonial times. However, as of 1940 during World War II, women were only 2% of the military. In 2010, sixty years later, the number of active women in the military had only reached 15%. In January 2013, the United States decided to allow women to serve in combat positions, something that had been nationally banned before then. It will be interesting to see what happens in the next sixty years.
In summary, this lesson defined institutional sexism, which is when a society perpetuates different opportunities or advantages for one sex over the other. We then covered four contexts in which institutional sexism is common: the workplace, at home, in politics, and in the military. We talked about the glass ceiling and the glass escalator, as well as some differences in trends by country or culture. Can you think of other contexts in which men and women are treated differently or given different opportunities?
As you finish the lesson, it will be easier for you to:
- Define institutionalized sexism
- Explain sexism in the workplace and recognize what the glass ceiling or escalator refers to
- Recognize how sexism affects women in the home
- Recognize how sexism plays a role in politics and who our politicians are
- Describe how sexism affects our military