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Occupational sexism (also called sexism in the work place and employment sexism) refers to any discriminatory practices, statements, actions, etc. based on a person's sex that are present or occur in a place of employment. While sex is generally used to mean both males and females, in the occupational realm, sex discrimination normally refers to oppressive practices executed by men against women.[citation needed]

Some markers of occupational sexism

  • Wage discrimination
  • Systematic sex-based hiring and promotional practices (when employers do not hire or promote a person who is "otherwise apparently qualified for a job" solely on the grounds that they are a woman or man[1])
  • Sexual harassment
  • The belief (or tendency toward such a belief) that certain occupational fields or types of jobs, particularly those that are degrading and/or low-paying, are "women's work" or those that are dangerous and/or hazardous are "men's work"

Wage discrimination

The differences that exist in pay between men and women performing the same or similar jobs (also known as the gender gap or the gender wage gap) constitute a well-documented, but highly disputed phenomenon. Though there is little debate as to whether or not women earn less than men do, the exact amount of women's earnings in comparison to men's is debated.[2] Currently, this figure is usually estimated at about 76%, meaning that women earn 76% of what men doing the same job earn. According to Ellen Bravo of the Miami Herald, overall, as of 2003, women in the U.S. indeed made 76 cents for every dollar earned by men doing the same job.[3] She states that this figure is even more disparate in the context of race with Black women making 67 cents for every dollar earned by U.S. males and Latino women making 54 cents. The U.S. Census Bureau, however, estimated that as of 2003, women were only earning 75.5 cents for every dollar that their male counterparts earned.[3] These and other such figures have been challenged by a number of critics for being too low including Howard J. Wall, a senior economist with the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis. Wall purports that these estimates only look at annual wages as opposed to weekly or hourly wages and that they are artificially deflated by certain institutions such as the U.S. Department of Labor. He asserts that as of 1999, women earned an hourly income that was equal to 83.8 percent of what men earned.[4]

Causes of wage discrimination

There is great disagreement over what causes and perpetuates the gender gap with myriad theories having been supplied by sociologists, economists, politicians, etc. For example, scholars from varying disciplines assert that the differences in women's earnings are the result, at least in part, of women consistently choosing to concentrate themselves in certain types of low-paying jobs, namely those in the administrative, clerical, and service fields [5] (see also Pink-collar worker). This is said to be particularly true in the cases of the many women who select these careers because of how easily they can continue working in or quit them if they have a family or choose to start one [5] . Others blame the wage gap on antiquated perspectives of female employment and the financial needs of women, citing that women in the U.S. have historically been seen as requiring less money than men because it was the job of their parents and/or husbands to subsidize their needs.[3]

Challenging occupational sexism

Historically, in the U.S., occupationally sexist practices have often been so permissible and encouraged that they have become institutionalized. For example, when women were originally "allowed" to join the workforce by men (primarily in the 20th Century), they were paid one-half to two-thirds of what their male counterparts earned. Since they could perform many jobs at the same level as men, it became economical and considered "good business" to hire women at lesser wages.[3] Several groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the National Organization for Women (NOW) have since formed to fight against such practices, leading to the creation of groundbreaking laws such as the Equal Pay Act of 1963. However, identifying and challenging sex discrimination in the workplace (on legal grounds) has been argued as being too difficult for the average person to attempt and even harder to prove in court. For example, in a 2007 Supreme Court case, Lilly Ledbetter, a former employee of the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company, recently had a judgment in her favor overturned that had awarded her back pay and damages for several years of receiving disproportionately low pay in comparison to her male counterparts because she waited too long to file suit. After a 5-4 decision delivered by Justice Samuel Alito, the court issued a statement saying that "Federal law states that 'employees must file their discrimination complaints within 180 days of the incident,'" a task that dissenting Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg claimed was unreasonable considering that quite often women have no reason to suspect discrimination until certain unfair patterns develop and they are made aware of them.[6] Despite the Equal Pay Act of 1963, women have continued to receive less than equal pay of their male counterparts.[citation needed] In 2001, six women brought suit against Wal-Mart, claiming they received less pay and promotion opportunities than their fellow male coworkers. One woman claimed that she was paid $23,000 less a year than a man doing the same job. (A Poor Example of Gender Equality." Iowa State Daily. 29 June 2004. 27 June 2008 [7] In 2004, the case Dukes v. Wal-Mart became the largest class action lawsuit in history, with approximately 1.5 million women claiming to have suffered similar discrimination at Wal-Mart. (Sebok, Anthony J. "The Huge Class Action Sex Discrimination Suit Against Wal-Mart:." FindLaw. 09 Aug. 2004. Professor At Brooklyn Law School. 27 June 2008 [8]. Wal-Mart is the largest private employer in the world, and the women suing the company hope to set an example for other large businesses around the world to treat their female employees equally.


  1. Frye, Marilyn (1983). The Politics of Reality: Essays in Feminist Theory. The Crossing Press.
  2. Blau, Francine D.; Lawrence M. Kahn (May, 1994). "Rising Wage Inequality and the U.S. Gender Gap" (PDF). The American Economic Review (Nashville, TN: American Economic Association) 84 (2): 23–28. ISSN 00028282. Retrieved 2008-04-13.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 Bravo, Ellen (2003-11-14). "Wage Gap Persists Between Men, Women". The Miami Herald.
  4. Wall, Howard J. (October 2000). "The Gender Wage Gap and Wage Discrimination: Illusion or Reality?". The Regional Economist (The Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis).
  5. 5.0 5.1 Hurst, Charles E. (2006). Social Inequality: Forms, Causes, and Consequences (6th ed.).
  6. Greenburg, Jan Crawford; de Vogue, Ariane (2007-05-29). "High Court Limits Sex Discrimination Claims". ABC News.
  8. FindLaw's Writ - Sebok: The Huge Class Action Sex Discrimination Suit Against Wal-Mart

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