7 Ways We're Taught Sexist Behavior and What We Can Do About It

by Julia Kitlinski-Hong Sep 22, 2016

1. We use terms like “Girl Boss.”

In recent years, the term Girl Boss is being used liberally in popular culture, and in the form of hashtags all over social media. It’s seen as a way to empower women professionally, but when you take a closer look it’s actually pretty demeaning. Girl Boss implies that female bosses need a cute little qualifier and that they have not yet separated from their younger selves, even if they have achieved significant success in their careers.

Men are not called “Boy Bosses,” they’re simply called bosses. To add ‘girl’ in front of ‘boss’ takes the importance out of the title, and singles women out from men. Women should just be referred to as bosses. You wouldn’t call Oprah or Hillary Clinton a Girl Boss would you?

2. There’s a lot of focus on female fashion in our culture.

It’s deeply ingrained in our society to first compliment little girls on their physical appearance. If you go to a children’s clothing store, the options for girls are usually a lot more overwhelming than those for boys. From frilly white party dresses to hair bows of every color of the rainbow, there’s a certain message that our culture is sending out that appearance should be a top priority for women.

This becomes problematic because it only focuses on the superficial, and not on individual characteristics and talents. It makes little girls grow up to think that appearance is more important than what’s inside their brains.

Next time you catch yourself about to compliment a little girl on her appearance, try asking about her favorite books or hobbies instead. This may spark an actual conversation that isn’t centered around lace and ribbons. This issue was recently brought up during award shows like the Emmys, where the #askhermore hashtag was created in order to encourage reports to ask female actresses questions beyond the typical “who are you wearing?” inquiry.

3. Women’s sports aren’t often taken seriously.

Our culture tends to give them less attention, whether that’s shown by the lack of teams in high schools or by the low salaries for professional female athletes. In order to take women athletes seriously, there needs to be an overall attitude change on how society views women in sports.

Recently during the Rio Olympics, there were many ways that women were made to feel less than. Katie Ledecky was called “the next Michael Phelps.” The final five women’s gymnastics team were shown as if they were hanging out at the mall while waiting on the sidelines. The first step to changing the perception of women’s sports is bringing attention to the inequalities, which will no doubt spark meaningful conversations and encourage people to take action for gender equality in sports.

4. We nurture the assumption that dads don’t help out.

In the past few years, there has been a lot of discussion on how women can have both a successful, fulfilling career while being a nurturing, present mother. The thing that seems to be missing from these conversations is that it’s often the fathers who are responsible for helping to make this possible, and they often take a largely unrecognized role in child-rearing and housekeeping. Maybe they’re a stay-at-home dad or a working father who is pulling his fair share of weight in the household.

The conversation shouldn’t be about whether a woman can balance her career and her children, it should be about the importance of finding a partner who is willing to help her achieve both.

5. We use insults that end in “like a girl.”

In our society, we’re taught from an early age to put down guys through girl-centric insults. Everything from playing sports poorly to showing emotions publically is an excuse to use the demeaning phrase “like a girl.” Many people use this insult without even realizing its deep consequences, that it continues to perpetuate gender stereotypes for both men and women.

One way that we can begin to reverse this negative association is to change it into a positive one. A few years ago, feminine hygiene product company Always, created a campaign that brought attention to the “like a girl” phrase and aimed to transform it into something empowering instead of insulting.

6. We continue to casually slut-shame women.

Toxic terms that are commonly used to refer to women as “easy” are often thrown around without much thought. It’s even worse when women use these terms to put other women down. In order to show men that it’s unacceptable to slut-shame women, women need to come together and stop slut-shaming each other.

A large part of the struggle is going to be halting the slut-shaming trend on social media, which has become an easy way for both genders to put women down under the protection of the Internet.

7. We still think of “feminism” as a bad word.

The dreaded F-word has many females and males quickly denying any association to it. Feminists are often seen as stereotypical angry lesbians who hate anything and everything that has to do with men. The first thing we need to do to clear this up is to teach the masses that feminism isn’t about hate or creating a women-dominated world, it’s about achieving equality. Men can help out by not being afraid to call themselves feminists — because the term simply means they support equal rights for both men and women. That way, feminists can spend less time defining feminism and more time encouraging others to support the simple concept of equal rights for both genders.

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