“Like a Girl” – The Roots of Casual Sexism

It’s undeniable that we live in a problematic society, one where being a feminist is considered a statement and where advocating for equality is deemed as asking for too much. “Well, you’re better off than women two decades ago,” we often hear. However, that doesn’t make casual sexism acceptable.

Because sexism is the norm, we often fail to recognise its latent form in everyday situations,  such as sexist jokes and double standards. Though casual sexism may not always be intentional or ill-meaning, it is pervasive and contributes to an oppressive reality for women across the world. Its normalisation also makes it difficult to cause a ripple effect of change in the minds of those who hold subconscious biases.

For example, the misplaced jokes that take a shot at women’s bodies or stereotype their characteristics are forms of humour part of a behavioural pattern nurtured in the environment one has grown up or lives in. The casual usage of offensive terms like b***h and w***e  – meant offensively or not – is also a symptom of this environment. Starting as early as kindergarten, young boys learn to use derogatory words and phrases to describe girls, which arise from both a lack of mutual respect and traditional ideas of gender.

The fact that men can describe women in offensive ways without consequence whilst men go untouched begins with our skewed teachings of a gender binary. They seep their way into every aspect of our lives: Girls are weak so they can’t play sport – that’s why there aren’t as many women athletes as men, for instance. This flawed circular reasoning is taught, internalised, and mimicked from the day children are born.

Moreover, outdated gender roles, wherein men are supposed to be the breadwinners while women remain homemakers, still underpin our communities and the opportunities that individuals have access to, leading to double standards. Statistically, we still see more women in “nurturing” careers such as teaching and nursing, and more men in technical or STEM careers. These systemic phenomena don’t just arise out of the blue – we are indoctrinated into them by manifesting archaic notions of who we ought to be because of a label we were forced to embody at birth.

So what needs to be done? We have to speak up when we observe outbursts of casual sexism. We need to do more to educate our friends and family about inclusivity. We have to change the way we raise our kids by raising them with gender positivity.


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