Sexism is discriminatory behavior towards people because of their gender. Sexism against women involves people treating women unfairly, often because they think that women are inferior. Many people think that the behavior is fine and does not matter, but it does, and it has psychological ramifications. So, the question is, how does sexism affect the mental health of its victims?
Sexism has an adverse effect on the mental health of women. It can increase their propensity to depression and various types of mental illnesses. It is considered a moral problem not only in the United States but globally. Sexism can lead to substance abuse and low self-esteem. The consequences of sexism are extreme, yet it is so common in our world, much more common than one might think. Minor remarks have a big impact, even if the person speaking does not realize it. Sayings like “boys are stronger than girls”, along with other sayings that hint at the untrue thought that girls are inferior to boys, eventually harm women’s mental health. These expressions and behaviors may seem harmless at first, but when you really see the effects of this treatment on women, it is clear that it needs to stop.
As we have already seen, sexism affects the mental health of women in multiple ways including depression, and this can lead to thoughts of suicide. Research supports the theory that sexism causes depression; a new study found that “women who experience sexism are three times more likely to experience depression” (The Representation Project, 2019).
This data is striking. As a result of sexism, propensity to depression increases by three times for women just because of their gender. Not only is sexism common, but its consequences are severe. Discrimination in the form of sexism even today is much more commonplace than one might imagine, especially given all the demonstrations in support of equal treatment in social environments and in the workplace that have been conducted to make the world better for women. Still, these campaigns reflect minor changes. “Nearly 20% of respondents felt they were discriminated against based on their gender in the previous year —mostly street harassment on or near public transportation” (The Representation Project, 2019). This is 20% out of a survey of 3000 women, rather significant. Again, data adds proof to the harsh consequences of sexism. “Women who reported at least one act of gender-based harassment or discrimination in the past year were 26% more likely to report psychological distress and depression” (The Representation Project, 2019). In a historical context, examples such as those stated are to be expected, but some people do not realize or choose not to acknowledge the existence of this discrimination or its consequences in the 21st century.
Depression can directly lead to substance abuse for anyone, and for women, substance abuse can be a result of sexism when victims use it as a coping mechanism. “Unfortunately, the negative effects of gender discrimination on mental health may also eventually lead to a substance abuse problem” (Alyssa, 2020). Articles and research like this show almost the same data all relating to sexism and its devastating effect on mental health. Another example is proving the same point.
“Research suggests that racial and gender discrimination leads to significantly increased risk of alcohol abuse in women and drug abuse in men” (Alyssa, 2020). Substance abuse has very bad consequences, and sexism exposes women to many health problems that likely would not have occurred under ordinary circumstances. Research also shows the not-so-subtle differences between male and female addicts: “…women are more likely to go to the emergency room or fatally overdose due to substance abuse” (Bezrutczyk, 2019). Not only does this article give us more data linking the idea of substance abuse to sexism, but it also explains some of the results of substance abuse that some people experience after being victims of sexism. Women are losing their lives because of sexism. Whether it is fatally overdosing or going to the emergency room, the result of sexism may go as far as death.
Microaggression is the act of subtly, and possibly unintentionally, discriminating against someone of a certain group because of their ethnicity, gender, or social class, etc. The person saying the insult may not know that they are offending someone because they may not think that it is offensive to say that certain thing. Ambient sexism is a bit like microaggression. The person witnessing it, that is, the ambient observer, may not be aware of the offensive nature of what they are seeing. This can cause low self-esteem in both victim and observer.
In 2015, Bradley-Geist, Rivera, and Geringer found that “ambient hostile sexism more negatively impacted female bystanders than male bystanders with regard to performance-based state self-esteem”. Many theories suggest that female bystanders are more negatively affected by ambient sexism either because they have experienced sexism themselves or because they realize how common it is. Data from real people proves the existence of this moral problem. Research conducted by scientists many times achieves the same data almost every time (Gale, Mordukhovich, Newlan, & McNeely, 2019). People who witness sexism targeted toward someone have almost all the same problems that people experiencing sexism have themselves.
The mental health of women can drastically diminish after they experience some form of sexism. Whether it is decreasing self-esteem, substance abuse, or ambient sexism, the effects of sexism are dire. Sexism is an unfair treatment of women and is dangerous for women’s mental health. Years ago, men collectively thought that women were inferior, but facts, protests in support of women’s rights, and movements have shifted the argument. The successes of these movements dismiss the thought that women are the weaker gender. The theory of women as the inferior race has been proven wrong; the thought is outdated, yet men purposely create holes in women’s self-esteem just to be superior, even if it is a false sense of power.
We are one race even if we are divided in gender. If we want to develop as a human race, we have to lift each other up instead of dividing ourselves based on pointless things. All our mental health matters, and that includes women’s too.
Alyssa. (2020). The Effects of Gender Discrimination on Mental Health. March, 5.
Bezrutczk, D. (2019). What are the Differences in Addiction Between Men and Women?. March, 25.
Bradley-Geist, J.C., Rivera, I. & Geringer, S.D. (2015). The Collateral Damage of Ambient Sexism: Observing Sexism Impacts Bystander Self-Esteem and Career Aspirations.
Gale, S., Mordukhovich, I., Newlan, S., & McNeely E. (2019). The Impact of Workplace Harassment on Health in a Working Cohort. Frontiers in Psychology. May, 24.
The Representation Project. (2019, September 16). Sexism is Bad for Women’s Mental health.
Yu, S. (2018). Uncovering the hidden impact of inequality on mental health: A Global Study. May, 18.