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The Art of Subtle Sexism

By Jacqueline Risch

Subtle Sexism in School (Photo from Feminism In India)


If you were presented with an instance of subtle sexism in the classroom or workplace, could you identify it? With the fall semester picking up this week, it is important to recognize, stop, and prevent instances of sexism you or your female classmates may face. The only problem? These instances of gender discrimination are not always easy to recognize. Here are three common scenarios where women can face sexism in an academic or college setting.


To start off, I guarantee you every woman has been interrupted mid-speech by a male peer or colleague. While this can be a problem both genders experience, women face it more often. Most of the time it’s not personal or intentional, but the action itself normalizes the notions that female opinions are not important, women have not earned a seat at the table, and that women ought to remain quiet if they want to be valuable members of the team. This is simply not true. Luckily, there are a few quick ways to combat this problem. As a male coworker, you can interject and mention how your female coworker was not finished speaking. This way, you present your female coworker with a chance to finish her thought. If you are the female being interrupted, you can choose between interrupting them yourself and saying something along the lines of “I wasn't finished speaking," or simply let them finish talking and reply “thank you, but I wasn’t finished speaking,” and continue. It’s important to treat every person with respect and listen to their opinions both in the classroom and workplace.


Secondly, a sign of subtle sexism is when members of the team assume that females in the group will cover administrative positions, including note-taking and organization. When presented with a lecture or the need to write information down, assuming your female partner will “have it covered” is sexist and outdated. Perhaps your female partner does want to take notes! Please just ask and do not assume.


Finally, when you see a sports team or leadership position with the title “female” or “lady” before it, that’s a form of subtle sexism. This is typically seen in female sports teams with the phrasing “Lady Rams,” Lady Knights,” etc., but it is not uncommon to hear women in leadership positions be referred to as a “female CEO” or a “female senator.” However, no one refers to male sports teams as the “Gentlemen Rams” or “Male Knights.” No one refers to men in leadership positions as “male CEOs” or “male senators.” Please correct your usage, and educate those who are unfamiliar with this form of sexism as well.


While these are obviously not all the forms of subtle sexism seen in academic settings, they should be kept in mind as classes and clubs begin on Zoom. If you’re interested in learning more about different forms of subtle sexism, reach out to your female classmates. They can provide you with multiple instances that will give you an insight into the patriarchal world in which they live.

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