Sexism, Misogyny, Harassment and Assault Definitions

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Here at Surviving in Scrubs, we campaign against the culture of workplace sexism, misogyny, sexual harassment and sexual assault within healthcare. 

We often see these terms thrown around incorrectly; sometimes they are used interchangeably. Either way, it is important to understand the true definition of what these words mean as a way of arming yourself against these behaviours at work, or at the very least equipping you with the tools to report them if they were to happen to you. 

Sexism is defined as “prejudice, stereotyping or discrimination based on sex”. It is very often confused with misogyny which is the “dislike of, contempt for, or ingrained prejudice against women”. 

“I was never given an opportunity to go to theatre during my T&O job, as the male team said I was ‘too weak’ to handle the tools”

“Turned up to my first day on a ward and introduced myself to the male consultant. Instead of introducing himself, he just said…‘and do you know why the NHS is in the state it is? Back when I was training, there were 99 men for every woman and it was great. Now look at it.”

It is important to highlight the distinction here as a lot of perpetrators of sexist behaviours do not think that they hate women – they may have wives, mothers, daughters whom they love dearly, therefore proving that they do not hate women. However whether or not the intention behind treating women differently to men is one coming from a place of kindness or not, it does not matter. Treating women differently to men, disadvantages everyone, consigning us all to narrow gender roles, however when this occurs within the workplace women are far worse off – financially, professionally and emotionally. 

Now moving onto the more sinister end of the sexist spectrum, we need to define sexual harassment, sexual assault and rape. 

Sexual harassment is unwanted behavior of a sexual nature, that must have either violated someone’s dignity (whether intended to or not) or created a hostile environment (whether intended to or not). 

Sexual assault is when a person is coerced or forced to engage in sexual contact against their will, or when a person is touched sexually without their consent. It is important to note that this is not limited to touching of the buttocks, genitalia or breasts, it can be touching of anywhere on the body in what is perceived as a sexualized manner by the victim. 

Rape is when a person uses their penis to penetrate another’s vagina, mouth or anus without consent.

“Scrubbed into theatre as a medical student with an all male surgical team… Senior (male) consultant just stands next to me (not scrubbed in), watching the operation, with his hand on my waist…”
(Sexual Assault)

It is important to clarify these terms, so that we can all understand what behaviours and attitudes are unacceptable and inexcusable. 

Sexist and misogynistic attitudes lead to increased rates of sexual harassment and sexual assault as they undermine women and non-binary people.  These attitudes feed into the idea that women, and non-binary people are less important than men and therefore it’s not a big deal if they are harassed or assaulted because how they think and feel is not valued. 

By becoming aware of sexist and misogynistic attitudes, we can start to see the patterns of behaviours, we can become more confident in calling them out, reporting them, sticking up for ourselves and others.