How many of us are guilty of addressing everyone in the room as “guys” even though the gathering includes women? While some women may be comfortable being addressed with what has been accepted as a gender-neutral term, it might not be acceptable to everyone. While “What’s up, guys?” might not be considered a decadent form of sexism, it certainly is one.
However, there are more pressing forms of casual sexism that women daily face, which strips them off their agency.
The Everyday Sexism Project is a website that chronicles the sexism experienced by women around the world. It is a safe space for women to vent their feelings about everyday sexism and to record each instance, no matter how ordinary or extraordinary the incident. The objective of the website is to show how widespread the problem is.
Casual sexism is anything that involves treating a person in a discriminatory way because of their gender. It could be in the form of a harmless joke, and can even stretch into serious forms of harassment. At the workplace, this can have serious implications. From assigning gendered work by asking women to clean the area where everyone in the office just had lunch or being overlooked for a promotion because the woman in question is pregnant, casual sexism is one of the mainstays in the life of every woman. Inappropriate jokes that tend to make a person of one gender uncomfortable pertain to casual sexism that seeps into our daily lives, unfortunately.
Where does it all start?
From seeing the women in your house always taking care of the household duties to being witness to catcalling by men who you look up to – the seeds of sexist behaviour are sown right from childhood. Despite some progress, one has to accept the fact that the change has been slow and more needs to be done.
Even if you consider yourself a feminist, you might have encouraged patriarchy without even knowing it. Terms like ‘mankind’, ‘man-made’, ‘the common man’, ‘manning a place’, that is widely used, contribute to a sexist culture.
Comments like “you throw like a girl”, “you are a woman, how can you not know cooking?”, “grow a pair” – are statements that encourage patriarchy. Sexism is normalised because people think it is usually “harmless”.
It is like racism, you do not become a member of the Klu Klux Khan all of a sudden, it takes time. Thankfully, there is no equivalent of the KKK for patriarchy, or so we believe.
Everything that we are today as adults is a manifestation of each interaction and incident that happened in our formative years. The only way to fight patriarchy is to catch them young or provide a way for us to unlearn every problem statement or action that we tend to make which contributes to this culture.
Examples of everyday patriarchy
Being called a “good girl”, “sweetie”, “baby” by a customer or a boss, might be harmless. But infantilising women with these terms can be patronising, and it is an argument that they are not being taken seriously at the workplace.
A strong and assertive woman is called a snob or a bitch, while a man with the same characteristics is hailed as a leader.
A woman who focuses on her career is called selfish while a man with the same characteristics is called a ‘workaholic’.
Being frequently taunted about being unmarried and strangers asking a woman if they are expecting a kid. It can be mentally traumatising for a woman who might not be able to conceive by natural means to be asked when they are expecting a baby.
Women aren’t the only ones who suffer because of patriarchy. It harms men too. By shaming men for being sensitive to saying that they are not man enough if they show their feelings, patriarchy doesn’t help anyone, not the victim, and certainly not the perpetrator. Patriarchy tries to hold people to a standard, an abysmal one at that. By not allowing people to exhibit their feelings, you are limiting how they behave and interact with each other. It makes them feel like less of a human being.
Companies that have a higher percentage of women on leadership positions show 50 percent higher profits and share performance, says McKinsey’s report titled ‘Diversity Wins: How inclusion matters.’ Sadly, we need to use a ‘better bottom line’ argument to show why women need to be encouraged at the workplace and the importance of culling patriarchy at every stage.
We need to stop reinforcing the patriarchal rules and change the language we use every day. Encourage language that makes everyone feel good about themselves. People should be made aware of gender stereotypes, talk about its ill-effects openly and work towards eradicating them. Women should be vocal about patriarchy, call out instances and find male allies who are willing to make the effort.
(Edited by Kanishk)