Here's How Sexism Can Affect Your Mental Health, According To Science

Ad failed to load

You will probably not be shocked to hear that being a woman in the world can be hard on your your mental health. The ways in which sexism can inflect our lives — from overt repression to microaggressions to "benevolent sexism" (which emphasizes gender difference that enforces traditional roles in ways that appear empowering, but aren't) — are pretty extensive. Do the pressures of sexist ideologies about women's inferiority, circumscribed gender roles, and dudes who think they have the "right" of dudes to catcall cause us very real psychological harm? The answer is yes.

Adult women from every nation have likely been exposed to sexism at some point in their lives, whether directly or indirectly — and, increasingly, we have evidence that long-term exposure to the notion that women are unequal to men, with all the constrictions of rights, freedoms and expression that entails, places enormous weight on women's basic ability to remain mentally healthy. The World Health Organization explains:

Ad failed to load

So if you're wondering if being a woman is making you lose it, the answer might be yes — but not because you're "over-emotional," "irrational" or "mentally weaker" than men. Being disempowered, burdened with emotional labor, silenced, mansplained to, and economically disadvantaged can really take it out of people.

Ad failed to load

Structural Sexism Increases The Risk Of Mental Health Issues

Library Of Congress

The most obvious way in which sexism creates mental health risks for women is through depriving them of rights and opportunities. If women aren't earning as much as men, aren't as legally protected, aren't as free to make their own decisions about their bodies and health, can't rely on experiencing as much career success, and are more likely to experience poverty, one of the biggest preconditions of severe mental health issues — stress — is likely to be higher.

According to stats from the National Women's Law Center, women in America are 35 percent more likely to live in poverty than men (with the percentage higher for women of color). And data collected by the American Association Of University Women (AAUW) indicates that in 2015, women in full-time work across America were paid an average of 80 percent of their direct male counterpart's salary. (And no, that cannot just be explained by factors like women's differing choices in job areas.)

The link between poverty, social inequality and mental health is, according to one researcher, "a well-recognized fact." A disadvantaged group of people is always going to be more at risk of mental health issues than their more privileged counterpart — meaning that women of color, queer women, socioeconomically disadvantaged women, and women with other marginalized identities are especially at risk for mental health issues. But even if you're a woman with a lot of privilege, sexism can still hurt you.

Objectification Can Leave Women Alienated From Their Own Bodies & Needs

Beauty Parade

While having one's rights curtailed creates obvious mental health pressure, the stress of objectification can also lead to extremely negative mental health outcomes. Women who are constantly told, by the media and other sources, that their bodies exist as objects for the gratification of men suffer for it. Objectification theory, explains Emma Rooney of NYU, posits that "constant exposure to sexually objectifying experiences and images socializes women to internalize society’s perspective of the female body as their own primary view of their physical selves." In other words, women who are fed the constant opinion that their bodies are objects for the use of other people — rather than something to be inhabited and nourished — can start to believe it.

This sort of self-objectification, according to psychologists, can lead to a lot of mental pain. Self-objectification can lead women to become both anxious about and disconnected from their bodies, ashamed of them, guilty about their needs, prepared to ignore their pain or problems in favor of serving someone else's needs, and less likely to experience "flow", or immersive focus. Researchers also see a link with eating disorders and sexual dysfunction.

Being Permanently "On Guard" Against Danger Takes A Toll

West Midlands Police Museum

Another way in which sexism creates conditions for negative female mental health outcomes is in the existence of hypervigilance. In her now-classic column "Sexism is making women sick" for The Guardian, Jessica Valenti explains the theory that the constant threat of attack — physically, mentally or in tiny microaggressions — has created a tendency for women to always be on their guard in some way, creating a sense of hypervigilance and, in turn, greater levels of "psychological distress." The finding came from a study that established a clear link from perceived risk of crime (being sexually assaulted, for instance) to greater distress, and so to worse mental health outcomes.

The stress of encountering sexism — like racism, homophobia, transphobia and other biases — is a big deal. Researchers have compared it to the stress levels of encountering "terror, torture, or disaster" for its affects on the human spirit and vigilance responses; every time something needles or full-on hits us — from some dude calling us a bitch on the street to outright gender discrimination at work or encountering gender-based violence at home — it takes a serious toll.

