Background Noise

Sexism around the clock

A daily dose of inequality

Sexism accompanies all of our lives as a kind of “background noise”. Sometimes it occurs very subtly, and it’s only a little while later on that you wonder whether you actually heard what you thought you did; on other occasions, it hits you right between the eyes. Sexism is a symptom and expression of social, economic and political power imbalances at both the micro and macro levels. Just like any other form of discrimination, sexism is structurally embedded in the institutions, values, norms and behaviours of our society. 

The following examples are intended to exemplify how everyday sexism is in all its manifestations. Women and non-binary people in particular are likely to be all too familiar with these situations.

Let’s get one thing straight first, though – it isn’t the responsibility of the person on the receiving end of sexism to prevent it by changing their behaviour or by taking evasive action, to defend themselves against it, or to have a pithy comeback on their lips in every situation. Responsibility for sexist behaviour lies with those who engage in it – whether consciously or with unthinking behaviour in keeping with stereotypical gender roles, or owing to established, discriminating structures that go unchallenged.


For her

Skincare products in particular are often gendered – and mostly it’s not the ingredients that differ, but only the packaging. And the prices. After all, care products for women are, on average, more expensive than those for men. This phenomenon is known as “gender pricing” or “gender marketing”.

Your choice!
We can decide – at least within the bounds of what we are able to afford – which products wind up in our shopping trolley. Gender-neutral products are often actually cheaper than their nonsensically designated counterparts featuring exactly the same ingredients. Sometimes, for example, a product with the same ingredients can even be found at a cheaper price among products for men.

There’s even a negative award for the most absurd examples of gender marketing, the Golden Fencepost.


Sex still sells

Whether on the way to work, in magazines and newspapers, on television or on the internet – advertising is ubiquitous. And still chock-full of sexist stereotypes and sexualised depictions of primarily female bodies. We’re therefore constantly inundated with unrealistic assigned roles and body images that work their way – sometimes unconsciously – into our minds.

Annual rebukes courtesy of the German Advertising Standards Council
There are various complaints bodies for sexist advertising – first and foremost the German Advertising Standards Council. The Council has censured six different ads for sexism in 2021 alone. The site collects examples of sexism in the media on the subpage



Time for a meeting – time for a spot of mansplaining! Especially in a professional context, men sometimes like to pretend to be omniscient experts and explain things in detail to their preferably female and often reluctant audience, things that the latter either already knew or didn’t want to know in the first place. Another knock-on effect of “mansplaining” is that women are often left with much fewer opportunities to make their voices heard at meetings and sessions.

Au contraire, monsieur!
With critical questions or by pointing to the fact that the presumed lack of knowledge isn’t there, “mansplaining” can be exposed for what it is – namely know-it-all posturing and an exercise in self-promotion. There is a line between a welcome explanation and an intrusive lecture. Communication workshops can be a good method for reflecting on and improving communication behaviour within a team – also down to how much certain people or groups of people get a word in edgeways.


Token woman

The “token woman” is a modern mythical figure that women transform into whenever they have just been promoted. According to this legend, women aren’t promoted on the basis of their qualifications, but in order to fill an often just as imaginary quota for women. On the other hand, the de facto male predominance in management positions and on executive boards is often overlooked.

Token man
Let’s turn the tables for once. The tale of the “token man” is an excellent illustration of the absurdity of the “token woman”. Think along the lines of old school ties, with mostly male superiors preferring to hire those who are similar to them, sometimes even down to the same first names. Male supremacy in leadership positions is thus reproduced and perpetuated. Claiming that a man was hired only because he is a man and not because he would be particularly qualified for position XY is thus actually far more realistic than the claiming the opposite, i.e. that a woman was hired or promoted only because she is a woman. The statistics for women in leadership positions (as of 2020, women account for 28% of people in such positions; source) speak for themselves. 



So-called catcalls are a phenomenon that mainly people perceived to be feminine are exposed to in their daily lives. Catcalls are a gesture of power made by people who are behaving in a stereotypically masculine manner and who are used to commenting on the appearance of other people without having been asked to do so. Many women find catcalling unpleasant and demeaning.

Overcoming powerlessness
Again, it isn’t the responsibility of people on the receiving end of catcalling to behave appropriately – from the freedom to wear what you want to prosecuting incidents of harassment. You decide yourself whether something is a compliment or feels like catcalling. How you respond depends entirely on your own resources. It can often be helpful to talk to your friends. In many cities, activists draw attention to this form of molestation by writing what they were called in chalk on the asphalt right where it happened, thereby raising public awareness of this issue. @catcallsofberlin


Bad Moms

It’s already after 5.00 p.m. and the child is still waiting at the kindergarten or daycare centre? Women who want to hold down a job alongside motherhood are quickly branded as “bad moms”. And, as if things weren’t bad enough already, there’s also the household to take care of. Women continue to shoulder the lion’s share of care work, which is far from being solely a matter of picking up the kids from daycare or school, but applies to all aspects of looking after a family and organising day-to-day life within it. And then there’s the mental load of assuming responsibility for the household and family day in, day out, as well as relationship maintenance and keeping on top of personal needs and sensitivities.

