There are many social issues that our society faces on a daily basis. Many people do not truly notice or understand these issues, because they are not directly affected by the issue. Just because you aren’t directly affected by an issue does not mean that you should make an attempt to understand the issue from the person affected by it’s point of view. In order to do this, you have to look at the issue critically and with an intersectional lens, “a critical analytic interdisciplinary tool to interrogate racial, ethnic, class, and gender disparities and to contest existing ways of looking at these disparities” (Dill & Zambrana, 2009, page 2).
By looking at things intersectionally, we can truly understand the nature of the issue and move closer to finding a true solution. To do this, I will examine two of the biggest social issues: racism and sexism. I will discuss what they are, how they are the backbone of other social problems, and what we can do to as a collective to help combat these issues. One of the biggest social issues our society is currently facing is racism. Racism is described as the “a belief in the inherent superiority of one race over all others and thereby its right to dominance” (Lourde, 2009, page 85).
Although African-Americans are the most commonly discriminated against group, a wide variety of groups can face racism, such as “Asian-American, Latino/a, [and] Native American” (Shaw & Lee, 2015, page 54). Racism is a “slippery slope” and ultimately leads to different, more powerful forms of discrimination such as racial stereotypes, discrimination, and profiling. Racial stereotypes are common ideas that exist about a certain group of people, such as the idea that African-American people are lazy.
The institutionalization of racism also leads to bigger problems. As a result of institutionalized oppression, “race, class and gender lace Asian-American women, Native American men, White men, African-American women, and other groups in distinct institutional niches [have] varying degrees of penalty and privilege” (Collins, 1993, page 74). Another very important social issue out society faces today is sexism. Sexism involves treating someone differently than you treat someone else on the basis of gender.
Due to the patriarchal system in our society, “men and masculine bodies dominate because power and authority are in the hands of adult men” (Shaw & Lee, 2015, page 7). Sexism is present in many different forms in many different places in our day to day life. There is benevolent sexism in which women are treated as if they need to constantly be protected and taken care of, and there is hostile sexism in which women are treated as if they are not as good as men. When someone initially thinks of sexism, they are most likely thinking of hostile sexism.
Benevolent sexism follows the idea that a woman should never have pay for the check and men always wanting to protect the woman from something. Although some actions may just be the man being polite, the actions may ultimately be sexist. Just like racism, these forms of sexism create stereotypes about women. Sexism is found in the media, as many movies are filmed through the male gaze to “fulfill the voyeuristic desire for men to look at women as objects” (Shaw & Lee, 2015, page 261). This leads to women being objectified, which is a form of sexism. Sexism is also the root of gender violence.
Women are expected to be nice and polite often, and men can take advantage of this through sexual harassment or assault. Racism and sexism do not stand alone: they are intricately intertwined. Both of these systems will create forms of privilege, and “whites are carefully taught not to recognize white privilege, as males are taught to not recognize male privilege” (McIntosh, 1988, page 86). Because the basis of racism is that the power is held by white people, and the basis of sexism is that the power is held by men, white men will benefit from these systems the most.
Men of color, on the other hand, “may benefit from patriarchy, but their expressions of male privilege are shaped by the politics of racism” (Shaw & Lee, 2015, page 7). For example, white men on average make more money than men of color. Both of these groups make more than women, but women of color make less than white women. The intersection of racism and sexism truly affects women of color, leaving them as the true victim of our society. Racism and sexism also tie into other issues in our society such as poverty and job opportunity inequalities.
Racism and sexism combine tie into the issue of poverty. Poverty is all encompassing, and causes other issues such as lack of job opportunities, which I will talk about later. Although about half of all poor people are white, “28% of African Americans [are living in poverty] compared to 10% per white Americans” (Shaw & Lee, 2015, page 59). Even though more white people live in poverty, a higher percentage of African American people are living in poverty. This makes us question how poverty is institutionalized. What could be causing the higher percentage of African Americans in poverty?
This has a series of implications for the people living in these conditions. For example, it limits the availability of health care services. In turn, this causes “African American women aged 35 to 44 years [to be] more than twice as likely to die from [breast cancer] … although [they] are not more susceptible to [it]” (Shaw & Lee, 2015, page 371). In addition, “single mothers are more likely to be younger, [and] black or Latina 28 percent of single female-headed households [are] living in poverty” (Shaw & Lee, 2015, page 438). This puts poor women of color at the largest disadvantage in our society.
