Can we define Sexism? Exploring the term in light of recent events

Recent events make us wonder how we can define sexism? Is calling someone “stunning” politically incorrect? Does calling out inappropriate behaviour make you a feminist or “Feminazi”?

By Joel Davidge and Bobbie Mills


So, what exactly is Sexism?

A 1950s poster "if your husband ever find out" Sexism, Sexist, Feminism explained

So many wrong things here. Via Pinterest

Mention the word “sexist” and you might imagine 1950s attitudes where a woman’s role was to be a good housewife. Then in the 1960s the “sexual revolution” occurred; women challenged the traditional roles they were expected to fill.

So, how do we define sexism today?

When it comes to issues of gender, or gender politics the actual meanings of words sometimes get lost. For example, do you think of yourself as a feminist? OK, let’s try another question. Hands up if you’re in favour of equality between men and women?

Well, guess what – that’s feminism.

Say “feminist” and some people might think about women burning their bras in protest, or angry reactions to having doors opened for them. This is stereotypical and inaccurate; the word Feminism describes “the advocacy of women’s rights on the ground of the equality of the sexes”.

So, let’s be clear;

Sexism is defined as the “prejudice, stereotyping, or discrimination, typically against women, on the basis of sex”.

Yes, men can be victims of sexism too.

If you’re thinking about negative attitudes towards women you’re probably thinking of Misogyny. Misogynistic behaviour (apart from being really tricky to spell) is “dislike of, contempt for, or ingrained prejudice against women”.


Give me some examples?

Amal Alamuddin, international lawyer. Was it sexism when the media reported her wedding to George Clooney focusing on the actor?

Top Lawyer: Amal Alamuddin

Sexism can be where a person’s professional credentials are ignored or belittled due to their gender.  For example, if a news story about an individual is covered in a particular manner due to their gender.

Take internationally recognised lawyer Amal Alamuddin. She represented founder of WikiLeaks Julian Assange and Ukraine’s former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko. Yet when she married a rather well-known actor the media started focusing on her husband’s acting career, rather than her many high-profile legal cases. OK, so her husband George Clooney is pretty famous, but even so.

UK parliament and political media coverage are often accused of being sexist. This is perhaps a fair criticism; today only 191 constituencies out 650 are represented by women.

New Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn was criticised for the selection of his new Shadow Cabinet of ministers and advisors. Despite selecting a female majority for the shadow cabinet (16 women and 15 men) for the first time in history, people complained that he had given the top cabinet positions to men.

Labour Leadership Candidate Liz Kendall

Sexism; journalists asked Liz Kendall about her weight

It was reported that Angela Eagle was given the position of Shadow First Minister of State only after a Corbyn aide said “we are taking a fair amount of **** out there about women.” Corbyn defended his decisions, saying that Education and Health (the positions given to Lucy Powell and Heidi Alexander) were just as important as positions like Chancellor.

During the 2015 Labour leadership contest a journalist asked Labour leadership runner-up Liz Kendall about her weight. Kendall was understandably outraged. The article in question described Kendall’s “lithe figure”. Good to know the media had this important issue covered.

Back in 2010 newly elected Labour MP Stella Creasy was told to vacate a lift as it was for MPs only. The Tory MP challenging her had assumed she was a researcher. Sexist or no? In fairness to the MP in question, he apparently did apologize.

The Conservatives gave us Margaret Thatcher – the UK’s only female Prime Minister to date.

Thatcher had to deal with being a woman within a “man’s world”. She had voice coaching to lower the tone of her voice (because sounding like a woman was a no-no!). As campaigner Peter Tatchell puts it, Thatcher “got to the top in what had been a man’s world; largely by emulating the macho, testosterone-fuelled style of male politicians.”

Sexism: Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher of England is bid farewell on her departure after a visit to the United States.

Sexism: Former PM Margaret Thatcher took voice coaching to lower her voice

The image of a male dominated parliament still exists today. Currently Tories only have 68 female MPs, less than a third of their total number. Labour have 99, which is still below half.

The Conservatives have only 10 women compared to 20 men in their Cabinet. However, Theresa May does hold the office of Home Secretary. Traditionally this is seen as one of the four great offices of state (the others are Prime Minister, Chancellor of the Exchequer and Foreign Secretary).

Even if you hold a top job, that doesn’t protect you from sexist comments, as one female barrister discovered;


Why are we talking about this now?

