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  Life   More Features  03 Jun 2019  Not so casual sexism

Not so casual sexism

Published : Jun 3, 2019, 12:00 am IST
Updated : Jun 3, 2019, 6:53 am IST

Casual sexism is still prevalent in all spheres of society and even considered normal.

Mimi Chakraborty and Nusrat Jahan
 Mimi Chakraborty and Nusrat Jahan

“She is laughing and talking with the male bosses. She certainly knows her way around.” “You drive well for a woman.” “The company needs a strong and disciplined man to head the team.” Probably every woman out there will relate to these statements at least once. A woman, who is ambitious about her career, works hard to reach a higher position in the company and maintains a cordial relation with the opposite sex is most of the times not considered ‘normal’. Either she is tagged as a bad mother and wife, or a selfish workaholic woman who very well knows how to use her sexuality to make things on her side. However, the same group of people would proudly speak about Kalpana Chawla, or the women at ISRO for making our country proud.

Recently, actor Lisa Ray called a newspaper out on social media, accusing the publication of casual sexism. The paper had used a rather racy picture of the actor in an article about her book, instead of her official author image. She posted a photo of the article on her Instagram handle and wrote, “Does anyone else see the irony in using THIS image - instead of an author image provided by my publisher - for an article about my memoir - Close To The Bone — where I talk about struggling as a woman with overcoming sexist stereotypes? I must say I'm disappointed unless I'm missing the punchline? I've written in depth on this manner of casual sexism during the 90s in India in Close To The Bone, but it seems it still persists. We need to change the narrative. What say?”

Newly-elected MPs from West Bengal, Mimi Chakraborty and Nusrat Jahan, too had to face sexist remarks as people found them inappropriate in politicians’ mould. The backlash worsened as both of them won with high majority and posted a picture of their first day at Parliament, dressed in western clothes. The question is, why wasn’t Gautham Gambhir trolled for not having political background.

Swati Kumari, author of the book Happily Married Happily Divorced, is of the opinion that casual sexism extends from home to advertisements, which we see on different media. “Either it is a sexist remark on the appearance and dressing of a woman or underestimation of women’s abilities, bill being offered to men in restaurants or judging a woman for not being perfect in household chores or not knowing cooking. Moreover, inequality is perpetrated by own gender. We grow up hearing this, from family, friends and society, and start believing it. We are taught not to question anything, from traditions and practices to what have been offered. Sexism is deeply connected with different spheres of our lives and society.

Lisa RayLisa Ray

We are taught to tolerate rather than question. Hence it becomes ingrained in our psyche,” she adds. Quizzed if sexism prevails among authors, too, as they are expected to be un-biased, Swati says, “Every human has some or the other biases. Sometimes, an author can have some sexist viewpoints, because of his or her personal experiences in lives or because of their personal bias; they are human after all. Gender-biased roles, sexist behaviour and thoughts and gender socialisations are the threats that we need to uproot from childhood. By raising awareness and education in the school curriculum along with responsible journalism and presentation by mass media can provoke society to think. Mainstream patriarchal mass media, music videos, movies and songs, novels, comics, newspaper articles or even simple advertisement pamphlets can come together in transforming a sexist society to a society of equality.”

Parvathy Salil, a student, recalls that she has encountered numerous situations where she was made to feel lesser than men, be it sitting on the back seat of a bus or questioning a man about smoking in public. “Sexist perceptions regarding occupation, appearance and attitudes have been prevailing in our society from time immemorial. But I feel bad when women themselves knowingly or unknowingly propagate such discriminative norms. Men are aware of the fact that women are not incompetent or incapable; it’s just that their ego doesn’t allow them to acknowledge it. Changes have definitely begun. Eventually, things will change for good,” she opines.

Anchor, actor and model Ranjini Haridas is of the opinion that glamour industry is not different from others. “As the name suggests, sexism has become a casual affair in our society and it is accepted by everyone irrespective of the gender that they belong to. Passing sexist comments, too, is considered normal. What seems to be the real issue with people is that when some of us, especially women, react to such incidents.

“Those who pass sexist comments are unaware of the fact that it is their frustration of not reaching the level where the person they target is, that makes them do it for momentary satisfaction. When you start comparing yourself with others, you are becoming a victim of sexism and end up propagating it. As far as my industry is concerned, it too has its share of negatives and positives. It is probably more vulnerable with regards to being judged as people here have to encounter it on a daily basis. There are people everywhere who succeed in their lives and careers on the basis of merit and through short cuts. Ultimately, it is their choice. So, there is no point in passing comments about their actions and portraying them bad in front of others. I am a person who is never ready to compromise on my terms and conditions. Therefore, I strongly believe that I have no right to judge a person or comment on his/her actions as well. How can I judge a person for doing something that I can never do? It’s his/her choice,” she opines, adding that self-inflicted sexism, too, prevails in this age of social media.

“There are girls and women who are not confident enough to upload their no-filter photographs on Instagram and therefore use these apps that make their photos look beautiful.

They find it self-satisfying to upload a racy photograph, which according to them is not racy, and read the comments that their admirers have posted. It is again the choice of a person. So, I would say that sexism become derogatory when comments that trespass one’s private space are passed. We should understand that it will happen time and again; so the only way out is to react and make people understand that you are not the one to mess up with,” she adds.

Casual sexism can't be taken casually, and it needs to be pushed out of our daily lives. We need to strive for those days when the plumber and electrician will have no issues talking to the woman of the house and while in restaurants the bill will be a paid by a woman regardless of the fact that she is being accompanied by her husband, father, male friend or partner.

Tags: kalpana chawla, lisa ray