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Sexism is discrimination on the basis of sex and/or gender. It occurs at various levels, from the individual to the institutional, and involves practices that promote gender-based prejudice and stereotyping. Most commonly, sexism refers to inequalities that exist among men and women, particularly where women are treated as unequal or inferior to men. Like other forms of discrimination, sexism can occur through blatant or covert actions, including outright displays of hatred or disdain for an individual or group; the privileging of one gender over another; or tokenism, where, for example, a woman is hired only because she is a woman, rather than because of her skills and experience. How sexism plays out varies according to the social location of the individual or group involved, particularly in regard to racial, ethnic, class, sexual, and/or religious background.
Beginning in the 1960s, sexism became a commonly used term by participants in feminist movements. In the USA, the National Organization for Women (NOW) fought for an Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) which, had it passed, would have provided full equality to men and women under the law. The 1972 Education Amendment to the Civil Rights Act, or ”Title IX,” mandated that schools, colleges, and universities that received public funds must provide equality in funding for male and female students at all levels, including in sports. Globally, the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), adopted in 1979, urged governments to adopt legislation that promotes gender equality. As of 2009, more than 90 percent (186 member countries) have ratified the Convention.
The definition of sexism has changed over time, reflecting contemporary sociological debates on sex vs. gender and nature vs. nurture. While the nature-nurture debates continue, many feminist scholars continue to agree that the social context, rather than any assumed biological difference between men and women, is crucial to understanding how and why women are viewed as the weaker sex” and therefore subject to sexism.
- England, P. (1992) Comparable Worth: Theories and Evidence. Aldine de Gruyter, New York.
- Friedan, B. (2001)  The Feminine Mystique. W. W. Norton, New York.
- Lorber, J. (1994) Paradoxes of Gender. Yale University Press, New Haven, CT.