‘Women are bad drivers’. Firstly, untrue. Secondly, this is exactly what casual sexism is. Discriminating against women because of their sex based on prejudice or stereotypical thinking. While sometimes sexism can be explicit like female foeticide or rape, more subtle discrimination is casual sexism.
There is an immense lack of education, logic and understanding when it comes to reaffirming these ideas. We see it happen so often in our families, social circles, places of work because it is a part of our culture. Think about the Santa Banta jokes that we grew up hearing. They subconsciously created and continued to strengthen an idea (unproven and derogatory) against an entire community. Someone once said, “the more you repeat it, the more you believe it,” the same idea as positive affirmations. Now think about these jokes, remarks; that a Gujarati is frugal or a woman is insecure, in the long-term, these ideas repeated in your mind can have disastrous results in your personal and professional lives.
Any idea that risks the equal position of women in a society based on prejudice is not OK. While women face the majority of the backlash of this discrimination, men face this too, for example, their display of emotional vulnerability is chastised.
Why shouldn’t you make such remarks? They seem harmless.
Decency. But also, the remarks are baseless.
Double standards. This is following a different set of principles for similar situations. If your reaction or opinion about a man and a woman in the same situation is different, that’s a double standard. If you, a man, flirt with someone, comment on a woman’s promiscuity for flirting with someone. That is a double standard.
You’re also doubting someone’s capabilities and breaking their confidence by labelling them not because of their actions but because of what you’ve assumed is the common trait for an entire gender, like lack of math skills, perhaps? Need we remind you of Shakuntala Devi? Or women in STEM fields like Dr. Suman Sahai, founder of the Gene Campaign in India, and Archana Bhattacharyya, Director of the Indian Institute of Geomagnetism in Mumbai.
Is it happening around me (or am I doing it)? I am progressive.
Do the women in the house eat after the men? Are women judged for their physical appearance while the men for their intellectual or financial capabilities?
A lot of realisation, about your own shortcomings as well, will come from questioning your own ideas and expectations. What are your expectations from your mother? Do you expect her to cook for you, your family, and that is all? Or your sister? Are you thinking about her marriage when she is 17 even if she has not expressed any desire for it? Check your thoughts, your conditioning, we all grew up in this culture. There are ideas and thoughts imposed on us, make a conscious effort to unlearn.
Women in India are prepared since they are young for ‘when you go to the in-laws,’ all accomplishments and ideas are measured according to their marriageable score. Girls are not just child-bearers and brides to be celebrated on the wedding day and have their dreams, aspirations, hopes and desires be reduced to nothing. And even if they didn’t have big dreams or desires, it does not give a green light to mould them according to your beliefs. A documentary, ‘A Suitable Girl’ follows the lives of three girls. One of them being Amrita Jhanwar, a girl in her mid-20s who enjoys her career and socialising is married to someone she knew. He said she would be allowed to work but after the wedding, we see the jeans-clad girl in sarees taking care of household chores never again to step foot in a working environment.
When you watch movies and TV shows, you’ll see it when Ross in F.R.I.E.N.D.S gets uncomfortable with his son playing with a barbie, or when Sima Aunty in Indian Matchmaking insists that Aparna was ‘unstable’ but Pradyuman was just unsure.
I am not blaming the men. Women are as responsible too, if not more. Telling your sons to ‘not cry like a girl’ or ‘don’t run like a girl.’ This is going to reaffirm the idea that women are weaker than men. When your female counterparts work or earn, telling them that this is only till marriage. Don’t confirm, just question why.
Why? Just question.
Don’t fight back if that makes you uncomfortable. Do what you can, do what you’re OK with. This transpires over years of conditioning. It takes time and effort to unlearn, even for yourself. Keep yourself in check. What I do is simply ask why. Why should he not help in the kitchen? Why should she not study further? Just ask why.