I've been thinking about this for a while, so I thought I'd ask it here.

Are all interactions between genders technically sexist as defined by the English language?

Using the thought process below, I seem to arrive at the conclusion that all interactions between genders are technically sexist. Do you agree or disagree with this? Is it justifiable / "does it hold water?"


Sexism is commonly defined as, "prejudice, stereotyping, or discrimination on the basis of sex"

It seems to me that a person of one gender would usually treat a person of a different gender differently (e.g. more respect or less respect, to name a quick example). This difference may not always be significant and/or noticeable and may only occur in the "subject" (the person of one gender mentioned previously).

Utilizing the definitions of sexism, prejudice, stereotyping and discrimination...

I seem to arrive at the conclusion that all interactions between sexes are "sexist".

*Interactions with other sexes is sexist because of different treatment (e.g. more respect or less respect, to name a quick example). This "different treatment" falls under the subjects of prejudice and discrimination.*


I've tried to thoroughly explain my thought process. Thanks for reading this somewhat lengthy question.

  • 1
    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – commando
    Commented Aug 24, 2016 at 18:08

7 Answers 7


It seems to me that a person of one gender would usually treat a person of a different gender differently (e.g. more respect or less respect, to name a quick example).

That qualifies as sexism, yes. So, if your assumption is correct that a person of one gender would usually treat a person of a different gender differently, that would imply that interactions between members of a different gender/sex are usually sexist.

However, this does not mean that all interactions between members of a different gender/sex are sexist, unless everyone always treats a person of a different gender differently from those of his/her own. I'm not convinced that is accurate.

I believe it is most definitely possible to treat people of different genders in the same way, at least in most contexts.

  • 4
    I'd like to add some casual examples to strengthen the OP's contention - public restrooms and clothing. Part of the public furor over transgender usage of restrooms is based on the simple fact that we DO have different kinds of public toilets for each gender. Technically, that's "sexist." The fact that there are "unisex" garments implies that other clothing IS "sexist," and so on. And that example illustrates that some of the sexism is aimed against men, because there's almost nothing that a female's not "allowed" to wear nowadays, while a male in female garb is "crossdressing."
    – user6297
    Commented Aug 24, 2016 at 17:33
  • 4
    No, it does not so qualify. Saying that a man can not get pregnant is treating different sexes differently, but it is not sexism, because they are different in this respect. Sexism is treating sexes differently based on prejudice or bias, where there is no basis for it in their actual differences, like saying "girls are not as good at math", etc. So while treating persons of different sex differently is unavoidable and common sense sexism is avoidable and should be avoided.
    – Conifold
    Commented Aug 24, 2016 at 20:44
  • 3
    @Conifold : it depends on whether you use the term exclusively to mean something negative or not. For example, if you exclusively use "discrimination" for something unethical, then you would not call forbidding blind people from getting a driver's or pilot's licence discrimination. However, if you believe that there can be good discrimination and bad discrimination, on the other hand, and use the word in a neutral manner ...
    – vsz
    Commented Aug 25, 2016 at 6:05
  • 1
    @jobermark : yes, this corresponds with my view of the word, but I've seen plenty of people using the word for absolutely anything, even to what we call common sense.
    – vsz
    Commented Aug 25, 2016 at 6:25
  • 1
    @vsz The fact that people need help and rules to use words properly is one of the reasons for the existence of philosophy. Just deciding misuse is automatically correct, when it is damaging, sacrifices the point of much of logic -- one of the foundational domains in this subject. It is damaging to broaded a meaningful objection into a ready-to-hand cudgel.
    – user9166
    Commented Aug 25, 2016 at 16:56

If you believe the premise that

If I once treat a person different than if that person was of the opposite sex, than I am by definition sexist to that person.

then you are right, everyone is sexist to everyone else.

But I couldn't change your gender without changing anything else, it is not an abstract attribute. You would be physically/biologically different and it is even hard to imagine a person with a different gender being exactly the same person. So if I treat someone different because she is pregnant, am I sexist? If I sell you a bra because you have boobs, am I treating you different because you are a women, or because your body matches the product I am selling?

It is hard to pinpoint someone actually treating someone different just because of gender, because a different biological gender is always accompanied by a whole bunch of biological/physical/... differences.

I think a better definition would be:

If I treat a person more like a gender than an individual person, I am sexist.

Since we treat no two persons the exact same on this world, we need a baseline to decide if a certain treatment is different because the two people have different genders, or if it is primarily different, because they are different persons. Maybe I treat Max and Penny different because they are the persons they are, not because they are all men.

In this way someone is only treating another person sexist, if they are primarily treating them a certain way because of their gender. Gender being a more important factor than other individual factors.

