13 things people say to women that need to become seriously taboo, this Women's Day onwards

8th Mar 2016
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The way you haven’t changed that faded, overused and holey filter on the tap in your bachelor pad for years and years, your jokes, thinking, habits, and lives have also had the same old uninventive gender stereotypes clinging on to them, and they’re beginning to lose colour. We don’t even realise how a seemingly innocent jab to elicit a few cheap laughs is carrying forward age-old ideas that have no place in a sane 21stcentury conversation.

Let’s get this straight – these remarks are sexist and demeaning, not to mention not funny. This International Women’s Day, understand why these 13 references are actually way out of line, and weed them out of your conversation for good:

Taboo around women HerStory

1. “Chill, everyone gets eve-teased. Just ignore it and keep walking”

A–it’s not eve-teasing, it is verbal sexual harassment, and it scars. B- When a woman feels offended or violated upon being harassed publicly, by telling her she shouldn’t feel that way, you are taking way agency from her and denying her the right to fight and rebel for what every human being is entitled to – to live with dignity. Besides, it is a criminal offence and can put the offender behind bars for up to three months. And who knows, if one woman decides to raise her voice against it and embarrass a harasser publicly, he might fear a fierce confrontation every single time thereafter and alter his ways. So, you’d be better off trying to encourage her to call him out, rather than forcing her to bury the indignation and move on.

2. “Why are you so potty-mouthed? It’s so vulgar.”

Well, you can kiss my a$. Swearing is a scientifically stamped outlet to stress, anger, sadness and all things negative that we as a species tend to keep bottled up inside. And if men are allowed to swear and even seem charming while they’re at it, why should the same behaviour be tagged as crass in a woman? The burden on women to constantly live up to the ridiculously lofty standard of being poised and elegant – which can only be achieved by saying, doing or moving as little as possible, to be honest – is precisely what keeps them trapped all their lives. Break free, suck*rs!

3. “Wait for him to ask you out”

‘Be coy,’ ‘Be subtle,’ ‘Drop hints,’ ‘Play hard to get,’ are actually code for ‘Suppress your natural sexuality, act like you are an image of purity, who is too sacrosanct to indulge the basic human need to fraternise.’ Hello double-standards! On the one hand, being told not to flirt, not to be direct and forthcoming, is an offshoot of adhering to the existing status quo, where a man leads and dominates, and a woman is to follow without a mind of her own. On the other, a woman’s body is to be kept pure and chaste; it must not be tainted, even if it is with her consent and, God forbid, her desire. Seeing the ludicrousness in this phenomenon, take the simple way out- that is, follow your heart and do what comes to you naturally, what serves your interests and desires. This one stays between you and Mr.Crush, and is no one else’s business.

4. You’re 11 and you can’t cook a seven-course meal?!

Overheard at a meeting for an arranged marriage- “Oh, our son is a prince, I tell you! He can hardly make a decent bowl of Maggi!’ Everyone laughs hysterically calling his ineptness that might make him survive an apocalypse only to gag on his own food and starve to death, adorable and whatnot. But replace son with daughter in the same sentence, and the family has probably staged a walkout before you can say my daughter has an M.A. in Criminal Psychology – but not before giving you unsolicited gyaan on how your daughter is incapable of being a good wife. Next time you meet such morons, be sure to not only escort them to the door, but also put them in a cab back to the 10th century.

5. “This isn’t ladylike”

Little girls are preached these toxic sermons every day. “Don’t be so bossy,” “Don’t talk so loudly,” “Sit with your knees together.” These are just the tip of the iceberg. By teaching your daughters, sisters and friends to conform to these silly patterns, you’re manufacturing clones of a rather lacklustre prototype of girls who are just a fraction of what they truly can and want to be. Let them breathe, let them be.

6. ‘Quit taking so much pressure to succeed, just find a rich husband!’

You are probably worried sick that your grades are plummeting, or that your performance appraisal isn’t going to get you the promotion you have slogged for, when someone goes for quintessential comic-relief and guffaws, “What do you care? You can just find a rich husband.” And women are as guilty of making this retort as men are. Safe to say, most women don’t dream of leading a life with no fulfilment or fruitful engagement of their skill, while living off someone else’s hard-earned wealth. In today’s context, telling a woman to resort to marrying big is as ridiculous and unreasonable as telling someone they needn’t work hard, for they can rob a bank someday.