Ad failed to load

Sexism Can Make Existing Mental Health Issues Worse

Propaganda Time on YouTube

When it comes to the intensity of our mental health issues, sexism may be partially to blame, too. An interesting study from 2000 found that women exhibited more traits of depression and anxiety — but that those women who were frequently subject to sexism had significantly more symptoms than men. This also isn't helped by the apparent existence of sexism within the mental health framework in general; women being perceived as more "emotionally unstable" than men may be treated differently by mental health professionals; women often get more depression diagnoses than men even when they present with the same symptoms. It's a big parcel of disaster.

Emotional Labor Can Grind Women Down

Wellcome Collection

Here's a fun puzzler for you: women are supposed to be the more "caring" gender. So they are expected, as part of their natural role, to take on the emotional work of those around them, from partners to children to coworkers and bosses, helping them sort out problems, providing emotional support, and controlling their own emotions to become "acceptable" at all times. The cost of this is substantial but unseen, because, hey, women love doing this stuff! Except not. Because taking on a sh*t ton of emotional work is a recognized cause of stress that can escalate into mental health problems; the issue is particularly discussed in professions based around care, like nursing or psychology.

Emotional work is tiring, particularly when it's based around the emotional needs of others, and women are often expected to do it naturally or for free. Unsurprisingly, a comic on something related to this issue, specifically the "mental load" of remembering domestic tasks and organization at home and how it mostly falls to women, went wildly viral this month. The pressure on women to perform domestically and also do so much emotional work is a high-stress situation, and it's fueled by sexist expectations about gender roles and women's work.

So if dealing with a sexist jerk on Twitter, misogynist remarks from your uncle or being talked over at work makes you inexplicably miserable or adds up to a feeling of immense pressure on your solar plexus, don't worry: you're not alone. And while it's awful that you have to experience what you do, please know that there's nothing weird or abnormal about feeling stressed or depressed — or like your mental health issues are being worsened — by sexism. Speak up about it and fight back when you feel like you can — and get yourself a non-sexist mental health professional to talk through it.

Ad failed to load
Must Reads

What I Learned About Work-Life Balance After Relapsing From Alcohol Addiction Recovery

Almost two years ago, I woke up in a hotel room, groggy and dehydrated, with my clothes all over the room and my nightstand filled with mini bottles of liquor. I had spent the previous two days drinking all the alcohol in my mini bar. I'm not sure wh…
By Irina Gonzalez

Everything Leaving & Coming To Netflix In March, So You Can Plan Your Next Marathon Now

Even though the groundhog saw his shadow — forecasting six more weeks of winter — a nice spring thaw is already on everyone's minds. Fortunately, Netflix has things squared away for March. Whether you're ready to cozy up in front of a fire or get you…
By Sophy Ziss

11 Thoughts That Mean You’re Not As Happy With Your Partner As You Might Think

Even if your current dating situation seems to be going well — you're hanging out, having fun, having sex, etc. — it's still possible that you might not be happy with your partner, and thus not truly happy in your relationship. This can be a gut feel…
By Carolyn Steber

25 Book Recommendations From Your Favorite TV Characters

Although the two may seem like natural enemies, the truth is, television and reading are a match made in bibliophile heaven. Not only are some of the best shows based on or inspired by literature, but whenever you turn on the tube you can be sure to …
By Sadie Trombetta

Bustle Editors On CPAC + 'Making A Murderer'

Adulthood is, essentially, just waiting until the weekend hits — which is why I know we're all glad it's finally Friday. Whether your plans are to catch up on all the Netflix content that'll be leaving the platform at the end of February, a weekend g…
By Danielle Colin-Thome

7 Signs Your Energy Is Closed Off To Love, According To A Psychic

Finding love requires more than just the actions of going on dates or setting up an online dating profile. It also requires opening yourself up to love and giving off the vibe that you're open. You may not even realize it if you're energetically bloc…
By Suzannah Weiss

It Took Heather Graham YEARS To Make A Movie About Women Ditching Toxic Men. The Reason? Men.

