Systemic “isms”

14 Mar

Systemic ‘isms’ are often hard to detect.


  • Sometimes because we have grown up with these policies, laws, and ways of doing things –  and so don’t critique them (like the fact that until 1990 only Canadian women were able to take time off when their children were born).
  • Sometimes because they don’t impact us (like the fact that many health plans don’t cover hormone therapy that transgender individuals may require).

But in Arizona, there is a new law that screams “systemic sexism” and is worth using as an example.

According to House Bill 2625, employers in Arizona get to decide if they want their company health benefits to cover women’s birth control for any other reason except medical. Yes, you read correctly. That means that if a woman is or wants to be on birth control and wants it covered (read: can’t afford it – so this is also an example of systemic classism, because it also disproportionately affects women of lower incomes) she has to a) have a medical condition and b) tell her employer. Can we say invasion of privacy?

Oh, and one more thing: if the employer finds out a female employee has been using contraception for contraceptive purposes – they can fire her! ACK! What century is this??

This is  sexism because it only impacts women.
It’s classism because women who can afford to buy their own contraception won’t be affected.
And and it’s systemic in both cases because it’s written into law (policies and procedures or even informal “that’s the way we do things here” also qualify as systemic).

Check your policies and procedures/ways of doing things at work (or home, school, community)- what systemic isms are lurking that you can work towards eliminating to create a more equitable and inclusive space? And remember, just because you can’t see it, doesn’t mean it’s not there…

See more.

copyright 2012 Annemarie Shrouder
author, speaker and facilitator on issues of diversity and inclusion



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