7. Beta, marriage is all about adjustment.

It is your wedding day, and as an Indian bride, you know you are going to be uprooted from everything that is familiar to you, and be introduced to a whole new world of responsibilities. In this delicate time, it beats me how, but the literal agony aunts and uncles everyone has in their family – close and those chumps you meet for the first time–often feel they have licence to overstep their boundaries and give you unsolicited advice on the fundamentals of marriage. ‘Marriage is built on “compromise”’ they bellow at you, when they actually mean “sacrifice.” Often, rather than meeting the new family halfway, the newlywed is often made to go the whole distance, stemming from the notion that a woman must feel indebted all her life that another man and his family agreed to take her in and validate her life, although, it should really be the other way around. Quit telling brides that they must bend over backwards to keep everyone happy. Teach her instead, to never lose her individuality and sense of self-worth.

8. ‘We’re going over to my house, please cover up with a jacket’

I have personally found myself at the receiving end of this from most men I know-including the ones who call themselves feminists. I happen to be sure enough of my body to wear styles that I see as flattering, but what external eyes might see as revealing to various degrees. Conventions of fashion are so different from place to place. There are pockets that still consider uncovered heads as vulgar, while simultaneously, in another corner of the world the Free the Nipple movement is finding more and more takers. It is all so subjective; so, safe to say there is no such thing as a definitive fauxpas.

What’s more, I see the full range of these mentalities within my city in the same day itself – do I put on masks and change my time and again to indulge another’s volatile perversions? On whom does the onus lie, to make amends? I read this somewhere- ‘I am not what you think I am. You are what you think I am.’ The vulgarity you pin on others is the vulgarity you house in your perception. My style is a part of my identity; it is a form of expression. Telling me what to wear, is laying restriction on it, which I will not take lightly.

9. So, your qualifications are fine, but, are you getting married anytime soon?

This one is a classic. It’s almost never left out of job interviews with women candidates, and is often disguised as small-talk if you don’t know any better. You barely get time to react appropriately between being taken aback and thinking ‘that escalated quickly!’, when a question about your skills is swiftly followed by questions that are utterly personal, like when you want to marry and start a family. You start to feel weirded out, and then become uneasy and shift in your seat, knowing that your answers will be used as criteria in deciding how competent and committed you will be, without seeing as much as an hour of you on the job.

It’s not right to ask a woman candidate these questions, much less base your hiring decision on her answer.

10. “Why don’t you start a lighter business for ‘fulfilment’? Don’t chase money.”

“Profits need to stop being a bad word” says a woman entrepreneur we interviewed recently. With all due respect to all professions, why must a woman be compelled to knit or bake cakes for a living, when she can also be creating technology to make all the content you consume in 3D, or send space shuttles to Mars? If you ask me, turning your passion into your paycheque is a school of thought that works just as well as turning your paycheque into your passion.

11. “You should let your dad or husband worry about your taxes and investments”.

Mathematics, numbers, taxes are seen to be one of the departments where women’s excellence has not only been downright ignored, but they are also in turn, made to go with the story that they aren’t born with the knack for it. But, it just so happens, that two of my best girlfriends and I spent an entire Saturday night dissecting the havoc wreaked by the Lehman Brothers and whether the Indian economy could be headed in that direction, interspersed with planning one friend’s upcoming trip as an auditor to the Sahara office in Lucknow, and the other’s upcoming project as part of Citi bank’s treasury team. Financial independence is heralded as the stepping stone to complete independence for women – thus making it plain absurd to talk down to them regarding complex tax calculations of their own finances. Everyone needs the basic know-how to sanitise their personal finances – it mustn’t be turned into a battle of the sexes for yet another unfounded stereotype.

12. Is your husband or male co-founder going to be along soon?

You walk into an investor meeting feeling exceptionally optimistic about closing a funding deal for your business that had a great last month, until you find the panel greeting you half-heartedly, as if unsatisfied and looking over your shoulder for the other half of your party to arrive, and you realise that they are looking for your male-counterpart to walk in and validate your business. Women entrepreneurs are often asked if they have male co-founders or CEOs, or if their husbands take an active part in the operations of their venture. Some even bluntly voice their anxiety over investing in a business completely run by a woman. This can be unnerving, but go on and let your work talk for you. If they keep shaking their heads despite the damning evidence of your awesomeness, it’s their loss. You don’t want that kind of negativity in your life, and they apparently, don’t want to prosper.

13. ‘No husband to co-sign, no loan”

This might seem like a barmy practice enforced on female loan-seekers half a century ago, but a woman confessed to having undergone this treatment as recently as last year. A core-signer is someone you nominate to pay the loan in case you default, and when women would want to procure a loan for themselves, banks insist on the husband becoming a core-signer for them. The failure to do so would often cost them the loan. In an age when women hold the reins for everything from their family’s finances to those of multi-million dollar businesses, denial of a loan for the want of endorsement from a male companion is an archaic deterrent in their road to complete independence.

The buck stops here. These minor amendments hold the power to bring about major change in our social fabric.

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