This also ties into education quality. When in an area of poverty, the quality of education is lower than in wealthier areas. Because wealthy people are disproportionally white, minority groups living in poverty are getting worse/lower forms of education than white students. This puts the white students at a pedestal at birth, as many people who are in poverty stay in poverty. Racism and sexism both come into play in this situation as people with forms of privilege are more wealthy and better educated. Racism and sexism together also cause the issue job inequality.
The gender wage gap is a clear expression of the effects of racism and sexism. The wage gap measures the difference in income between full time male and female workers, and currently “for every dollar a man earns, a woman earns 77 cents” (Shaw & Lee, 2015, page 497). This gap is even higher in women of color, who make less than the “woman” referred to in this statistic. African American women earn about 62 percent of white men’s earning, Latina women earn 53 percent of white men’s earnings, and Asian American women earn 82 percent of white men’s earnings.
This gap is a result of women taking jobs that are typically seen as less valuable as the jobs that men hold, such as teachers and nurses. Many of the jobs that employ African American women are considered the “most exploitive in the country” (Beale, 2005, page 15). Asian American women are typically work in harmful conditions in nail salons due to the exposure to harmful chemicals which can cause “musculoskeletal disorders, breathing problems, headaches, and rashes” (Chang, 2010, page 53). There is also a large lack of women in STEM fields.
The fields are generally seen as more important and higher paying. Women in the United States “are half the workforce but hold less than 25% of STEM jobs” (Shaw & Lee, 2015, page 64). The number of white women in STEM is incredibly low, and the number of women of color in the field is even lower. Throughout life, women are often pushed into not doing something as “manly” as working in the STEM field. They are told to leave things for men to do, and that ultimately leads to their disinterest in STEM careers.
In addition, there is currently no paid maternity leave for women in the United States. This is a form of institutionalized sexism, as it is a system that does not really give pregnant women the option to make money. In a way, it is kicking pregnant women out of the workforce. In addition to paid labor at a job, women are expected to do unpaid labor at home. Women are expected to do daily house chores, such as doing the laundry, cooking dinner, and doing the dishes. If a woman is also working full time, she is expected to do this in addition to her actual work.
This leads to an overload of work being expected of the woman. The way to solve these social issues is to fix the issues of sexism and racism. Fixing the issues of racism and sexism require understanding how they work together. Institutionalized racism has been along for an extended period of time, dating back to slavery. Many people feel that racism ended in the 1960s, and that the Civil Rights Movement fixed everything. People fail to understand that racism is still a very present problem in today’s society, and that contributes to it being able to be fixed.
Many people take a colorblind approach to racism, claiming that they do not see race in people. By claiming to not see race, people are trying to ignore that it is there instead of fixing the root of the problem. We need to understand that people are different and over different races, but they should still be treated equally. One of the largest movements to fix the issue sexism is feminism. Feminism is “a movement to end sexism, sexist exploitation, and oppression” (Hooks, 2000, page 1). Feminism is not only focused on fixing the issue of sexism, but also fixing the treatment of marginalized groups.
These marginalized groups are also the groups that are likely to face racism, so feminism works to fix both racism and sexism. In the same way as racism, many people believe that there is no need to feminism anymore because women are more free than they’ve ever been. They’re tired of hearing women complain about how much they hate men when there are women being oppressed to a greater degree in other countries. These people fail to understand what feminism actually is, and are comparing one person’s oppression to another’s.
Feminism works to end all sexism, including stereotypes against men. Without feminism, “it may be against the law for a male to teach grades lower than the sixth” (Baumgardner & Richards, 2000, page 34) on the basis that men are not emotionally suited to teach young children. Feminists also work for the right for a woman’s choice. Feminists work to let women know that it is okay to want to go out into the workforce and it’s okay to want to be a stay at home mom. It’s okay to want to have an abortion and it’s okay to not want an abortion.
All that matters is that women have a choice in the issue, and that they are not being forced into anything. In order to end sexism, everyone needs to work together and get behind feminism. Although the word “feminist” may be seen as a label with a negative connotation, we need to work to change that. People need to stop being so quick to jump to conclusions about feminism, make an attempt to truly understand it, and work to get behind it. Only when people truly understand the issues of sexism and racism and make an attempt to fix them will these issues finally be eradicated.