Gender inequality and its impact on health require proactive intervention.
The oppression of women perpetrated by existing social structures impacts health and the practice of mental health care. Yet, the field of mental health, cut from the cloth of society, provides few clinical frameworks for assessment and treatment of the traumatic effects of oppression such as racial, homophobic, and religious prejudice and sexism. Gender inequality and its harmful impact on health require proactive intervention from mental health clinicians.
Psychotherapists may be guilty of minimizing and ignoring our society’s social stigmas and oppression. They often fail to ask clients about prejudicial and discriminatory experiences as they might do with asking about exposure to types of earlier abuse (Korn, 2021).
The Impact of Sexism
Gender inequality or sexism is prejudice or discrimination formed by a person’s attitudes toward sex or gender. It can lead to a wide range of injurious behaviors, from acts of violence and abuse to subtle comments that reinforce stereotypes.
All manifestations of sexism are harmful and have a negative effect on society. Women are most severely affected, but sexism also impacts people of other marginalized genders. Less directly, it also hurts men (Leonard, 2021). Although sexism is harmful, its impact can be worse for some women and men owing to ethnicity, religion, age, disability, social origin, gender identity, sexual orientation, or other contributing factors.
Sexism and Health
A 2019 study of gender inequality and health found that gender inequality in the U.S. is bad for everybody’s health–women and men. Homan, the study’s researcher, concludes that gender inequality in the U.S. is not only a human rights issue but also a public health problem.
Structural sexism looks at how the degree of systematic gender inequality in power and resources in a society–unequal distribution based on gender–can affect people’s health. Homan measured structural sexism at a macro level such as the US states; a meso level such as a marital dyad; and at the micro level, the individual (Irby, 2019).
Briefly, Homan’s findings identified:
- Women exposed to more sexism at the macro and meso levels are associated with more chronic conditions, worse health, and impaired physical functioning. Women in their home state exposed to high levels of structural sexism had twice as many health issues and appeared seven years older in their health profile than their counterparts in home states with lower levels.
- Men exposed to macro-level structural sexism are also associated with chronic conditions, worse health, and impaired functioning. Greater gender inequality at the meso level such as an intimate partnership is associated with better health among men.
- Micro-level, internalized sexism, was not related to the physical health of women and men.