Subtle Comments You Heard Growing Up That Are Actually Sexist

If asked, most of us, both men and women, would probably agree that we support gender equality. Yet, despite our conscious understanding that men and women are equal, gender equality in the workplace, school, and society as a whole is more of an ideal than reality. Why do gender disparities exist when we know the stereotypes that created them are false?


Growing up, we hear all kinds of seemingly innocent sexist remarks that shape our concept of what it means to be a girl vs. a boy. If you have a brother, think about the differences in how you were raised - from the toys you were given, to the books you read, to the chores you were given. I was given dolls, princess stories, and tasked with chores typically within the house. My brother was given action figures, books about trucks, and cleaned up the dog poop outside. While I don’t believe the majority of the time these differences are intended to be malicious, they undoubtedly shape our concept of gender.



I have a distinct moment I remember as an adult that stuck with me that perfectly demonstrates the innocent yet harmful effect of gender stereotypes. I was watching football with my family on Thanksgiving, when a female commentator sat among a group of five other men. My cousin, who is one of the kindest kids you will ever meet, asked, “do they just have a girl announcer so girls don’t feel bad?”. His questions was so genuinely innocent, but is so telling of deeper societal issues. How could a girl actually sit among a group of men on a sports panel simply because she’s qualified? She had to be included out of pity, or to fulfill some female quota - because we all know sports are for men. The irony in this statement, is realistically that woman probably had to work three times as hard just to prove herself as qualified to sit on that panel as any of those men.

If you think these comments aren’t a big deal because they’re isolated incidents, or easily correctable behaviors, you’re only scratching the surface of the issue. No matter how much we try to unlearn these biases, and even more important than our conscious understanding of gender, unconscious biases are arguably the biggest influence on our behaviors and self-image. They impact even the most staunch feminists and gender equality advocates. These biases are what perpetuate gender gap disparities in fields typically dominated by men, and lead to hiring prejudices in equally qualified male and female applicants.


As women, we all experience comments growing up that influence our concept of gender and the role of men vs. women in society. Here are some the the experiences you shared with us:


"The first one that comes to mind for me is the phrase “don’t be a girl” when someone gets hurt or is whining. Even as an adult now, I hate the more vulgar form “don’t be a p***y”. Another topic I have always thought about is how when we were little girls, we were told when boys chased us on the playground or treated us poorly it meant they liked us. Now fast forward to today, we wonder why young girls date mean guys and are afraid to leave abusive relationships (I mean they like us right?!). That’s a concept I find to be very damaging, we basically were told that if boys are mean to us and make us chase them, it means they like us. WRONG!"


"The riddle I shared on Instagram that I grew up hearing all the time - and the fact that it was unfathomable that a woman could be a doctor. It seemed innocent at the time, but now I realize how damaging it actually is to grow up hearing these kinds of comments. It reinforces stereotypes that women cannot pursue fields that are typically male dominated, especially STEM fields. Regardless of if we consciously know women are equally capable and intelligent, hearing those comments from a young age creates a subconscious gender gap that is difficult to shake when hearing at such an impressionable age."


"Every comment made by adults, peers, siblings in reference to a boy being cruel to me or bullying - all the comments were focused around said boy liking me or how I should toughen up. Boys harassing me in junior high being told to disperse and never facing consequences for harassment. The obvious double standards to protect the girls and allow the boys unlimited freedom. It created a lot of men who cannot process rejection without violence or harsh words, and a lot more who aren’t familiar with accountability for their actions. It created a mass of women who curb their actions for fear of male reaction and to blame themselves for male actions. Raise boys and girls the same."


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