Role models
What makes good parents? It’s time to lay antiquated views to rest. Relationships between parents and children are complex, as is daily life with a partner. It’s important to talk about sharing tasks and to find individual solutions that are as fair as possible and work for all those involved. Further ways to prevent burnout as a result of care work – alongside raising awareness – include reduced working hours and parental leave. Men avail themselves of both of these options less frequently and to a far lesser extent than women. (Link zur Quelle)


Afraid of the dark

“Send me a text when you get home” – almost all girls and women have doubtlessly been asked to do this at some point. According to a survey, one in five women have been harassed, stalked or threatened. Many women feel unsafe, especially at night in parks, on public transport and on the street, which limits their subjective freedom of movement.

Pepper spray isn’t the solution
We want to live in a world where all people, regardless of the qualities and characteristics attributed to them, can move freely and safely. If you’re walking behind a person in the dark, don’t crowd them. If you witness harassment, demonstrate civic courage and intervene or at least be on hand. Women’s safety is increasingly being taken into account also in the context of urban planning. In what is known as “gender planning”, other considerations are entered into the equation in addition to safety aspects in order to promote greater gender equality in cities – parking spaces for women are just the first step here.


Women rule the world (of contraception) 

If women don’t take responsibility here, then they’re in the hands of God. Contraception mainly falls to women to take care of – which is partly due to the fact that there has, despite numerous promising ideas, been precious little investment in researching and developing contraceptive methods for men to date. What’s the reason for this? The men complained about nasty side effects such as depression and hot flushes. Really? Oh dear…

New methods
Contraception must be everyone’s business – whether in heterosexual or queer relationships. Raising awareness about contraception across society makes sense for everyone. One demand made by the Deutscher Frauenrat (National Council of German Women’s Organisations), for example, is free and low-threshold access to non-prescription contraceptives. In addition, according to the Deutscher Frauenrat, investment should be made in research into new contraceptive methods – especially for men. 

Sexism in everyday working life – examples from the Federal Foreign Office 

We’ve put together a small selection of examples over the past few months for those who still don’t believe that sexism is a pervasive problem, whether in the office, on the street or at home. The following reports are all from staff members at the Federal Foreign Office and relate sexist incidents occurring in the day-to-day work of the Federal Foreign Office. For reasons of space and decorum, we’re only publishing a small part of the reports that we received.

Boss in the secretary’s office: »Ms XY, my wife isn’t home at the moment and I can hardly be expected to make sandwiches myself. That would be ridiculous. So please ask me every day shortly before lunchtime what I would like to eat and then order it.«

Vacancies occur because too many women are hired who then, of course, have to take time off to care for children/family members.

Female interns were regularly instructed to lay tables in conference rooms and clear them afterwards; male interns were never entrusted with this task. One female intern brought this up and was told by a male intern that he didn’t see the point in doing an internship if he had to do this sort of rubbish.

A colleague at the Foreign Service Academy asked me how I thought I could handle having both a husband and the Foreign Office – almost as if I would be forced to choose between husband and job 6. one day.

Question to a male colleague: »YOU baked? Is your wife sick? I wonder what it tastes like then…«

A superior asks his male colleague the following: »Why are you applying for teleworking when you have a wife to take care of the kids?«

A superior asks a new male secretary the following: »Men in the secretary’s office? Call me old-fashioned, but I need a bit of eye candy!«

»A male colleague runs his hands over the backs of female colleagues and myself or grabs us by the shoulder when he talks to us or walks past us.«

At a reception at the residence, a female colleague and I were asked by a member of the delegation whether we were part of the furniture as we looked so nice. All the male colleagues around us just laughed and repeated this quip several times during the next few days at work.

The Ambassador’s wife sends an email requesting donations of home-baked cakes for the Christmas bazaar. The email is sent only to the wives of male employees and to all female staff members at the Embassy. I guess the intended message is that baking cakes is women’s business – no matter whether you’re a housewife or a woman working full time.

Women are patronisingly told the following by their male colleagues: »Well, you don’t have to worry about your career. You’ll get promoted automatically because you’re a woman.«

My male colleague was told that he didn’t need to take any time off for his move. 
After all, he had a wife at home who could take care of it and do it better than him anyway.

More than Symbolism!

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