Sunday, March 8, 2015

8 Concepts of Everyday Sexism

The past week was that time of the year when five-star hotels and conference centers were booked by corporate houses and government organizations all over the world to hold award ceremonies, panel discussions, speaker series and networking luncheons to mark International Women's Day. Women all over shared their stories of success and failures, stories of their growth as well as hardships. They participated in fun activities, games and mentoring sessions, while some of their male colleagues cribbed about how they were not entitled to the lavish lunch.

Being a woman is both unnerving and fun. Everyone knows why it can be distressing at times. There is nature's gift of a taxing physiology, there is the patriarchal nature of society. There are the various forms of violence that men have tried to inflict upon us, and the constant lurking fear that we could be the next victim. There are also societal expectations women are supposed to fulfill failing which they may be called names. And of course, in many places, unequal returns for equal work. 

That being said, there are many aspects of being a woman that most women love. Women, in general, are more expressive and they really value this quality. Unlike men, they usually are constantly thinking about something or the other, and while it may sometimes lead to disastrous consequences, they love to observe their train of thoughts. Their instinctive and expressive nature allows them to connect more deeply with both men and women. Plus, they can nag you and get away with it. Also, a much wider range of clothes and accessories to choose from.

As the celebrations of Women's Day recede, I would like to share the 8 things I wish happen to reduce sexism. Of course, it goes without saying that I want women to be treated with respect and dignity, that there is a shift in mentality for the society, that there is a stop to sexual exploitation and acid attacks, that marital rapes get included in the list of sex crimes, and that my parents aren't faced with sleepless nights if I stay out till late or am traveling. The things I want are much simpler to achieve, they make sense for both men and women, and you and I can make them happen.

1. Fairly Lovely

How can a fairness cream make you realize that you need to get a perfect job and your own house to marry a well-settled guy? Yes, I am talking about our country's crazy obsession with skin tone. It is surprising that over all these years, the number of brands that bring out fairness creams for women, and fairly recently (see what I did there) also for men, has just increased. Sure, confidence and presentability matter when it comes to a job interview or a prospective spouse, but what value does being gora add? As one ad featuring Arjun Rampal goes, we are people, not walls that we carry a shade card with us.

2. The Pink Claim

Speaking of colors, it intrigues me as to what led to the notion that PINK is a woman's color. Why is it that all girls and women are somehow expected to like pink? Consider how many of the images in an image search for Women's Day have a pink theme! And to think of it, this convention hurts men more than it affects women. Why is it that there is an inherent shock value when a guy wears pink? I know a couple of guys who carry it off better than I do, so why should the color be restricted to one specific gender? Some men deliberately avoid buying things in pink, even inconsequential objects like a toothbrush or a stapler. And let us admit it, at some point or the other, all of us have mocked a friend for using a pink object. It makes no sense that a particular gender claims a color for itself. Let us try to remember that all colors are for everyone, and keep that in mind in our conversations.

3. The Other Rights

A subplot in a recent movie showed an activist asking a man to officially forgive the murderer of his wife and child. I know many such mercy appeals take place daily. Another video, which went viral last week, gave a remorseless convict for a horrific rape a platform to air his views on women, and justification for his acts. I also read an article which attempted to garner sympathy for a rapist by highlighting the poverty in which he was brought up. The misery of this man was given more attention than the misery of the woman he raped. I do believe that all criminals have a right to a good defense, a fair trial, and in cases of a death sentence, a proper protocol to be followed for execution and not vigilante justice, like the one that happened recently. I also agree that we need to acknowledge and do something about the conditions in which such criminals breed. And by all means, our activists should support their families though this, so that another criminal is not made. But that is where it should stop. There is much talk about the rights of these murderers, terrorists and rapists, but what about the rights of those people who were minding their own business, for whom it was just another day when their lives turned course, whose families were destroyed by these very perpetrators? Such felons, who ditched their last shred of humanity when committing those acts, deserve neither our sympathy, nor media attention. A society's attitude towards rapists and murderers can also act as a deterrent, and we need to be firm about it.

