How to deal with sexism and discrimination


The 2023 Women’s World Cup enthralled soccer fans and engaged a huge audience around the world.

And yet, it has been marred by the image of the Spanish football federation president grabbing one of the Spanish players’ head with both hands and giving her a kiss on the lips. Would he have done the same if it had been the men’s team winning their world cup? Absolutely not!

Misogyny, homophobia, discrimination, prejudice and sexism continues to exist despite the laws that are there to discourage them. It’s gone underground and is spoken about less. This is not just in relation to women’s football but to society as a whole.

In the UK we’ve had Civil Partnerships for same sex couples since 2004 and in 2014, the same sex marriage Act became law. On the face of it there should be parity between heterosexual and homosexual partners and legally there is. However, in reality, there remains an underlying streak of homophobia. Indeed, prejudice of all kinds remain. It’s just more difficult to prove.

The difficulty becomes apparent when as an individual you believe you have been subject to any kind of prejudice or discrimination because there is no way to prove it unless there happens to be concrete evidence, such as something in writing, a voice or video recording. Evidence is something that is easy to avoid if you are a perpetrator. All you have to do is to avoid saying or writing anything specifically derogatory.

Discrimination, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. As a reasonable person, one knows whether a raised voice or aggressive action is aimed at you because you are gay, a woman or of ethnic origins.

This writer was told of an incident that had happened to a female gay friend who heard raised voices and went out to investigate as she recognised the female voice of her immediate neighbour speaking to a man. She asked whether everything was alright.

The man, who was standing in his garden opposite her neighbour, aggressively turned to her and told her to mind her own business and told her that her boundary wall between her property and that of her opposite neighbour was coming down.

The friend, who is a very strong independent woman, and well-integrated socially was unusually upset by this unprovoked aggressive comment. She was also convinced that it was fuelled by homophobia. There was nothing in the comments to indicate this, but she just instinctively knew. She called the police and explained the incident to the two officers that arrived.  They then went to visit the neighbour.

Some months’ later, the friend requested the police report and was shocked to find that the police officers completely rejected her allegation. They believed the neighbour when he said that it was just a spat and there was nothing in it. The police even stated in the report that there was definitely no ‘homophobia’ involved as the neighbour had denied it.

This, unfortunately, is the nature of the beast. If a female worker complains about sexual harassment at work, it becomes the word of the victim against the perpetrator. This writer herself experienced misogynistic comments many years’ ago when she worked in the property business.

Having told her boss that she found his comments on women insulting and inappropriate, he just told her to lighten up, adding that if she wanted to ‘move up’ the ladder, her attitude would need to change. His remarks were just a bit of ‘fun’.

I have been told similar stories in respect of discrimination due to ethnic origin. A friend of colour went for a job interview. She was well educated, well qualified, had massive experience in the particular field and had excellent references. She did not get the job.

This is not necessarily uncommon, but she told me that in the interview, which she thought went very well on the whole, there was a feeling from one of the three interviewers that she definitely thought was not right. Her instinct told her it was discrimination. She shrugged it off because that was all she could do. She could not go back and complain because what would be the basis of the claim? A feeling? An instinct?

In conclusion, laws may be there to protect individuals legally in theory, but in practice they don’t prevent inequality or injustices or discrimination from happening in society. It’s just far more difficult to prove.

So, how do we affect a change?

Is there any way that policy can dictate a change in attitude?

Perhaps. The example given above regarding my female gay friend could have been different if the officer, who attended the incident and who wrote the report, had some empathy with my friend’s perception of the incident. But how could he as he was a male and the perpetrator was male also and had denied that it was homophobia?

Why did he not accept the perception of my friend and instead choose to accept the version from the perpetrator? Attitudes towards any kind of discrimination being reported have to change but can policy do that? Probably not. It has to be through education.

In the same way as the others in the Spanish national women’s team have stood by Jenni Hermoso, and refused to play until certain changes are affected, and the same way as we all cringe when we hear someone shouting an abusive chant, we as a society have to police these attitudes ourselves.

We have to pick up on and question when something is not right and do so until there is change. Policy changes cannot do so alone.

Perhaps the best way is to make a complaint to the police under the umbrella of ‘Anti-Social Behaviour’ and insist that you see the police report. If, as happened to my friend, the report is inaccurate, you should then make a point of complaining further.

Alternatively, you could request a legal professional, such as a Licensed Paralegal, to write a letter to the perpetrator. Neither action may produce a satisfactory result, but the more it is addressed, the more it may affect a change in attitude, although it may take a very long time.

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Radix is the radical centre think tank. We welcome all contributions which promote system change, challenge established notions and re-imagine our societies. The views expressed here are those of the individual contributor and not necessarily shared by Radix.

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