Sexism is discrimination between people based on their Sex rather than their individual merits.
Sexism as a belief can refer to three subtly different beliefs:
- The belief that one sex is superior to the other.
- The belief that men and women are very different and this should be strongly reflected in society, language, right to have sex, and the law.
- Sexism can also refer to simple hatred of men (misandry) or women (misogyny).
Many peoples beliefs range along a continuum. Some people believe that women should have equal access to all jobs except a few religious positions. Others believe that while women are superior to men in a few aspects, in most aspects men are superior to women.
Sexist beliefs are a species of essentialism, which holds that individuals can be understood (and often judged) based on the characteristics of the group to which they belong, in this case, their sex group (male or female). This assumes that all individuals clearly fit into the category of "male" or "female".
Sexism against women is often called chauvinism, though chauvinism is actually a wider term for any extreme and unreasoning partisanship on behalf of a group to which one belongs, especially when the partisanship includes malice and hatred towards a rival group. Therefore many forms of radical feminism can legitamately be refered to as "chauvinism". This is not the common usage however, and the term is most often used to refer to male chauvinism.
While the view that women are superior to men is also sexism, only in recent years has an awareness of this "reverse sexism" begun developing in public discourse.
Certain forms of sexual discrimination are illegal in many countries but nearly all countries have laws that give special rights, privileges, or responsibilities to one sex.
Some gender theorists interpret the fact that male - male relationships often incite a stronger reaction in those with homophobia than female - female (lesbian) as meaning that the homophobic person feels threatened by the perceived subversion of the gender paradigm in male - male sexual activity. To quote D.A. Miller, the "only necessary content of male heterosexuality is not a desire for women, but the negation of the desire for men." As Miller continues, this necessary negation is such that "straight men unabashedly need gay men, whom they forcibly recruit (as the object of their blows or, in better circles, their jokes) to enter into a polarization that exorcises the 'woman' in man, by assigning it to a class of man who may be considered to be no 'man' at all." (Thomas 2000) They regard the reason male homosexuality is treated worse compared to female homosexuality as sexist in it's underlying belief that men are superior to women and therefore for a man to "replace" a woman during intercourse with another man he is then subjecting himself to inferiority.
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Language plays a part in sexism, though it is disputed whether certain language causes sexism or sexism causes certain language (see the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis). At the most trivial level, sexist jokes play a part in the acts of many comedians, both male and female. Another example is non-sexist language - the avoidance of gender-specific job titles, non-parallel usage, and other language usages that are felt by some to be sexist. Opponents of such ideas often dismiss them as "political correctness gone mad".
See also: gender role, racism, rankism, triple oppression, penis envy, Jane Crow, sex in advertising, Rape