How do people justify sexism


Ina Kerner

To person

Dr. phil .; Junior Professor for Diversity Politics, Institute for Social Sciences, Philosophical Faculty III, Humboldt University Berlin, Unter den Linden 6, 10099 Berlin. [email protected]

Everyday language consensus is that the subject area of ​​sexism goes beyond prejudice and acts of harassment. According to Duden, the term describes the "(discrimination on the basis of) the idea that one of the two sexes is inherently superior to the other". [1] In the current Brockhaus, sexism even stands for "every kind of discrimination, oppression, contempt and disadvantage of people on the basis of their gender as well as for the ideology on which it is based". Sexism is found "in psych. Dispositions, in prejudices and world views as well as in social, legal and economic regulations, finally also in the form of factual violence and exclusion in the relationship of the sexes and in the justification of these acts and structures of violence by the Reference to a 'natural' gender difference ". In addition to personal appearances, he also has structural and institutional forms. Brockhaus also provides information about the origin of the term: "The term S. was formed in the 1960s in the USA in the course of the formation of a new women's movement to correspond to the term racism. (...) With the term racism, S. shares the critical intention to name a social grievance, to make people aware of its cultural-historical or ideological foundations and to work towards their elimination. "[2]

A close connection to racism, it can be concluded from this, has shaped the discussion of sexism from the beginning. This already applies to the phase avant la lettre, for the first women's movement in the 19th century. In North America, the early women's rights activists organized around abolitionism, political struggles against slavery. In European women's rights thinking at that time, the slavery metaphor was used to scandalize the situation of European (married) women. [3] Such racism-sexism analogies found a new high point in the second women's movement that began in the late 1960s, when rivalries such as "Women are the negroes of all peoples" caused a sensation in North America and Western Europe. [4]

Obviously, such equations of the problems of women and blacks aroused the protest of black feminists. On the one hand, they complained that the equations made black women invisible, since their implicit reference figures were white women and black men. On the other hand, they argued that the parallelization of slavery and bourgeois housewife marriage played down experiences of extreme exploitation. With the aforementioned equations, the catalogs of political priorities of the hegemonic branches of the white women's movement also came under feminist internal criticism. It was criticized that they claimed to speak for all women while they were de facto represent the interests of a privileged group of women; and that hierarchies and power relations between women would be ignored. [5]

Black feminists subsequently developed critical analyzes of society that were primarily related to their own situation. The position paper "A Black Feminist Statement" published by the Boston activist group Combahee River Collective in 1977, in which it is stated programmatically: "A general description of our current politics would be that we actively oppose racial, gender, fight heterosexual and class-related forms of oppression. In addition, we see it as our special task to develop an integrative analysis and practice that is based on the fact that the central systems of oppression are intertwined. The synthesis of these forms of oppression creates our living conditions. "[6]

In the following decades, different theoretical elaborations of this idea of ​​the interlocking of different "systems of oppression" were presented. And in the West German and Austrian women's movements, too, these ideas were soon discussed relatively broadly, although here too initially more on their fringes than in their center. [7]


Over the past few years, the term intersectionality has established itself as a generic term for thinking together different forms of inequality as interlaced - instead of, as before, as analogue. He was shaped by the American legal theorist Kimberle Crenshaw, who has set herself the task of addressing the consequential problems of decoupled analyzes of racist and sexist forms of discrimination - based on the experiences of African American women. In an essay published in 1989 she used the image of the traffic at an intersection for this purpose - English: intersection - used and explained in a now much quoted passage: "Similar to the traffic at an intersection, discrimination can flow in one direction or the other. If an accident happens at the intersection, it may have been caused by cars that are out of different directions and sometimes come from all directions. Similarly, when a black woman is injured because she is at the crossroads: her injury can be the result of gender or racial discrimination. "[8]

On the basis of her analyzes, Crenshaw himself argues primarily for a reform of the case law in connection with US anti-discrimination law, which often follows a one-dimensional logic and can therefore only treat cases of sexist and racist discrimination separately from one another. Reference points are the discrimination experiences of white women and black men - black women fall through the loopholes in anti-discrimination law. According to Crenshaw, this deficiency can be compared with the fact that emergency doctors who come to an intersection after an accident refrain from providing care if the course of the accident cannot be precisely reconstructed. To remedy this, she advocates multi-dimensional and therefore complex models of discrimination - both within and outside the sphere of law. In turn, she turns not only against one-dimensional and entanglement-blind approaches, but also against conceptual designs that simply add up experiences of discrimination - and emphasize, for example, that a poor black woman is three times as oppressed as a rich white man. [9]

Theoretical punch line of intersectional thinking is thus the insight that sexism - depending on the social position - can express itself in different ways; without there being such a thing as a "pure form". For current intersectionality research it is also true that the analytical gaze is mostly directed beyond individual experiences of discrimination to those social mechanisms and structures that create such different experiences as those just described in the first place - or even try to combat them. [10] The basic idea of ​​intersectionality thus boils down to two aspects. First, to think of conventional gender categories as plural, for example not simply to assume "men" and "women", but also to grasp differences and power relations within these gender groups, for example in connection with sexuality, nationality, religion or social status. Second, the idea of ​​intersectionality goes hand in hand with the thesis that the dynamics of gender relations can only be adequately grasped in the context of the further difference and hierarchy relations with which they are interwoven. The pre-intersectional gender research, which analytically isolates "gender", appears from an intersectional perspective in any case methodologically under-complex and in need of revision.

Against this background, what does it mean to understand sexism intersectionally? In order to answer this question, I first plead for a broad understanding of sexism based on the heuristic distinction between an epistemic, an institutional and a personal dimension - and I assume that there are many interactions between these dimensions. The epistemic dimension is related to knowledge and discourses as well as symbols and images. The institutional dimension concerns institutional structures that create or stabilize inequality. The personal dimension refers to attitudes, but above all to identities and subjectivities of people, and also to actions and interactions. [11] Brockhaus's understanding of sexism outlined at the beginning, which explicitly names personal and structural manifestations, has thus been expanded to include epistemic aspects. In addition, the understanding of sexism proposed here includes constellations that create or support gender asymmetries without resorting to postulates of gender difference for legitimation.