Systemic Sexism in Our Society

Phrases and notions in our everyday lives that are inherently sexist


Maya Sagett

Infographic by Maya Sagett

Maya Sagett, Features Editor

“Wearing the pants” in a relationship

When a person says someone “wears the pants,” they are typically implying that the person is the dominant figure in their partnership. The phrase is thought to have originated in the 19th century when women in the US traditionally did not wear pants in public, but longer gowns or skirts. The phrase “wearing the pants” tends to enforce the unhealthy and untrue idea that it’s “manly” or “masculine” to be in a powerful position. It also implies that there is and should be a sense of power in a relationship, even though a healthy modern relationship is known to be one where both parties have equal say and opportunity, especially in a day and age where it is not always the case that a relationship is made up of one male and one female.

Always a bridesmaid, never a bride

This popular phrase implies that a person’s ultimate life goal, especially a woman’s, should be marriage. It has roots in the 1920s and suggests that someone has not met their full potential. Though it literally refers to the subject of marriage, the phrase can also be used in any context to simultaneously mean that someone has fallen short of a goal or accomplishment, and is derogatory towards women. It also conveys that a man can be just as successful and powerful without a wife, but a woman must be upheld by and dependent upon a man. The notion that someone who isn’t married is somehow short of their full capacity is a dated concept by modern standards. Marriage isn’t for everyone and being married is not a sign that someone is successful in life or in love.

Boys will be boys

Used as an excuse for harmful behavior, “boys will be boys” suggests that no matter what they do, a boy’s actions are excused simply because of the sex they were assigned at birth. It unfairly implies that you can’t teach boys to be different or do better, so there’s no use in even trying. Similar to dismissing sexual assault because “she was asking for it,” this phrase upholds the notion that boys shouldn’t be held accountable for their actions or urges because they’re boys. Instead of teaching girls that “boys will be boys” and that they should learn how to protect themselves, we as a society should be teaching that “to be boys” means a respectful, well-mannered human being.


The idea that a father watching his child should be seen as “babysitting” instead of “parenting” is an all too common concept in our society that many of us have just accepted. The more obvious reason that this has become a universal notion is merely that the woman is the one to give birth to a child (although it is a common understanding in today’s society that a person does not have to be female-identifying to give birth, for all intents and purposes of this article being related to sexism, I am going to say “woman” as a general term). Yes, women are typically the more maternally instinctive ones on a purely hormonal and genetic level, but this idea of men being incapable of caring for their own children is one that has been systematically incorporated into today’s world. For example, the average maternity leave length in the US is ten weeks, and the allotted paternity leave time is typically only three to seven days. Being given less time to spend with their child after they are just born inherently gives people the idea that they couldn’t possibly be able to take care of the child without the help or guidance of its mother. “Babysitting” is what you do with other people’s kids: you show up, hang out with the kids, get paid, and go home. When it is your own child that you are responsible for 24/7 and you don’t get to leave when the night is over, it is simply called “parenting.”