4. Educate Them All

The one thing that India needs more than anything else is sex education. Contrary to what many people believe, it would act more as a damper to promiscuity than as a promoter of it. Fewer people would want to indulge in something that could lead to a distressing pregnancy or a life-threatening infectious disease. And even if they want to, at least they would do it right. The benefits of sex education are much greater, though. It also entails understanding one's own anatomy, and that of the opposite sex, I can't stress enough on everyone knowing about menstruation. All of this would lead to a better understanding of the opposite gender. It would also help eliminate the taboo associated with menstruation and infertility, and also help family planning initiatives. A proper education is a much better alternative for the society as compared to people learning about it from porn and internet websites.

5. Ladies' Nights

As much as it doesn't make sense to the miser in me, the feminist in me thinks that Ladies' Nights are one of the more sexist things that we have come up with. So is the concept of free and unrestricted entry to girls and exorbitant rates for guys in a lot of pubs. Free booze or entry for girls means more girls will come to your pub and drink a lot more than usual, and more guys will follow them, without hesitating to pay. Of course, I do like it when I don't have to shell out 2 grands to have a fun night. And to be fair, it is just a well-thought out and successful marketing ploy that exploits natural human behavior that stems from an evolutionary principle. But there is a very strong hint of objectification here. Especially when a lot of men who visit a pub on Ladies' Nights make up their own notions of the availability of the females present, or when random guys approach random girls outside such pubs to pair up and avail free couples entry. I can't say if this tradition is harmful, but it definitely is unnecessary. Maybe my argument would make more sense if you think about the concept of a Gentlemen's Night.

6. No Man's Land

I am talking about a land which most men seem to want to avoid. It is the Friend-Zone. From the various definitions I have come across, it seems to be a place guys are in when a girl who is their friend does not see them as anything more than a friend, but they can't help being her friend. Think about it. And someone please tell me, what is wrong with it? Now if you are one of those blokes who are crushing on a girl, who takes advantage of your feelings to make you do things expected from a boyfriend, without reciprocating your actions or your feelings, like what happened to that fellow in Pyaar ka Punchnama, then she probably doesn't see you as a friend at all. If you are one of those who have been rejected by a girl, but she is insisting that you don't stop being her friend, and it hurts you being with her but you'll still be her friend, then my friend (see what I did there), it's time to toughen up but stop blaming her. And you definitely can't blame her if she hasn't read your mind and understood any romantic feelings you have for her. But if you're friends with a nice girl who wants to be friends with you, it doesn't seem to be a bad place at all. And if there is no romantic angle involved, then one should be proud to be in the friend-zone. The logic of friend-zone is just very very twisted, and hence the concept should just be done away with.

7. So Pissed

A major pain point in our country is the lack of toilets in public places and highways. We need to have more toilets built, not just for women but also for men. While it definitely is a hassle for women to exercise control, while urging their drivers to rush, or stop at shady dhabas, seeing men take a leak just about anywhere is a more cringe-worthy thing. Imagine you are walking in bright sunlight and go and stand below a shady tree, only to find out that a man was pissing behind its trunk. While some men do their business unabashedly, without a hint of embarrassment, it always becomes very awkward for women. Maybe it is because the onus of dignity is always placed on the woman in our society, even though in this case, it is the man who is in an undignified position. And more than anything else, it is extremely unhygienic.

8. No More Twirls

My last point is about high-profile and glamorous sexism. Have you ever seen an actor being cast in a movie in a small, meaningless role inconsequential to the storyline, just for being an eye candy? The media industry across the world is often very sexist, inspite of claims of being on a higher moral ground. We are all aware of the controversy about a leading Indian daily focusing on certain aspects of a leading Indian actress. This article shows you just the tip of the iceberg that is the number of sexist questions female celebrities face. And if you thought it was just the glamour industry, you are grossly under-informed, because this is not what you should be asking a lawyer even if she is married to an actor, and an article about women representation in the Indian cabinet should not be talking about what they wore to the swearing-in. You'll find many more instances if you look closely. While women can lean in all they could, people need to move out of their old perceptions about successful women. So it would be great if we focus less on how well they twirl on the red carpet and more on how well they do their jobs.

Women issues are a favorite living room topic of discussion nowadays, and lead to raging, yet enlightening debates. But as you can see, women issues are not always women issues. Sexism is everyone's issue!