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Taking Care of Ourselves & Each Other

Fighting Sexism
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Content Warning

The following section contains content of historical and current context of sexist rhetoric and prejudice. This content may be sensitive to those who have been impacted by sexism or those who identify with the sex or genders outside of male and man.  

Women's March 2017-01. Credit: VOA / Wikimedia Commons


Sex: Sex is a label assigned at birth based on presumptions connected to genitals, chromosomes, hormones, etc. While many people believe and uphold the idea that there are only two “biological” sexes, called the sex binary, sex is a wide and diverse spectrum. Sex and gender are often times conflated, despite the fact that they are very different constructs

Gender: Gender is a social construct that comes with expectations, roles, and assumptions. When we talk about gender, it is critical to remember that gender falls along a spectrum and is not the same as someone’s sex, appearance, or sexual identity. Because of historical forces such as colonization and white supremacy, many current societies and cultures believe and enforce the idea that there are only two genders; this is called the gender binary.

Misogyny: Refers to hate against women, girls, femmes, and those perceived as feminine. Misogyny has many forms and exists on a spectrum; it can encompass anything from individual contempt towards a woman or feminine presenting person to more extreme hate including violence and murder. Transmisogyny specifically discusses the social, interpersonal, and institutional prejudice and violence targeting trans and non-binary individuals.

Sexism: While gender and sex assigned at birth are constructs that run along spectra, current beliefs not only enforce the faux conflation between sex and gender, but uphold the faux binary of “man” and “woman”. Sexism refers to discrimination or prejudice based on gender or sex, typically against women. The term has origins in the feminist movement and refers to the incorrect belief that men are inherently more valuable than women or superior in some way.  Such discrimination can function at the stereotype level but on a larger scale as well-  economically, politically, religiously, and socially.  This differs/is amplified by other oppressed identities. In short, all sexism does not look the same.

Patriarchy: the current system of social structures and practices in which men dominate, oppress, and exploit other genders. This can look like explicit violence, discrimination, and abuse but can also look like holding the majority of political leadership positions, having and leveraging social privilege, and securing control of property. Even if men do not “directly participate” in explicit domination, oppression, and exploitation of other genders, men still benefit from these systems. 

Sexual harassment: Sexual harassment is considered to be a form of sex discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and is explained  as "Unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature constitutes sexual harassment when submission to or rejection of this conduct explicitly or implicitly affects an individual's employment, unreasonably interferes with an individual's work performance or creates an intimidating, hostile or offensive work environment."

Sexual discrimination: Unequal treatment on the basis of sex. The treatment must not simply be different, but also unequal, and therefore unfair. See Homophobia & Transphobia section for more information on gender discrimination. 

Toxic masculinity: The negative aspects of exaggerated masculine traits. More specifically, the constellation of socially regressive [masculine] traits that serve to foster domination, the devaluation of women, homophobia, and wanton violence.

Interpersonal violence:  Violence such as sexual or physical abuse, emotional violence and abuse, or assault that can occur either between family members, current or former intimate partners, acquaintances or strangers.

What is happening?

Prejudice, hatred, and violence towards women and other genders has pervaded human history and persists to this day. Sexism and gender discrimination comes in many forms, from online harassment to stalking to sexual assault to hate crimes to catcalling to wage gaps to many, many more. These different forms of discrimination also look different when adopting an intersectional lens, for example when thinking of women and other folx who are of color, who have different citizenship status, who are disabled or have health concerns, who are poor, and who are part of the  LGBTQ+ community

These examples of discrimination and violence have been blatantly made apparent during the COVID-19 pandemic. Those who work essential services are more likely to be exposed to the virus. Because of sexism long existing in our country, made more insidious by different dimensions of identity, women of color are much more likely to be working essential jobs from food service to nursing to grocery stores; women make up 39% of global employment but account for 54% of overall job losses during the pandemic. And this means more low-income women of color in essential jobs are dying, from Filipino nurses to Black service workers to Latinx food service workers

Sexism and sexual violence are also a part of the Stanford community: 23.8% of undergraduate women, 35.6% of undergraduate women with disabilities, 20% of non-heterosexual students, 21% of trans, gender questioning, non-binary, and genderqueer students, and 9.1% of graduate or professional students reported experiencing nonconsensual sexual contact by physical force or inability to consent since coming to Stanford. Women in computer science, the medical school, and other disciplines have reported blatant sexism and discrimination. 

Why is this happening?

The history of violence against women and femmes around the world is long and complex. The roots of sexism in the U.S. go deep, starting with how Native American communities viewed gender. While there was diversity amongst the hundreds of different cultures, most of them shared ideas promoting gender equality like kinship, lineage, reciprocity, and balance; many Native cultures also valued gender fluidity. This all changed as European colonists brought and enforced more oppressive ideas of gender: the restriction of gender to the gender binary and Christian patriarchal values

These patriarchal values of subservience, male superiority, and “natural” females manifested in all parts of life; women were expected to serve men across their lifespan, women’s literacy was only supported to read the Bible (not to write), and women could not own property. This early sexism was enforced through legislation and social structures. As the colonies became a country, many women were inspired by Native American systems to confront these patriarchal structures, advocating for access to education, property, and voting rights such as Sojourner Truth and  Mary Church Terrell. This led to the women’s suffrage movement, which institutionalized the right to vote for white women in 1920; Black women, Native women, Asian women, and Latina women were not able to vote for decades after due to intentional exclusion of non-White women in the fight to vote. As more women entered the workforce and the civil rights movement gained momentum, issues such as the gender pay gap, abortion, and sex discrimination gained national traction, though the fight continues to protect worker’s rights, right to bodily autonomy, affordable childcare, LGBTQ+ rights, and legal defense against discrimination.

