Ending Sexism Together: Confusion 1

The Conflation of Sex and Gender

To understand, heal from, and end sexism, we need to differentiate sex from gender.*

The conflation of the words ‘sex’ and ‘gender’ has led to increased ineffectiveness in the fight to end both sexism and gender discrimination: the systematic and institutionalized mistreatment of people who do not rigidly perform femininity and masculinity patterns associated with their biological sex.

Gender discrimination reinforces sexism by prescribing socially constructed, limited, and often binary roles for males and females and by punishing those who dare to act outside of them.

These roles have been designed to hold the underlying system of sexism and male domination in place by installing internalized superiority in males through patterns of masculinity and internalized inferiority in females through patterns of femininity.

*Gender is the attitudes, behaviors, expectations, and roles that a society or group attributes to a particular biological sex. As a social construct, gender varies from society to society and can change over time.

There is no set way to show up on the planet as male, female, or intersex. Any behaviors that limit us from accessing and expressing our full range of humanness, including gender, are based in oppression.

It’s common to use ‘woman’ and ‘female’ interchangeably. At LJIST we use each term deliberately.

We use ‘woman’ when referring to gender identity.

When talking about sexism, we use the word ‘female’ because the pretext, or justification, for sexism is the biological capacity of the female body to reproduce — which is unique to female and some intersex people.

We acknowledge that sex and biology more broadly are socially constructed and have biases and flaws in their systems. And yet, just like “race” — which is also a socially constructed method for hierarchically categorizing people — our biological sex has major impacts on our lives.

Just because these are social constructs, it doesn’t mean we can “skip over” the impacts that sex and sexism have had on us. Our approach is to recognize, name, and heal from these impacts— not to pretend it doesn’t exist.

In part III of this series, we’ll dive into the myth that sexism has ended and continue to untangle the confusion that sexism no longer impacts (some groups of) females.

Clearing Up Confusions about Sexism

During our August 2022 Healing Together Gathering: Ending Sexism, we asked participants to put a checkmark next to the scenarios they believed were examples of sexism. Although each scenario was heavily marked, only the scenarios highlighted in purple are sexism as we define it.

“A student bullies their peer online for their gender expression.”

Although this act is harmful, it is not sexism. As we’ve noted, sexism is about the biological ability of a female to reproduce. Everyone, male, female, or intersex, has gender expression. This issue of gender discrimination enforces sexism, but is not sexism itself.

“A mother pressures her daughter to wear make-up,”

This is an example of females enforcing gendered roles and expectations on other females through internalized sexism. Internalized oppression happens between members of the same group. While also harmful and hurtful, internalized oppression is not supported by the same institutional power that makes an act oppressive.

“A father says to his son, ‘Be a man!’”

Male domination targets females, but is also passed from males to males, especially younger males in tandem with the oppression of adultism. A father demanding masculinity patterns from his son is harmful, denying full humanness to the young person, but it is not sexism, which as we’ll review in the fourth part of this series, sexism cannot target males.

In addition to this blog series, check out these opportunities to learn more about our Ending Sexism work: