Impact and Indicators of Sexism

Sexist assumptions about women and men, about femininity and masculinity, and about relationships between men and women are often internalized by girls and boys. These notions may be reinforced by unequal conditions in schools and society, impeding women’s and girls’ social, economic and cultural participation and opportunities, including the possibility of unequal and abusive personal and professional relationships with men (including sexual assault, sexual harassment, and violence and control within intimate relationships).

These experiences lead to a host of negative consequences for the mental and physical health and well-being of women and girls. In schools, young women and girls who are targets of sexism and sexist violence may lose self-esteem and feel ashamed and unsure of themselves. They may feel powerless, afraid and angry, yet may internalize the anger having been taught that the emotion is unfeminine.

These painful and confusing feelings may lead to a range of indicators that young women are in difficulty. Internalized anger may lead to depression and other mental health problems, and to self-destructive behaviours such as eating disorders, drug and alcohol abuse and self-harm. Teachers may notice that some young women are quieter in class, that they are hesitant to share their opinions, to express themselves, or to speak out in class, especially in mixed-gender situations. They may hold back and be reluctant to participate in school activities. Early experiences of sexism and sexist violence may lead to a cycle of violence, as women and girls learn to undervalue themselves and their worth.

(See Amanda, Miyanda, Fadia, Lin.)

Rigid gender roles arising from sexism can also cause serious and far-reaching consequences for men and boys, such as negative impacts upon their self-perception and ability to form healthy, egalitarian intimate relationships, as well as difficulty developing collaborative and cooperative social relationships. Furthermore, while boys and men gain social status, power and privileges when they follow gender rules, they are severely punished through gender-based discrimination for breaking them (see Homophobia and Gender-Based Discrimination).

Together we can all become allies in the struggle for women’s equality by communicating positive beliefs about women and girls and by encouraging greater flexibility around notions of gender (e.g. behaviour, appearance) in both boys and girls.

Reflecting on Sexism
  • What consequences of sexism can I identify?
  • What manifestations of sexism have I seen (or experienced) in my school?
  • How have sexism and misogyny had an impact on my personal development and my life?
  • If I am a woman, what are some steps I could take in my own life to question any gender roles that may have limited me in the past?
  • If I am a man, what are some small steps I could take in my own life (e.g. personal and professional interactions) to more evenly share my power and privilege with women (can include friends, colleagues, family members or intimate partners)?
  • What kinds of strategies can I identify (or have we implemented in my school) that can facilitate the healthy development of girls’ and young women’s gender identity?