A group of people marching behind a banner. The banner reads "#MeToo survivors' march". You can see folks carrying signs and megaphones in the crowd.

Women’s rights movements and 20th century feminism have largely ignored women of color, poor women, immigrant women, and those all along the spectra of gender and sexuality. Current intersectional fights confront the patriarchal violence enshrined in our legal and social structures; the #MeToo and #ImReady movement continues to identify and bring awareness to how rape culture perpetuates sexual violence. #SayHerName continues to bring awareness to the issue of police brutality against Black women and girls. Increased attention to the systematic murder of trans women and other trans folx manifested in the 15,000 person March for Trans Lives in Brooklyn. #MMIW brings attention to the fact that Native women are 10x more likely to be sexually assaulted than the average U.S. woman. There are more demands of accountability of men and male leaders to confront patriarchal systems and toxic masculinity. 

These continued fights against sexism, patriarchy, and discrimination must be intersectional. By knowing that women of color, those with lower SES, and those with different immigration and citizenship status experience sexism and other oppressive systems intensely, it is imperative to take action every day across multiple dimensions of our society? to save lives. 

What Can I Do?

For folks who are directly impacted at Stanford, check out these three websites, or share them with others: 


Honor Intersectionality

Fighting sexism is incomplete without recognizing and including other systems of oppression in the fight; as Audre Lorde said, “I am not free while any woman is unfree, even when her shackles are very different from my own.” To fight sexism would not be to simply fight for White, upper class cisgender women but to include folx of color, poor women,femmes with different abilities and health statuses, women regardless of citizenship, women regardless of genital status, and people of all genders impacted by sexism and gender discrimination. As you move through this suggested list of things to “do”, continuously reflect on who is left out of the conversation, who is taking up space, and who is being centered in movements of change.

Believe Women & Survivors of Sexism and Abuse

Knowing how sexism and patriarchy silence women and other folx’ experiences of abuse, discrimination, and assault, it is imperative to believe survivors of harm or violence. Make sure to learn about how infrequent false reports of sexual assault are, and how institutions betray survivors, how even more infrequently perpetrators are convicted of these crimes. These issues are spoken to beautifully in Chanel Miller’s book, Know My Name.  Make sure to confront your own thoughts of victim-blaming or siding with a perpetrator. Show up for those who disclose abuse to you: honor their vulnerability, respect their privacy and disclosure, and provide support, and resources should they ask for it.

Check your internalized sexism

Commit to checking your internalized sexism. Because of our patriarchal society, all of us, regardless of our sex and gender, have received sexist messages. Check where your implicit sexist bias lies. Continually work to identify when your thoughts, statements,  and behaviors are tied to sexist beliefs around gender and sex. Welcome and absorb feedback about how your gender and/or internalized sexism shows up in spaces and your interactions with others. Work on confronting toxic masculinity. Reflect on who is represented when you read the news, watch entertainment, read stories and notice how genders are reflected, limited, or stereotyped. Follow activists, comedians, journalists, artists, and writers of all genders and races. 

Take action against sexist hate speech

Sexist hate speech needs to be addressed by all stakeholders, including the public, relevant authorities, international organisations, law enforcement and other actors of the justice system, the private sector and civil society. In doing this, a balance must be found in providing a platform for free speech without tolerating sexist hate speech. Continue to fight against hate speech

Fight for Gender Diversity

Knowing how women and other genders are discriminated against in social and professional settings, conduct a needs assessment to evaluate potential sexism in policies, environments, and expectations; think about parental leave, representation of different genders in leadership and all levels of an organization, presence of rituals or speech that discriminates or pokes fun at a particular gender, and standards of attire and professionalism. Reflect on the division of labor in your home, organizations, and work: Do duties and committee work fall along gendered lines? Do people of all genders share their voices in meetings? Are multiple genders invited to hearing committees, new initiatives, opportunities for promotion, and skills development?

Advocate & Vote

Help eliminate discriminatory laws, tackle gaps in legislation, and monitor their implementation to ensure appropriate and effective action against sexist hate speech. Use regulatory powers with respect to the media to combat the use of sexist hate speech. Encourage the media to strengthen self-regulatory mechanisms and codes of conduct to condemn and combat sexist hate-speech and ensure more effective moderation of social media, including the setting of clear standards for the industry and putting in place mechanisms to monitor progress.

Be an Upstander

Take an upstander training to confront sexism at multiple levels. Ensure the integration of a gender equity perspective in all aspects of education and media policies. Promote gender equality and media literacy training and the production of training materials. Encourage all relevant actors (e.g. public institutions, political parties, civil society, sport and cultural organisations) to adopt and implement codes of conduct that address sexism and sexist hate speech. Research the phenomenon of sexist hate speech and the different forms it takes, including measuring its extent and the harm that it causes. Provide support, clear policy frameworks and legal remedies for victims, especially women and girls, in cases of sexist and harmful content. Promote civil society initiatives in this area. Join the No Hate Speech Movement campaign of the Council of Europe.