  • 1
    I like the definition, very much. +1'd. (I might be biased because it's similar to mine). However, wouldn't that make nearly every interaction with someone you don't know, except for the obvious things like age, wealth or gender, most probably sexist? I think such a definition should include "ignoring/neglecting better knowledge". After all, the problem is not as much the stereotype, but clinging to it when it doesn't apply.
    – Estharon
    Commented Aug 24, 2016 at 18:56
  • 1
    If I am directing you to the assigned restroom because of your gender, or giving you gender-appropriate clothing in a homeless shelter, that is still not sexist.
    – user9166
    Commented Aug 24, 2016 at 21:45
  • @jobermark This is what I was trying to say: If I give a woman a dress, because she looks and dresses like a woman it is not sexist, because I give her the dress primarily, because it would fit her body and seems to fit her style. But if a woman dresses like a man, wears short hair and asks for clothing it would be sexist to offer her the dress and not the clothing fitting her style and body. - Restrooms is a special case, and I think it could be argued that not letting a woman into the mans restrooms is sexist, but not by me, I am just enforcing a social norm which results from sexism
    – Falco
    Commented Aug 25, 2016 at 8:52
  • ...continued. Not letting a woman in a mans restroom has the background that we do not feel comfortable doing our thing in the same room as the opposite sex. Which is sexist, because there is no real reason, most restrooms could without problems be shared. Why is it a problem if a woman sees my junk and not if a man does? - purely sexist ;-) If you argue with potential mating, than we should divide restrooms by sexual preference and not by gender :-P
    – Falco
    Commented Aug 25, 2016 at 8:54
  • I am not an idiot. I see what you are trying to say. But there is still a gap in your argument. Some default responses are not bad. You need a criterion for separation, (as opposed to your comments which just try to make an excuse for not giving one.) Modern framings generally tie that criterion to power differentials or to autonomy, you might choose some other direction. But it needs to exist.
    – user9166
    Commented Aug 25, 2016 at 15:15

Sexism, like racism is structural; this doesn't mean that people can't like or dislike each other - Arendt uses the term discrimination for this, which is awkward as it now it generally refers to the first sense: banning women from competing in the Olympics is sexist; but just because you beat a woman in a race doesn't mean you're sexist.


What is the difference between the two senses of discrimination -- the positive one of correctly addressing an identified difference, and the negative one of presuming difference where it might not exist? What is the difference between simply using known cultural patterns, and stereotyping? What is the difference between being prepared and prejudice? You seem to have conflated neutral terms with negative ones. So maybe we should simply step away from those terms.

Modern takes on the notion of sexism, racism, ageism are not simply about difference, they are about leveraging privilege. So no, most interactions between sexes do not necessarily have to involve either sex executing its privilege.

When a black comedian mocks white people, or a male comedian imitates a woman, it is not necessarily privilege based, it could be to communicate empathy or to elucidate something that is just a pattern, and not a structured power relation.

At the same time, interactions within a gender can clearly be sexist. When a man uses presumed female physical inferiority to demean another man's performance, or when a man uses a prescription of male emotional reserve to avoid dealing with or offering assistance to another man, those are both sexist. It is a male privilege to have his physical power presumed and regarded, and a female privilege to more openly request supportive attention.

Age is the place this is most obvious to me. I am forty-nine, and my counterpart in the leadership structure here is nineteen. Whether either of us presumes I am ahead of him because of the variety of my experience or behind him because he is more flexible mentally, we are being ageist, even when we are attributing the strength to the other party.

On the other hand, when we are making the same determinations more objectively, and consciously depending upon one another's real strengths or supportively empathizing with one another's real differences, we are being 'age-aware', and not ageist.

So the same thinking and actions can be either one or the other, depending upon the level of consciousness and the intention.


There is most certainly an argument to be made that in practice, everyone is sexist, racist, etc. to everyone else by virtue of being complicit in the structural imbalances which have been established in civilization.

It can be argued that there's something sexist about any interaction between genders which does not seek to break down whatever barriers may exist. In practice, this renders practically any interaction sexist in either direction, because it may be that a woman's right to her voice is being implicitly suppressed, or a man's right to his emotions are being denied, or simply that a binary is being enforced on those who wish to be free of it.

I realize this isn't exactly the sort of answer you're going for, but your question made me think of the article I've linked above and I hope it proves enlightening.


A different way of putting what others have said:

You define sexism as

prejudice, stereotyping, or discrimination on the basis of sex

but you don't define those terms. According to Webster-Merriam, discrimination has three meanings; one is

the practice of unfairly treating a person or group of people differently from other people or groups of people

The key word here is unfairly. Treating people differently is only called discrimination when considered unfair.

Therefore, treating people differently on the basis of gender is only sexism when doing so is unfair.


Are all interactions between genders technically sexist as defined by the English language?

If "genders" are, like it is usually accepted, social constructs built around the biological differences between sexes, then "gender" itself is sexist. If "gender" is just a convoluted synonym for "sex", then no, not all interactions between people of different sexes are of logical necessity sexist - at least in the abstract. But we do not live in an abstract world; we live in a world where the accepted roles and rules for people of each sex are different, unequal, and very strongly enforced - ie, we live in a "gendered" world.

So it is like a football field that is higher at one end: nevermind how much "equal" the rules seem, the team that plays from the higher side are at an "automatic" advantage. But this is neither "technical" nor determined by the English language - or any other language, for what is worth.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .