There’s a problem with society when boys are allowed to go out and play in the park alone, but girls must have an adult with them.
There’s a problem with society when action figure sets are conspicuously missing representations of female characters.
There’s a problem with society when women are constantly held to different, and often higher, standards in the workplace than their male counterparts.
This problem can be summed up in two words: institutional sexism. Institutional sexism is the manipulation of institutions where one sex is restricted in comparison to the other sex — and unfortunately, more often than not, it is the workings of the patriarchy which influence society to have a judgmental view of women.
Throughout history, men have been credited with winning wars, establishing empires, and even creating the world. It is important to stress that all of the aforementioned circumstances are acceptable, but it’s not acceptable to view women as less than men. Not being mentioned and/or credited does not mean that women are incapable of doing the same things that men do.
These characteristics are often reinforced by society and its perception of what women like; from a young age, girls are told that they have to like only certain toys and that their role models must be examples of the “perfect woman”: someone who doesn’t question the world around them, someone who is meek, someone who is submissive. And, in fact, many classic girls’ toys (the baby doll) and stories (the Disney films Snow White and Cinderella, for example) were created to spread these stereotypes. The effects of sexism of the 20th century still last today, remnants from a time when all women were good for was raising children. Toy companies still target their products towards specific demographics, leading to an unconscious sexism, to an unconscious discrimination against women. Girls get to play with Barbies and dolls, and boys get to play with action figures, and life can go no other way.
Discrimination is also visible in the workplace, where women are targeted if they do not act or dress a certain way. In the business world, women are all too often viewed as distractions for the men who supposedly do the actual work. They are blamed for any failures that men make and are held to higher, unjust standards. Women must work harder to reach the same level as men in the workplace because they are victim to unconscious bias. Men are seen as more competent at their jobs by both other men and women due to stereotypes perpetuated by society; they are therefore twice as likely to be hired for a job as women are. This also prevents women from reaching leadership positions in companies; there’s a reason under 5% of Fortune 500 CEOs are women. This unfair environment is highlighted in the opinion article “A Colleague Drank My Breast Milk and Other Wall Street Tales” written by Maureen Sherry for the New York Times about her experience on Wall Street. Simply because she is a female, Sherry frequently faced discrimination. In her article, she recounts a story in which a male colleagues handed her band-aids when the air conditioner got too cold so that she could hide the natural perking of her breasts, considered a distraction and something inappropriate in the workplace despite a woman’s inability to control such a phenomenon.
Yet when women do speak up about the harassment in misogynistic workplace environments, their claims are often deemed baseless. Companies pay women to keep quiet about working environments through nondisclosure agreements that they sign when they are hired.
These are the environments which trap women into subordinate roles, and they show a problem with society, one that stems from a historical bias against them.
After all, there’s a problem with society when men come from women, yet women are not viewed as equal to men.
By Michelle and Shayna (medium.com/@shaynak), Grades 11