The Subtle Side of Sexism

By Rhode, Deborah L. | Columbia Journal of Gender and Law, Fall 2007 | Go to article overview

The Subtle Side of Sexism


Rhode, Deborah L., Columbia Journal of Gender and Law


Sexism is not a term often encountered in polite company. In conventional usage, it conveys discrimination based on sex and seems to require some conscious action. Yet there is also a subtle side of sexism: a cluster of social expectations and practices that reinforce sex-based inequality. They are the focus of discussion here, particularly as they affect the everyday lives of even well educated and economically privileged women, including those in the legal profession. (1) This focus is important, neither because sexism has no effect on men nor because these women bear the greatest costs of gender inequality. Rather, this emphasis is important because privileged women often have the greatest resources and incentives to challenge such inequality. Making those who occupy positions of influence more aware of unintentional biases and subtle sexism is a necessary step in the creation of a just society.

We are still a considerable distance from that goal. We see women so frequently in positions of power and in non-traditional occupations that we lose track of where they are absent as well as the dynamics that might explain why. The statistics are sobering. In the United States, women are a majority of the electorate but hold only a quarter of upper-level state governmental positions and sixteen percent of congressional seats. (2) More than half of college graduates but less than a quarter of full professors and a fifth of college presidents are female. (3) In management, women account for about a third of M.B.A. classes, but only two percent of Fortune 500 CEOs, six percent of top earners, eight percent of top leadership positions, and sixteen percent of board directors and corporate officers. (4) In law, women constitute about half of new entrants to the profession, but less than a fifth of law firm partners and Fortune 500 general counsels, and less than a third of federal judges and law school deans. (5) The gap widens for women of color, who account for only about four percent of congressional legislators, three percent of full professors, and one to two percent of corporate officers, top earners, law firm partners, and general counsels. (6) The leadership pipeline plainly leaks; women are lost at every stage.

There are also significant disparities in how women and men structure much of their non-working lives. As subsequent discussion notes, women spend significantly more time than men on caring for their families and on their personal appearance. These disparities are generally attributed not to sexism but to personal preference. However, discussions of women's "different choices" too frequently miss or marginalize the costs that those choices carry and the extent to which they are socially constructed and constrained.

Accordingly, this Article begins with an overview of gender differences in employment decisions. A wide variety of research finds that women are more likely than men to leave the paid labor force or to reduce their participation. Subsequent discussion explores some of the factors that explain women's choices to opt out and limit the opportunities for those who remain. First, gender stereotypes and unconscious bias concerning female competence and appropriately feminine behavior constitute significant barriers, particularly to leadership positions. Gender bias in mentoring and support networks and gender disparities in family responsibilities also perpetuate employment inequalities. Analysis then turns to sex-based differences in standards of appearance, the burden that they impose in everyday life, and the complex interrelationship between societal pressure and individual choice. Subsequent discussion explores the limits of law in challenging gender bias. The Article concludes by suggesting strategies for addressing the subtle side of sexism at individual, institutional, and societal levels.

I. INDIVIDUAL CHOICE IN WORKPLACE CONTEXTS

The most common and, perhaps, most convenient explanation for women's under-representation in positions of the greatest power, status, and financial rewards has nothing to do with prejudice and everything to do with preference. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • A full archive of books and articles related to this one
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

The Subtle Side of Sexism
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

    Already a member? Log in now.