Avoiding Sexism in Canada and the United States
Advice for international travellers + students + others
When you are new to Canada and especially the United States, you may find it easy to offend and appear sexist in the eyes of North Americans without meaning to do harm. Cultures differ so much on what is proper behaviour.
"Prejudice, stereotyping, or discrimination, typically against women, on the basis of sex."
— Oxford Dictionary
Sexism—not treating women as equals—remains an extraordinarily sensitive issue in North America.
Sexism in Canada and the United States
Sexism applies to exploiting women in many ways. For example, men are paid significantly more for the same work in the U.S. and they are more likely to be promoted to high positions.
"Gender pay gap in Canada more than twice global average." - The Globe and Mail citing a Catalyst Canada study during May 2018. That study found that Canadian working women earn approximately Canadian $8,000 less per year than men doing an equivalent job.
As of 2017, merely an appalling 54 of the Fortune 1000 companies--the largest U.S. companies—were headed by a woman CEO. Even with a person of colour in office, White House female staff still earned some 13 percent less than men in 2016 for the same work.
It gets worse.
Unlike Bangladesh, Bolivia, Haiti, Liberia, Malawi, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka (I could go on)—countries some Americans and Canadians consider not as "advanced" as theirs—neither Canada nor the United States has ever elected a woman head of government. By head of government I mean a person elected to office, not a royal by birth.
Now in 2018 far more attention has turned to the most sinister exploitation of all—males in positions of power overtly or indirectly demanding sexual favours in exchange for business favours such as parts in films, promotions, etc.
All this cannot stand.
Avoid sexist language
More than ever you have to be very careful to use
language that implies equality of the sexes.
To avoid offence, many
people are now using the grammatically incorrect plural "they"
to refer to a single person of unknown sex.
For example, "When
a traveller visits New York, they should see Rockefeller Centre,"
is said instead of using the traditional "he" when either
a man or a woman could be involved.
Also, many people such as I
say and write "he or she" instead of using solely "he"
or "they." I also do "her or his."
In conversations, do not presume
certain vocational roles are the province of one sex and not the
Traditionally, occupations often have been, but that has been changing, with especially significant growth in U.S. university enrolment of women in math and most sciences >
The percentage of women graduating with a U.S. business degree has grown spectacularly from some 10 percent in 1970 to just over or under 50 percent in the last few years. With 40 percent in the advanced MBA degree they still lag, but even that is a vast improvement.
At one time many people in North America believed being a medical doctor was
an unsuitable role for a woman. In my mind,
however, bless the woman doctor who tended my very difficult
birth. Being born with a backpack attached to my back posed a challenge
for us both!
Some say the women's movement in North
America has gone too
far in trying to protect the interests of women.
Even if you agree, try to be tolerant if you
notice what you consider to be extremes.
After all, women in North America, as mentioned, still face
huge prejudice in the workplace, in family structures, and in
Proper behaviour always not certain
Attitudes regarding many social habits are
male may be uncertain whether or not to open a door for a woman,
to offer to pay for a meal on a first date, etc. If you do not open that door you may be considered ill-mannered
or even rude, and if you do, you may be classed as sexist and insensitive
depending on the observer.
Males will just have to live with these situations.
There's no way to know in advance what to do in every social
Avoid touching and intimate language unless sure
Do not touch anyone with more than a handshake unless you are certain your action will be welcomed.
This can be a strain for people from many cultures (including some found in North America), where friendly, informal touching between men and women on let's say an arm or a quick hug is not considered offensive.
in doubt, leave it out."
At the now closed Antioch College in Ohio,
men had to ask permission before kissing their dates. Moreover, they
had to receive verbal permission at each step prior to proceeding
to greater intimacy, or risk expulsion from the university. One might wonder if the university closed because men were too frightened to enrol there.
The University of Iowa may expel a student or
terminate an employee who says, "Maria, that is a sexy
dress you are wearing."
Immediate termination may seem too extreme to you
in this situation, but that's the way it is.
Again, please remember the economic and
social abuse women have long suffered and frankly continue to suffer
in both American and Canadian society.
For more discussion about interacting with Americans
and Canadians >
Go to >> Making friends
Go to >> Interacting
with Americans and Canadians
Go to >> Handling complaints
Go to >> Dealing with prejudice
Go to >> Adjusting to
North American life
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