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sex discriminationthe practice whereby one sex is given preferential treatment over the other sex. In most societies this is observed as discrimination favouring men as against women.
In those societies characterized by patriarchal relations (see PATRIARCHY), women are systematically and routinely discriminated against in all areas of social life, that is, in both the PRIVATE AND PUBLIC SPHERES of social activity. Sexual discrimination is therefore institutionalized, and in this sense can be compared with racial discrimination. Sexist ideologies and discourses serve to reinforce such practices, thereby granting them legitimation and normalizing them. Importantly, sexual discrimination can be both implicit and explicit, overt and covert. Thus legislation designed to control discriminatory practices on the basis of sex differences, tends to be of limited effect, for example, the Sex Discrimination Act of 1975. Women in patriarchal societies are discriminated against in areas such as employment, political and religious office, housing and major areas of social policy, in relation to property and in both civil and criminal law. Women's position in the class structure, and other major social divisions such as age and race, may either reinforce or weaken the impact of sex discrimination. See also DUAL LABOUR MARKET, SEXUAL DIVISION OF LABOUR.