Sexism and How it Affects Mental Health

Merriam-Webster defines sexism as “prejudice or discrimination based on sex; especially discrimination against women,” and as “behavior, conditions, or attitudes that foster stereotypes of social roles based on sex”. The main perpetrators of sexism tend to be men. Their actions are usually aimed at policing women, their bodies, their actions and their identity. However, sexism also affects men and can be perpetuated by women. Men can also be policed through their bodies, their actions and the notion of what a ‘real man is’. It is important to establish that no matter who is perpetuating sexism it will affect all genders in all shapes and forms.

Sexism is a double edge sword that was created to benefit men and keep them in power. However, it has come back to hurt them with the same preconceived and stereotyped notions of what a woman’s role and identity should be. Sexism places women as the ‘weaker sex’, where her role is that of a devalued caretaker for children and spouse. Sexism tends to affect men in the opposite way where they are seen as the ‘stronger sex’, where they are forced to always be in control (emotionally and psychologically).

Both of these ideals suppress the identity and worth of the individual. It closes both genders into a stalemate and devalues both of their efforts in having a healthy life. Even though there is nothing wrong in being a caretaker/ homemaker and a breadwinner for your family, it is something that has to come from the person; not from preconceived notions of what men and women should be.

Sexism also works to amplify the idea that there are only two genders. Meaning that there is only women and men and there is no space for a spectrum. This becomes problematic within the world of sexism because what will gender non conforming people do? House work? Be breadwinners? And the answer is: It does not matter. Sexism forces people to think in absolutes and focus on black and white. The inflexibility of thought brings more problems than solving them. Just as women and men should choose what their roles are in society, people on the gender spectrum should exist freely and do whatever it is they want to do.

Sexism, inevitably, affects more than just a person through actions. The internalized belief that men should be top dog when regarding women (and other genders) comes with a psychological prize. Research has shown that, mostly men (as they were the main target of the study) who practice and believe sexist ideas (men should have control over women, constant  control over emotions, an unwavering sense of self-reliance , and so on) tend to suffer from mental health disorders or symptoms that impact them negatively. In the interview, Sexist Men Are More Likely To Have Mental Health Problems, Study Finds, Dr. Y. Joel Wong stated that he and his colleagues were able to link sexist values with depression, stress, anxiety, substance abuse and poor body image. He further explained that these types of men were also less likely to seek out help and get mental health treatment. Consequently, this becomes problematic in a bigger scale because it affects society and at a micro level because it affects the person with the sexist values. It is much like purposefully living off poison.

Sexism is not just gender roles, it is how women are seen as objects, how men have to be macho, how women MUST reproduce, how men are always in control. All these beliefs and values ooze from ads and shows we see, music we hear, conversation we have, people we meet. Sexism surrounds us, and it hurts us. Sexism is one if the reasons that women are unhappy with their bodies and develop eating disorders. Sexism is the reason men are violent to demonstrate dominance.

Feeling safe, feeling happy and feeling fulfilled are important goals to have. Dismantling one of the many oppressive forces in our path is necessary to obtain these goals (and many other). Seeking out help on how to develop your identity, explore who you are and find better options is a good place to start. Please refer to Mentalhealth.gov for mental health resources near you.

Signing off,

TWS

P.S. For further information about the study on sexism and men please refer to this American Psychology Association article.

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