Barrister Charlotte Proudman's "stunnin" LinkedIn Picture was praised by lawyer Alexander Carter-Smith

Barrister Charlotte Proudman’s “stunning” LinkedIn picture. Via Twitter/@CRProudman

Everyone’s talking about Charlotte Proudman. She’s a barrister, specialising in female genital mutilation and vulnerable women. She’s currently studying for a PhD at Cambridge University.

This week Ms. Proudman logged on to business networking website LinkedIn to see a message from senior lawyer Alexander Carter-Silk. Though noting that it was “probably horrendously politically incorrect” Carter-Silk the message complimented Proudman on her “stunning” profile picture.

Proudman was not impressed, replying that she found the message “offensive” and that she was on LinkedIn for “business purposes not to be approached about my physical appearance or to be objectified by sexist men”.

“Think twice before sending another woman (half your age) such a sexist message.”

Ouch. Proudman then proceeded to upload a snapshot of the conversation to Twitter. A media frenzy and lots of heated discussions over the definition of sexism ensued.

Proudman claims in an Independent article that she spoke out for all women. While her partner was receiving offers of work via LinkedIn, Proudman describes a “catalogue of similar incidents”; this wasn’t a one-off. She’s not alone; many other women have since reported they’ve been chatted up on LinkedIn.


Lawyer Alexander Carter-Smith's message to Barrister Charlotte Proudman praising her "stunning" LinkedIn Picture

Sexist? Alexander Carter-Smith’s message to Charlotte Proudman. Via

Defending the message he sent to Ms. Proudman, Mr. Carter-Silk said that “my comment was aimed at the professional quality of the presentation on LinkedIn which was unfortunately misinterpreted”.

Regardless of the intention, Proudman experienced the message as a sexist. This should not be ignored. Having received several messages she deemed sexist in the past she may have been predisposed to see Carter-Silk’s message as just another of the same. Yet this just reinforces the point that there is a problem.

Proudman wanted to call out everyday sexism on LinkedIn and to see if other women had similar experiences. However this backfired as the media have mostly focused on this individual occurrence rather than the structural problem that she was trying to highlight.

Proudman was attacked for ageism (stereotyping and discriminating against individuals or groups on the basis of their age) for mentioning that she was half Carter-Silk’s age in her reply.

Others criticised Proudman for publishing the photo online.

Lastly, Proudman was branded a “Feminazi”; a derogatory term was coined by an American talk show host in the early 1990s to describe extreme or radical feminists. It references the German extremists in World War II.

The debate now seems to be over whether she overreacted to the comment, and whether it was wrong to post the snapshot online, rather than the fact that many women seem to be receiving similar messages online.

Because as we’ll see, sexism goes way deeper than comments made online;


Everyday Sexism?

Sexism isn’t confined to professions like politics, law and journalism. Research concludes that due to the pay gap between what men and women earn, women effectively work for free from November 4th until the end of the year. That’s despite the Equal Pay Act of 1970 supposedly stopping men being treated better than women in terms of pay and conditions of employment.

It’s not just about comments. The actress Helen Mirren recently announced that she is annoyed when men put their arms around women, seeing it as a sign of ownership. In an “infamous” 1975 TV interview in 1975 TV host Michael Parkinson drew attention to Mirren’s “physical attributes”. He even introduced her by referencing a reviewer’s description of her as “the sex queen” of the Royal Shakespeare Company. Writing about this encounter years later the Daily Mail suggested Mirren “get over it already”.

Writing for the Guardian Lucy Mangan suggests a practical solution; keep a score of all these unwanted sexist attitudes. She does make another interesting point, however.

“Men are – I think quite genuinely, and almost reasonably – confused”.

Sir Richard Timothy "Tim" Hunt FRS, FMedSci is a British biochemist. He was awarded the 2001 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine with Paul Nurse and Leland H. Hartwell for their discoveries of protein molecules that control the division of cells

Sir Tim Hunt: Let me tell you about my trouble with girls. Three things happen when they are in the lab: you fall in love with them, they fall in love with you, and when you criticise them they cry.”

In the case of Alexander Carter-Silk, if he had wished to offer a genuine comment, is that wrong? The rules of the game change so fast it’s sometimes hard to keep up. Each time a story like this breaks we rapidly redefine what is and isn’t acceptable.

