Sexism Within Genders

Gender discrimination can involve a wide range of unacceptable attitudes and behaviours. It happens mostly to women. It can happen to men. It can happen to the LGBTQIA+ community. However, one contributory factor I never hear being discussed is sexism within genders, and not just between them. Sexism within genders normalises gender roles, and this is in turn can put pressure on people to impose stereotypes on others. One example would be a boy who could get bullied by other boys for doing something that is seen as feminine by some cultures e.g., playing with dolls, or doing ballet. This type of bullying reinforces the message that such behaviours are only suitable, and to be expected by, a different gender group.

In psychology there is a phenonemon called reaction formation. This is where people express the opposite emotion of the one they are experiencing. One example of this would be if someone is trying to hide the fact they are gay so they might be derogatory towards gay communities. This can be a defence mechanism to avoid getting bullied but it facilitates bullying being normalised and to go unchallenged making things worse for everyone. One of the difficulties in spotting sexism within groups is that attitudes and behaviours may only be expressed within those groups away from outside observers. When behaviour has been normalised it can be difficult to spot or challenge, especially when there is no independent source of feedback. In psychology, there is a phenonemon known as in-group bias. An example of this would be a jury. Each member decides that a guilty person deserves five years in prison. When they share their views they strengthen and reinforce those views and then the group decides a harsher sentence of 10 years in prison even though this might not be fair. In-group bias is a phenonemon humans are susceptible to regardless of gender.

Humans sometimes conform to incorrect behaviour even when they know it's objectively wrong. The famous Asch experiment shows the power of social pressure. Participants were given a simple task to match the length of lines on cards. Other people, pretending to be participants, gave out a wrong answer on purpose. In order to avoid being different from the group, many participants would give the wrong answer even though it was obviously wrong. On average a third of participants went along with the group. 75% went along with the group at some point. Only 25% of people didn't.

I'm not offering any easy answers to dealing with sexism. However, the first step to making a society a more equitable place is to be aware of problems and their underlying causes. I believe it's something worth discussing, and the more people who think about it the better.

We Welcome Feedback

Author: David Tierney. Send tips or suggestions to