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Sexism in the United States


  • Most Americans have experienced segregation according to differences in race, social class, or disability
  • Sexism is unique since this form of oppression occurs because people in the dominant group (men) and the subordinate group (women) live together
  • People take gender issues lightly and regard them as less important than racism or other forms of oppression
  • It is an attitude or action that subordinates or limits a person on the basis of sex.  It is customarily regarded as the oppression and exploitation of women, but the concept includes both men and women.
    • A type of oppression stemming from cultural norms for femininity and masculinity and behaviors that prevent human beings from achieving their full potential
  • The persistent implication that men are genetically superior to women in size, strength, speed, agility and intellect.
  • Gender roles have historically been shaped by our culture’ ideal of masculine and feminine behavior.


Cultural Sexism: History

  • Cultural sexism in America began with the gender roles defined by early colonists; men were expected to be in a superior role as the head of the household, while women were relegated to a subordinate role.
  • English law stipulated that any property or money that a women owned became her husband’s property after marriage
  • During the Revolutionary War, women took on additional roles when their husbands were away.  
  • Unmarried women could own property and engage in business on their own , but married women could not.  
  • Married women could not sign a contract or request a loan without her husband’s approval
  • Several decades before the Civil War, activists such as Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony lobbied successfully in many states for women’s property rights but were not successful in getting women the right to vote
  • It was not until 1920 that women were able to cast their first votes
  • During the 1930s, the Great Depression the movement for women’s rights because most people were struggling to simply survive.  High unemployment made job opportunities scarce for women, and employers preferred to hire men until World War II began
  • As men left the workforce to join the military, women entered the workforce to take over the jobs that men left behind
  • Society had supported women’s contribution to the war effort, but did not expect women to permanent stay in those jobs
  • When the war ended businesses that had praised women’s efforts during the war suddenly found them incompetent.  
  • Polls showed that most Americans believed that a wife should not work even if she wanted to: she should stay home with her family instead.
  • In the 1960s, advocates for women’s rights broadened the debate to include reproductive rights and sexism in the workplace.  Attention also began to focus on such issues as domestic violence and rape resulting in the establishment of rape crisis and battered women’s shelters, and changes in custody and divorce law


Addressing Sexist Messages in America

  • IN order to address cultural sexism, some feminists have advocated for androgyny.  It promotes the interchangeability of female and male roles or responsibilities in all areas beyond fundamental biological ones.  It is the belief that men and women share a variety of human traits that should be encouraged in both sexes.
  • Feminists believe that we should support people in their individual abilities and preference rather than focusing on the artificial differences and rigid stereotypes
  • To address sexism in language, feminists promote the use of inclusive language, that is terms that include both men and women 
  • Some examples of sexist language: manpower, man’s search for knowledge, mothering, manning  project, brotherly love
  • Individual sexism – defined as prejudiced attitudes and actions toward women or men because of rigid beliefs about gender and gender roles
  • Chauvinist – someone who believes in the superiority of someone or something
  • Male chauvinist – believe that men ought to be leaders and decision makers and women should be subordinate
  • Feminist – is an advocate for the personal, social, and economic equality of women.  In an effort to eliminate traditional, stereotypical gender roles, feminists today lobby to increase opportunities for both men and women 


Sexual Harassment

  • In 1979, Catherine MacKinnon created the term “sexual harassment” in her writings on workplace behaviors and gender discrimination.
  • It is defined as the unwelcome , deliberate, and repeated behavior of a sexual nature that is neither requested nor returned.  
  • Men tend to be the perpetrators of this behavior, although men can also be victims
  • Sexual harassment is not issue of power, not sex
  • Effects of sexual harassment lawsuits include decrease in profits because of worker absenteeism, lower worker productivity, and higher training costs from employee turnover.


Violence against Women

  • Rape and domestic violence are painful consequences of sexism
  • The Department of Justice reports that 250,000 women in the US are sexually assaulted every year.  Almost 75% of these assaults were committed by someone the victim knew.  
  • An estimated 73% of domestic violence incidents are not reported and 60% of women who did not report said they did not think the police would believe them 


Institution Sexism

  • It is defined as the established laws, customs, and practices that systematically discriminate against people or groups based on gender
  • Women currently represent 49% of the workforce, and almost 52% of women hold manage and professional positions.  Yet only 25% of CEOs or other top-level executives are females
  • Men still earn more than women even when they work in the same job.


Sexism in Schools

  • Researchers consistently report sexist patterns for  both teacher and student behavior in schools
  • Teachers tend to call boys more and praise them more frequently, and challenge them to finish their homework more often than they do girls
  • Boys also represent 90% of students with behaviors requiring disciplinary action in school and 80% of all dropouts.  
  • Finding a solution for gender equity in schools, like most other issues related to sexism, should focus on boys and girls being given equal opportunities

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