The Culture of Sexism

The Culture of Sexism

The Culture of Sexism

The Culture of Sexism


Most contemporary analyses of sexism focus on economic, social, and political inequalities and suggest appropriate remedies. In contrast, Gotz argues that sexism arises, at least in part, out of a subconscious male envy of women's capacity to receive. He refers to this as womb envy. The obvious ground of this envy is the realization by the growing boy that women have something he lacks. This subconscious envy is documented by reference to a variety of mythological motifs, fairy tales, and religious beliefs. The study is cross-cultural, though specific emphasis is placed on Western traditions. Gotz also briefly explores some psychological mechanisms operative in the formation of womb envy, and he examines schooling as one institution that has perpetuated the womb envy that is so much a part of sexism.


This book represents an effort to deal with sexism, which I take to mean here unjustified preference of one sex and its functions over the other (Lerner 240- 242). The main purpose is to understand why contemporary societies continue to be sexist despite efforts to correct the bias. A major part of the problem is that sexism is rooted in a society's culture and not only in its institutions. Moreover, sexism has been a part of culture for several thousand years, so that its forms have become refined, its most insidious expressions subtle; therefore a steady, protracted, and penetrating analysis is required to uncover it.

I want to look at some of these underlying conditions of sexism in our culture, using as evidence materials from several pertinent disciplines, primarily from within the humanities. I hope these will throw some light on sexism.

I am aware that the views presented here are not the usual ones. Current discussion of sexism centers around psychosocial interpretations, ranging from extreme visions of society and its mechanisms to the very conservative religious views that maintain that nothing is the matter.

The major trends seem to be two, religious and secular. The latter orientation examines sexism from the point of view of politics, economics, social pressures and organizations, psychological make-ups, and the like. Within each of these disciplines there are many subdivisions that hearken back to preferred theories or theorists. Thus there are the more Marxist or leftist critiques generally dubbed radical and subsumed under "radical feminism." Writers within this group view sexism as inextricably twined with the capitalistic structures of modern societies, and its elimination as dependent upon some revolutionary activity and some more humane and egalitarian reconstruction of society. Some view sexism as more directly connected with the exercise of power, economic and political. Sexism, then, would be the outcome of an uneven sharing of power based on an uneven distribution of the economic means, and it could be eliminated only through an empowering of women at the economic and political levels. Some view sexism as endemic in long-established social practices and arrangements that dictate rigid and stereotypical roles from which it is not possible to diverge. These roles are often seen as the cause of . . .

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