Jokes or behaviour which might have been acceptable in the past are suddenly able to kill your career stone dead. Sir Tim Hunt lost his position at the Royal Society after making misjudged comments about girls in Laboratories.

This is not to defend Hunt – he made an error of judgement. Yet the massive backlash on social media seemed rather disproportionate.

In the Guardian, Mangan notes that the only way to avoid the confusion, where a potentially innocent comment or arm on the shoulder can lead to a witch-hunt, is to create a society where women are truly equal to men.

“Then there would be no question of ownership being indicated through or read into random physical gestures. Compliments and everything else will be freely exchangeable between the sexes because they will stand on exactly the same footing. Jokes will never be misinterpreted.”

Sounds like a good idea to us. At the very least, people should be able to call out bad behaviour without being called a hypocrite.


Sexism Explained; what’s wrong with a compliment?

To boil down something very complicated, it’s about right place, right time. Is this all wrong because it was on LinkedIn?

Is it difficult for women to stand up for their rights without being branded a “Feminazi”? Should we feel able to compliment people on their looks without fear of being publicly named and shamed?

Got a sexist story you want to share? Everyday Sexism Project (@EverydaySexism) documents “experiences of sexism, harassment and assault to show how bad the problem is and create solidarity”. Think there’s an angle we haven’t covered? Let us know


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Royal Family: should we get rid or are we just too used to them?

Queen Elizabeth II becomes the UK’s longest serving monarch. Earlier this year a report was released detailing how much the Royal Family costs. Are they really good value for money or should we get rid? Scenes of Reason broke down the debate so you can get the info.

The Basics: What is the Royal Family for?

The Royal Family and Queen Elizabeth II

Technically, the Queen approves rules made by government. #royalfact

In the UK:  At present we have a monarch, Queen Elizabeth II as head of state. She is now the UK’s longest serving royal. Well done, Liz!

Though the Queen is meant to stay out of politics and remain impartial, as head of state she has several duties. These include overseeing the opening of parliament and signing acts of parliament. Important stuff.

The Queen and the Royal Family also look after visiting royals and officials, and make visits to other countries. This strengthens diplomatic and economic bonds between the UK and other countries. Getting chummy; so we get their money.

The official royal website also describes the role of head of nation as “providing a focus for national identity”. Whatever the hell that means.

Explore: who rules the United Kingdom?

The Big Question: Who pays for the Royal Family?

Is the Royal Family unfair?

Royal Family; is it unfair that we have to pay?

The Queen gets money from the government each year to pay for the running of her official duties.

This is done through the Sovereign Grant. In 1760, the Crown Estate (lands owned by the Royal Family) was handed over to the state. These lands owned by the state include farms, mines and public land. In return the Royal Family receives a payment each year to live on.

Currently: Each year the Queen gets the equivalent of 15% of the Crown Estate’s profits. Last year profits were £252.6 million, so the Sovereign Grant given to the Royal Family was = £37.9 million. Cor Blimey.

The Scottish Question

Earlier this year newspapers reported that Scotland will be reducing the amount of money given to the Queen.

Myth: With some of the Crown Estate being handed over to the Scottish government, the Scots will be keeping the profit money for themselves and won’t give any to the Queen.

This is untrue. As seen above, and reported on Buzzfeed the money comes directly from the treasury. Not actually from the profits of the estate. Sorry newspapers, you got it wrong.

The Alternative: What would happen if we got rid of the Royal Family?

Only 43 countries in the world are ruled by a monarchy.

Anti-Monarchy groups like Republic want to get rid of Queenie and the Royal Family. If this happened, the UK would likely become a Republic. The people and their elected representatives would nominate the head of state rather than a monarch.

“We call for an elected head of state to perform an important constitutional and ceremonial role. This is like the way it’s done in Ireland. This would give us an effective and independent head of state who can play a real role in national life.” – Republic

Who would become head of state?

The Prime Minister is one alternative. Another option, favoured by Republic, is an elected head of state independent from the government. So, someone who is chosen by the people to represent the country, but not govern it. In theory, anyone should be able to put themselves forward for the position, just like MPs.

The Debate

Pro-Royals Say:

US President Barack Obama meets Prince Charles, heir to the throne

The Royal Family increases tourism in the UK

The Royal Family isn’t that expensive when you think about it. According to Buckingham Palace the Royal Family costs each person 56p a year. Bargain!

