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Sex is not Sexism

Sexism is negative discrimination against people based on their assumed or presumed sexual identity.

Sexism as a belief can refer to three subtly different beliefs:

  1. The belief that one sex is superior to the other.
  2. 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.
  3. The belief that men and women are slightly different, besides superficial biological differences.

Most dictionaries regard the first two beliefs as sexist, but the third belief as generally not sexist. Some people, particularly masculists, hold that only the first belief is sexist. Most feminists also hold that the third belief is sexist. It has been suggested that some people who hold that all three beliefs are sexist in fact support laws which provide legal discrimination based on sex.

Sexism can also refer to simple hatred of men (misandry) or women (misogyny).

In practice, people's beliefs range along a continuum from the first position, which is the most sexist, to the third position, which is least sexist. For example, 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", which is countered by the existence of intersex individuals defined in terms of their genetics and physiology.

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. This particular usage derives from the qualified term, 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.


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). For example, lack of grammatical gender in the Chinese language does not make the Chinese non-sexist. 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