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Explained: The Three Types Of Sexism At Work

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Sexism in the workplace can look like a male colleague cracking a joke about his female colleague leaving work early because she has errands to run or when he asks her to “calm down” when they’re trying to make a point.

There are many facets to sexism, but how long have we been using the word? The term “sexism” is widely believed to have emerged during the second wave of the feminist movement in the 1970s. That piece of information means women have only had a word in the last 50 years to loosely describe a range of actions spread across acts (spoken or written), practices, behaviour/gestures that deem them inferior to men.

Representative Image.

Sexism is rampant in modern workplaces. Stories shared by users on Twitter and Instagram will affirm that at least a few hundred times a day. In this article, I will briefly try to explain the different kinds of sexism so that we have an easier time identifying what’s wrong and what we can call it.

The Many Types Of Sexism

Expanding the scope of what’s sexist beyond just statements/remarks made at work — it’s also sexist when women are expected to take notes in meetings irrespective of their role in the company or be made to feel inadequate or out of place in a male-dominated workplace. There are also sexist hiring practices, work cultures, and of course, the pay gap.

The Pew Research Center in the United States says that up to 42% of women in workplaces face some form of sexism in the workplace. Let’s understand the nuances of sexism through the following three types: benevolent, hostile and casual sexism.

  • Benevolent Sexism

Benevolent sexism is a set of attitudes that reinforce gender roles and stereotypes but in a way that it “feels” positive and endearing. Telling a woman who is a manager that she keeps her team together like a mother is an example of benevolent sexism. It could also be a male colleague checking in more than usual to see if you need help with your work even though your qualifications are more or less the same as the men in your team.

These actions seem to be coming from a place of care but actually work to keep women trapped in their patriarchy-dictated gender roles of how women should behave and how they’re expected to reach out for help and protection because they’re the “weaker sex”.

Men who are guilty of being benevolently sexist think well of themselves because it reinforces their gendered role of being the “protector”. This kind of sexism impacts women because they are deprived of agency at the workplace. It also keeps society’s rules about men and women intact at the workplace.

  • Hostile Sexism

This one isn’t tough to spot. This is the most obvious form of sexism. An incident of hostile sexism occurs when a man at work makes negative evaluations of a female colleague.

Remarks by men that imply a woman can’t perform a certain task well because she’s a woman. Someone could be guilty of hostile sexism if they purposely exclude women from processes meant for all — meetings, important projects, and the like. It’s important to understand the word “hostile” in hostile sexism is used not literally but to connote an overt, negative and direct form of sexism.

Research studies from around the world suggest that benevolent and hostile sexism usually go hand-in-hand. If you find one, it’s not long before you spot the other. While the former is believed to be used by men as a “reward” for good behaviour, the latter is said to have been used as punishment for “bad behaviour”. Together, benevolent and hostile sexism give rise to what is understood as ambivalent sexism.

  • Casual Sexism
The Office
Representative Image.

Casual sexism, often referred to as everyday sexism, refers to comments, actions, and behaviour often rooted in gender-based stereotypes. This form of sexism, while seemingly harmless, often discounts the agency of women and reduces every action in the workplace to their gender. It could look like a comment that asks a woman to “calm down” in the face of workplace discrimination or a sexist joke which is justified as “just a joke not to be taken seriously”.

These seemingly minor incidents make the workspace uncomfortable for women and denote that the work culture is patriarchal, toxic, and not inclusive of their participation.


Sexist behaviour and attitudes are not just a few isolated actions and behaviour. Sexism at work also translates to a lack of pay, growth opportunities and ultimately leads to stagnation.

Studies show women who are mothers are less likely to get employed, women are more likely to be underpaid in freelance positions and saleswomen are underpaid than men because they are given smaller accounts to handle. All of these facts stem from a sexist understanding of the role and position of women.

For workplaces to evolve, employers need to recognise the damage that sexist behaviour can have on their workforce, especially women, and work towards building a work culture that’s more inclusive and dignified.

By Priyanka Chakrabarty

About the author: Priyanka is pursuing her LLB from St Joseph’s College of Law and aspires to be a human rights lawyer. She is a queer woman who loves to read and passionately document her reading journey on bookstagram.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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