The Royal Family is good news for:

Tourism. Money brought in by tourism each year by the Royal Family is estimated at £500 million a year.

Charity. Around 3000 charities have a royal as their patron, boosting their profile and giving credibility to the cause.

Making connections. The Royal Family attend 2,000 official events each year in the UK and abroad.

Supporters of the Royal Family also say that we should sympathise with the Royals. They don’t get a choice in what they do and are expected to behave and live in a certain way. Life is so unfair.

And last time we got rid of the monarchy, in the English Civil War, it was only 11 years before we re-instated a King.

The Anti-Monarchists say:

£500 million may sound good but according to the i100 Bees actually bring in more money than the Royal Family. That’s gotta sting.

David Tennant - in Doctor Who, working out a mystery in the Royal Family

The Royalty debate has been around for ages

You can’t sack the Royal Family. Having an elected head of state would hold them to account. If you do something you shouldn’t – you’re out!

Having a republic works for Ireland. Enough said.

As well as the day-to-day costs, we’re also going to have to fork out for a £150 million redecoration of Buckingham Palace. Lots of people are suggesting the Palace should be opened to the public, which would pay for the work.

And lastly, we really can’t call ourselves a democracy, when the head of state isn’t elected. Is it fair that a Royal is paid for by us, just because of who they are?

What the people think:

Royal Family Debate on Twitter


Royal Learnings: the debate about the Royal Family is likely to go on and on, but no-ones actually doing anything about it?

What do you think? Should we get rid of the Royal Family?

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How Same-Sex Marriage Became Legal In ALL American States

I thought America already had gay marriage?

In 2004, the state of Massachusetts became the first American state to legalise same-sex marriages. More and more eventually legalised until 37 out of the 50 American states allowed same-sex marriage. Go progress!

Which states allowed same-sex marriage?


Why was Same-Sex Marriage legal in some states and not others?

America is divided into different states – and each state has its own state government. The USA also has a federal government, which is the national government for the whole of the United States.

Power is shared between the two – which is why different states have different laws.

The United States Presidential System Explained


Why did the Supreme Court get involved?

The Supreme Court is the highest court in America. There are nine judges in the Supreme Court, and each one will have been nominated by the President, and then confirmed by the Senate. They rule on the biggest decisions that affect laws over all of the country.

Until 2013, there was a federal law: The Defence of Marriage Act. This allowed states to refuse to recognise same-sex marriages that had been granted in other states as legal. In other words, even though federal law should technically be obeyed by every single state, the Defence of Marriage Act meant that some states could abide and others not. Talk about big sister vs little sister syndrome.

BUT THEN…The Supreme Court went “HELL NO!”, and destroyed the Defence of the Marriage Act.

Removing the act was a big win for the gay rights movement, but it has not meant that other states automatically have to recognise same-sex marriage….UNTIL NOW.

Check out’s awesome video showing how same-sex marriage has been legalised across states over time:



Not all states were happy with the law being removed. People dissatisfied with the decision of the Courts lodged an appeal with the Federal Appeals Court (so many courts, so little time). The Appeals Court couldn’t agree on a decision so the Supreme Court had to sort it out once and for all.


What did the Supreme Court say?

Same Sex Marriage

Same Sex Marriage supporters rally in America

Out of the Nine justices of the Supreme Court, Five voted in favour of gay marriage. This ruling strikes down same-sex marriage bans across the whole of the USA. It also means states have to accept sex-sex marriages performed in other states.

All eyes were on Justice Anthony Kennedy: he was the swing vote who could have gone either way (no pun intended). Kennedy and four other judges rejected claims that marriage was just for pro-creation and for creating a family.

They ruled that prohibiting same-sex marriage is discriminatory and against the United States Constitution.

The what?

The 14th Amendment of the Constitution says that states must provide equal protection under all laws to all groups of people. Therefore, you can’t ban same-sex marriages as that would mean they have fewer rights than heterosexuals.

This argument was successfully used in 1967 to rule that states were NOT allowed to ban inter-racial couples from marrying. It was part of the case in 2013 that removed the Defence of the Marriage Act.


Twitter went mad;

Reaction to the Same-Sex Marriage ruling on Twitter


What we learned today: America’s legal system is crazy complicated.

Get involved in the conversation; #lovewins

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