Sexism, as with racism and ageism, causes as wide a range of effects as there are people to practice it and be affected by it. It is a view of a woman or man defined by preconceived ideas as to what a woman or man should be and, while these ideas may be largely cultural, they are nonetheless tailored in individual ways. Sexism may then have the effect of destroying a woman’s career because she will not respond to flirting, elevating a man’s social prestige because he is abusive to women, or make social outcasts of the woman or man who does not conform to the gender role ideal of the group. Whatever the individual effect, however, one remains in place in all instances of sexism: human beings are perceived, not as who they are, but as successful or failed versions of gender roles seen as absolute.
To understand the effects of sexism generally, there must first be an awareness of just how immense this field of bias is. Ageism creates problems for seniors and racism usually harms minorities, but there are no such barriers to sexism. Even while women are most commonly harmed by it, that is merely a dominant, cultural consequence of Western society and no limit to sexism itself. Ironically, men suffer from the very sexism they apply to women. In plain terms, since gender and gender roles are the only elements necessary for sexism to be in place, the practice is empowered to virtually an unlimited degree. All that is required is that an individual or a group maintain fixed ideas as to what form gender roles may take.
As noted, women are the usual victims of sexism in any patriarchal culture. Men wield most of the authority, and this dominance allows them to insist on women fulfilling certain parameters of behavior the men believe to be appropriate. Historically, this translates to women as submissive, and existing primarily to attend to male needs. Sexism on this societal scale covers an enormous variety of effects. It instills in girls the sense that being physically attractive is an obligation of a woman, as this pleases most men. It takes issue with women who challenge male authority in any way, and chiefly because the sexism relies on viewing women as inherently inferior to men. It actually has the effect of negating individuality in women, as they are encouraged to conform to certain, limited gender roles and are punished in some way when they fail. Consequently, individual effects reflect the wider ideology, with individual harm done. Sexism is why the intelligent woman is denied the promotion at the workplace, why the woman is mocked for seeking to work in a traditionally male field, and why the very pretty woman is exalted no matter her intelligence or quality of being. Along these lines, sexism is also why women are physically and verbally abused under the guise of “flirting.”
Less obviously, and as noted, men are victims of sexism as well, and frequently of the type they themselves generate. In ascribing to women certain roles that must be played, it is inevitable that men then restrict themselves, and in the same, gender-based ways. If the woman suffers because she is too aggressive, the man suffers from sexism because he is too docile. This is part of the larger, self-perpetuating effect of sexism, in that defined roles based on bias can only exist through each gender conforming to the expectations. Men can be the victims of sexism in isolated ways that mirror the gender bias towards women, but they also are victims in terms of locking themselves into the roles that enable the sexism applied to women.
It is ordinary to think of sexism as essentially little more than a woman’s being denied opportunity or being sexually harassed by men, and this is certainly a form of it. However, since sexism is gender-based, it affects virtually all people, and in every aspect of living. Gender is the key element so gender roles, which are cultural concepts adopted by individuals, present an unlimited field in which sexism may be practiced. This being the case, the effects are truly inestimable. They also derive from the greater effect of human beings being perceived, not as who they are as people, but as successful or failed versions of gender roles seen as absolute.