They say you should write what you know. But in Hollywood, that age-old advice apparently needs an addendum: Write what you know — as long as men are into it. And for actor and newly minted director/screenwriter Heather Graham — a woman who swam thro…
By Kelsea Stahler

Target Just Launched A Gorgeous New Home Brand — And Most Pieces Are Under $30

Design lovers rejoice! Everyone's favorite store for pretty much everything is about to make all your daring decorating dreams come true. Today, Target's corporate blog issued a press release that provides a peek into Target's new homeware line, Opal…
By Callie Tansill-Suddath

17 Brilliant Ways To Support Parkland Survivors Wherever You Are

Following the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, survivors are demanding Congress take action. A large group of students who survived the shooting are opposing politicians' "thoughts and prayers," arguing that inst…
By Sarah Beauchamp

Here's Where Your Next Trip Should Be, Based On Your Zodiac Sign

If you've been craving a vacation, now is a good time to take the plunge. According to data collected by travel site Expedia, late winters and early spring are pretty much the best times of the year to go on vacation. Based on average airfare ticket …
By Callie Tansill-Suddath

How This Quadriplegic Beauty Lover Beat Cancer & Became A Professional Makeup Artist

In 2010, one day before she was supposed to start cosmetology school, Steph Aiello was involved in a car crash that left her paralyzed from the waist down with limited ability to move her hands and one of her closest friends dead. She would spend the…
By Sara Tan

7 Common Marriage Rules That Aren't Good For Relationships

When it comes to marriage, everyone loves to give their two cents, and with all the warnings and advice floating around out there, no wonder people find marriage intimidating. Luckily, you don't always have to play by the rules, and there's some bad …
By Carina Wolff

The Infuriating Way Hollywood Movie Sets Are Designed To Make Life Harder For Women

Whitney Cummings is fed up — with the way Hollywood treats women, and in particular, the way the it treats female directors who have children. While the entertainment industry may be working hard to get more women behind the camera, Cummings wants to…
By Casey Cipriani

Why Uggs Are Never Going Away, Whether You Like Them Or Not

Uggs. The word alone can conjure up memories of teenage years, regrettable outfits, and undeniable comfort. But if, like me, you thought that you've already said goodbye to those fleece-lined tan boots, you can think again. It seems fashion has adopt…
By Lauren Sharkey

Netflix's New Romantic Movie Will Have You Crying Like It's 'The Fault In Our Stars'

Cancer movies are a heartbreaking staple of Hollywood and have been for decades. It's almost a law of nature: new year, new cancer movie. This year, it's Netflix's Irreplaceable You, a heartbreaking original about a longtime couple who get thrown for…
By Olivia Truffaut-Wong

I Got A Breast Reduction & It Was About So Much More Than The Size Of My Boobs

As a young teenager, I pretty much reached peak physical maturity overnight. One day I was wearing my first training bra a la Lizzie McGuire, and the next I was sweatily fumbling around a Victoria’s Secret with 32DD boobs, trying to summon up the cou…
By Sierra Taylor Horton

Adam Rippon and Mirai Nagasu Have Matching Tattoos & The Story Is So Cute

Olympic season gives people the feels. From those shipping Canadian ice dancing pair Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir to Shaun White's gold medal win on Tuesday, the feels are real. Now, there's another reason to get all up in your emotions. Adam Rippon a…
By Shea Simmons

A New Study Says Being In A Relationship Could Change Your Taste In Wine — Here's How

I’d be willing to bet that for many of you, a nice bottle of wine is awaiting you in your near future — and if you’re planning on sharing that bottle with a partner, there might be more to your choice than meets the eye: According to recent research,…
By Lucia Peters

Carrie Brownstein On Why Even The Obama Era Should Have Enraged You

An icy January morning soon after Hollywood's show of solidarity for the #MeToo movement at the Golden Globes and almost exactly one year into the Trump Administration feels like a momentous time to be sitting across from Carrie Brownstein. The Sleat…
By Samantha Rollins

Here’s What The Upcoming Year Of The Dog Means For Your Chinese Zodiac Sign

On Feb. 16 the world will celebrate the Chinese New Year, welcoming the Year of the Dog in like the good doggo it is — we hope. A new year means new zodiac predictions for the 365 days ahead. So, what does the Year of the Dog mean for your Chinese zo…
By Brittany Bennett

7 Signs You're Ready To Get Into A Relationship, According To Experts

It can be difficult to tell when you're ready to start dating again. Maybe you're coming off of a bad breakup, maybe you've just been focused on other things. And, ironically, one of the signs that you're ready to be in a relationship is that you're …
By Lea Rose Emery

The 15 Best Fiction Books Of February Feature Tons Of Extraordinary Women

When the cold winds of February blow in, there's nothing I want more than to hide under my covers with a good book. Luckily, there's more than a few fantastic new fiction books coming out this month, so the only tough decision you'll have to make is …
By Melissa Ragsdale