What is the first thing you think of when you hear the word sexism? By definition, sexism is the prejudice or discrimination against someone on the basis of their gender, and the most common victims of this are women. There are many instances of sexism in history, some of which include depriving women of the right to vote and the right to education, regarding women as commodities to be married off, stereotyping women as housewives, and paying women lower wages compared to their male counterparts. For Chinese culture in particular, sexism can be seen in the way many families would prefer to have sons over daughters. In fact, there’s even a Confucian teaching called the Three Obediences and Four Virtues (三從四德), which states that women must obey their fathers while growing up, their husbands when they are married, and their sons once their husbands have passed away.
These examples only perpetuate the idea that women are inferior to men, and even though some of them still exist today, they have more or less become recognizable instances of sexism that the modern generation tries to avoid. However, sexism can also manifest itself in ways that are not immediately obvious, and they might become norms if we do not acknowledge them. Sometimes, it might seem like we can’t do much to change certain aspects of our culture and society, but joining the conversation and calling out problematic practices is already a step towards change, so here are 5 examples of covert sexism in our everyday lives.
1. Household product commercials that are targeted towards a specific gender
Domestic work has long been associated with women, but even though many women are professionals now instead of merely housewives, the development organization Oxfam Pilipinas shows that women in the Philippines are still twice more likely to shoulder domestic responsibilities compared to men. This has only gotten worse during the pandemic, as women reported that they are spending even more time on household tasks even though their male family members are also present at home. This perfectly demonstrates how stereotypes continue to persist despite the changing times, and it does not help that many household product commercials seem to target women. When you tune in on the local news channels, you would notice far too many commercials that show women cooking, doing the laundry, or cleaning the house, with some even addressing “mga misis” specifically. While it’s normal for advertisements to have target markets, the lack of male representation in these types of commercials only reinforces the idea that domestic work is meant for women.
2. Invitations that use only the husband’s name
It has always been a standard practice to address wedding invitations under the husband’s name (e.x. Mr. and Mrs. Harold Sy), and it is understood that they are invited as a couple, but it wouldn’t be too much to add the wife’s first name as well. They might be a couple, but they are their own person, and addressing invitations like this in a way implies that the wife does not have an identity that is independent from their husband. To quote Jia Tolentino in her book Trick Mirror: “There is a harbinger of this inequality in marriage…in the way that straight women are still often expected to formally adopt the identities of their husbands.” The quote is referring to the expectation that women should take their husband’s surnames once they are married, but just so you know, it actually isn’t required by the Philippine Law.
3. Using the word “boss” to address men
It isn’t uncommon to hear people use “boss” or “tao ke” as a term of address, the same way one would use “sir” or “gentleman.” There’s nothing wrong with this, since it’s a flattering implication that anyone can be a boss. However, only using it to address men in a way excludes women from the universality of “anyone.” I’m not saying you should start randomly calling women “boss” because it would probably earn you a few raised eyebrows. I’m just saying we should consciously stop associating gender with professions like boss, athlete, scientist, or even president, and hopefully, in the future, we won’t feel the need to use terms such as “female athletes” or “girlboss” like they are defying certain rules.
4. Men explaining things to women
This one is subtle, but it also happens often enough to the point where it has given rise to the term “mansplaining.” There is even an essay collection called “Men Explain Things To Me” by Rebecca Solnit that talks about how problematic this can be. The general gist is that men would often explain certain practices that are traditionally male-dominated to women (e.x. business processes or stock trading) under the assumption that women know nothing about them. Again, there is nothing wrong with explaining things to someone, but there are times when women are not really interested in the subject or might even be more knowledgeable about it compared to men, so unless women ask about it, it’s best not to offer any unsolicited explanations in order not to give the impression of “mansplaining.”
5. Double standards for women in leadership positions
Women are often subjected to double standards. People are always quick to notice how they look, how they behave, and even something as superficial as how often they smile. It only gets worse when women are in leadership positions because then people become very critical of their mistakes. It seems as if only men can be works in progress because they can make mistakes and it won’t be held against them, but when women make mistakes, you would start to hear generalizations like “this is why women can’t be leaders because they are too emotional or aggressive, etc.” However, feminism has also made it difficult for people to critisize problematic women, as pointed out by Jia Tolentino in Trick Mirror, because the critics would immediately be labelled as sexist. There are times when constructive criticism is warranted regardless of a person’s gender, so we shouldn’t get too defensive when a woman is being criticized, but we should also learn to recognize if that criticism is coming from a gender bias and avoid making broad statements about what women should and shouldn’t be.