Subtle Sexism: It Adds Up

A lot of people are slowly coming around to realizing that overt sexism sucks, especially when it leaves obvious signs, as domestic violence and rape do. Overall, this is a good thing, but it leaves subtle or implicit sexism unexamined. I suppose we have to start somewhere, right?

This essay by a woman coder on the phrase “lighten up” perfectly exemplifies what I’m talking about. Her numerous experiences with being the only woman in a meeting and being told to take notes, or having her outfits constantly commented on, demonstrate how these experiences add up. Further, the lack of sympathy from her peers made it worse: “If I wasn’t in the middle of being raped or beaten or threatened or fired, guess what I needed to do? Lighten up.” But the problem is that these comments do not occur in isolation. Women in predominantly male industries or environments hear comments daily, even hourly. I’m going to venture to say that women who go out in public hear these kinds of comments too, as it’s a way of policing the public sphere and making sure that women know where their place is (in the home, the kitchen, and the bedroom).

This issue is broader than just women’s rights, though; it affects everyone who’s in the minority. The author writes: “That’s the main problem with subtle discrimination. It leaves those that it affects the most powerless against it, quietly discouraging them. If they speak up, they’re treated to eye rolls at the least, and at the worst, are called oppressors themselves. We’re accused of not wanting equal rights, but of wanting tyranny.” Speaking out against apparently small infractions, so inconsequential that it’s a wonder we’re bothered by them at all, is seen as detracting from more important things or bigger-picture issues. And since sexism – and racism, and homophobia, and so on – adds up, we need to address experiences of oppression that happen at every level, whether or not they strike us as unimportant or minor.

Follow us on Twitter @mysexprofessor. Follow Jeana, the author of this post, @foxyfolklorist.

About Jeana


Jeana Jorgensen, PhD recently completed her doctoral degree in folklore and gender studies at Indiana University. She studies fairy tales and other narratives, dance, body art, feminist theory, digital humanities, and gender identity.

  • Kait @ yogabeautylife

    So true and awesome articl.e  Thanks for sharing!

  • Jeana Jorgensen

     Thank you! I’m glad you enjoyed it.