How to Recover After Experiencing Sexism in the Workplace

How to Recover After Experiencing Sexism in the Workplace

You took another deep breath. This time, it was even slower and more labored than the last. You were exhausted, but not from physical work—no, this time, the exhaustion came after a two-hour meeting with your manager. For months you have had a hard time putting words to how these conversations at work have made you feel. Sexism.

If you are recovering from an event stemming from sexism or trying to come back from a sexist comment, you are not alone. This leaves us feeling confused, shame, our self confidence gets a hit and we are shocked that person said that or did ____ fill in the blank. In this article we will cover what sexism is, the different types of sexism an individual can experience, the affect on our health, what to do next, and a Biblical perspective.

In a Forbes magazine article they pulled an anonymous quote from one of their readers on where sexism comes from and I believe it is a great place to start.

“If kids who grow up seeing sexism, even if subtle, in their own homes as so many do it normalizes the idea that some people are inherently superior to others. I believe this makes prejudice against other groups that are not intimate acquaintances much more likely. After all, if Dad is dismissive of Mom’s work, feelings or ideas, if he neglects or devalues chores our society views as ‘women’s work,’ kids will pick up on this even if nothing is [ever] explicitly said. Both boys and girls unconsciously internalize the idea that [women] are somehow ‘less than.’ If it is normal to treat those you love this way why would you hesitate to treat strangers even worse? If we want a society that does not discriminate against minorities we need to “denormalize” discrimination and prejudice against our own moms and sisters.”

This is huge. Discrimination of any kind really does start in the family. It is important and an easy place to start. Mom and dad can work together and show their children what a respectful, honoring partnership can look like. That’s where it starts. Then those children will grow into adults who saw their father honoring their mother and vise versa. Words and actions really do matter and, as we will see later, are vehicles of healing or of harm.

Different Types of Sexism

Hostile Sexism – Those who have hostile sexism towards women shows disdain or hatred.

Benevolent Sexism – The belief that women are less capable, weaker, and not as intelligent as men. This view can be subtle and can be encouraged when women’s value is based purely on their role as a mother or on their physical appearance.

Ambivalent Sexism – A combination of hostile and benevolent sexism. This kind of sexism is the belief that women can be both good but also deceitful and manipulative. Ambivalent sexism is reflected in the cycle of abuse and keeps women as subordinates (Lambert 2019).

This list comes from the Ambivalent Sexism Inventory that researchers use to look at and measure sexism.

Sexism can operate on different levels in society.

Interpersonal – This sexism exists within relationships with others. This looks like a husband not respecting the work that a wife will do in a day to take care of her kids. It can look like a demeaning comment from a co-worker or a negative comment from a dad to his daughter about women.

Internalized – This refers to the sexism an individual has internalized. An individual can learn about sexist limiting beliefs from experiences and internalize the belief as truth about themselves. These beliefs can cause shame, self-doubt, limiting beliefs, powerlessness, and feelings of incompetence.

Institutionalized – This refers to sexism in institutions such as faith backgrounds, churches, denominations, religion, businesses, educational systems, governments, the media, the healthcare system.

“When policies, procedures, attitudes, or laws create or reinforce sexism, this is institutional sexism”

– Medical News Today

Another example of institutionalized sexism is the gender pay gap. In the U.S., according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, a woman earns 82 cents for every dollar that a man earns.

The Vehicles of Sexism can Include:

  • Work policies or structures
  • Behavior
  • Speech
  • Images
  • Tradition
  • Laws

The Health Effects of Sexism

A study done in 2019 by Homan shows that there are many negative health effects from sexism. “Homan, the study’s researcher, concludes that gender inequality in the U.S. is not only a human rights issue but also a public health problem” (Lambert 2021). Homan studied sexism at different socio levels. This included the macro, meso (marriage dyads), and micro. Men and women both experience negative health issues because of sexism.

  • Women who were exposed to high levels of structural sexism had twice as many health issues and appeared seven years older in their health profile than their counterparts in home states with lower levels.
  • Men exposed to macro-level structural sexism are also associated with chronic conditions, worse health, and impaired functioning. Greater gender inequality at the meso level such as an intimate partnership is associated with better health among men (Lambert 2021).

What to Do Next

Sexism in the workplace is a daily reality for many women. It’s not always overt, but it can be insidious, undermining confidence and limiting career advancement.

In fact, according to one survey, nearly half of women report having experienced some form of sexual harassment at work.

Here are some steps you can take to get past the experience:

  1. Take time off from work if possible. If you feel safe enough to stay at work while recovering from an incident, that’s fine. But if possible, take some time off to process what happened and let yourself heal physically and emotionally. This will help you avoid taking on extra responsibilities or overextending yourself in an effort to prove your worth — both of which can impede recovery.
  2. Report it — file a complaint with HR if necessary
  3. Talk about it with other women
  4. Seek out allies (male or female)
  5. Consider legal action

A Biblical Perspective Towards Sexism

It’s important to remember that sexism goes all the way back to Adam and Eve. Because of sin, God said, “Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you” (Genesis 3:16). However if we are to live like redeemed people this is not how God intended for male and female to work together. In conservative Christian circles, this may be taken as an excuse for behavior, but it is not. If we are to live like Christ women and men are viewed as equals in all areas of life. Genesis 1:27 tells us that men and women are created in the image of God. Galatians 3:28 says that, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus”.

The Bible doesn’t shield us from stories of sexism and we see this happen to women in the Bible over and over again — this absolutely doesn’t mean it is right. It’s in the Bible to show how sinful and evil humanity is and how God is going to redeem us through Christ.

Again, if you’ve experienced sexism know that I believe you. And all of those feelings are valid. Exploring the emotions that come alongside sexism may be beneficial in talk therapy. If this interests you, email me [email protected]

Hannah Lynn Miller
Hannah Lynn Miller

Hannah is a radio/podcast host, blogger, and mental health therapist who loves Jesus and fashion. Her work revolves around betrayal trauma and the eldest daughter population.

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