“She’s PMSing. She’s hormonal.”
“She smokes; she’s forward thinking.”
“You swear so much for a girl.”
“As a girl, don't you think you need to find a life partner?”
You would’ve heard these comments in conversations, if not spoken them yourself. It is common to see people, both men and women, very casually slipping in such comments in day to day discussions. What did you do then? How did you react? Mostly, you would have just moved on, with the conversation doing so too.
Let’s get to the basics. Remember those Santa Banta jokes? Like this one –
The smartest thing Sardar ever did was changing all his passwords to 'Incorrect'. That way, whenever he forgot his password, the computer would remind him - Your password is 'Incorrect'.
We didn’t realise while reading, listening or sharing this joke that it puts down a whole community, that too one that is known for its valour. Every time a community, religion, caste, race or gender is targeted with such casual remarks, discrimination gets further ingrained in our minds and thoughts. Casual sexism is a result of these subconscious thoughts, and it has an irreparable impact over the long-term.
Let’s start with office conversations. When someone says, “She’s laughing and talking with the male bosses. She certainly knows her way around,” there are the following things wrong with it:
I’m sure you’re the same person who would share the post of ‘ISRO women making the nation proud’ in your circle while genuinely feeling great about this achievement. Then why not celebrate the progress of your own colleagues?
It doesn’t take a genius to figure out the hidden message of casual sexist remarks. Whether it’s family members saying, “Don’t try to copy your brother, he’s a man,” or your friends commenting, “You drive well for a woman,” or someone telling you in your workplace, “You need a strong and disciplined businessman to correct the company,” they are all shouting out loud the superiority of a man over a woman. Over time, it damages the confidence of the person. Of course, she’ll bounce back, because she knows how to fight it out no matter how hard things get; because she has a lot to prove, not to you or the world, but to herself; and because somewhere she knows if she can bear you for 9 months in her womb, then this is not worth losing hope. But this discriminating behaviour can be exhausting and detrimental, in terms of emotions, careers, and personal lives.
“Why is it that a woman returning from maternity leave is often given low-impact or less important work? Wouldn't it be better if her role and responsibilities were decided in consultation with her?” asks an employee of a Bengaluru-based company who’s a mother as well. This can impact the career of the mother drastically. She adds, “No matter how stressful a job a woman has, she is the one expected to keep the kitchen and fridge stocked at all times, and make sure the kids are fed and do their homework and study. If a working mother's kids do badly in school, she is always blamed for not paying enough attention to them, even though the father may have a less stressful job.” These situations can add to the stress at work and lead to poor productivity.
Situations outside the office aren’t any better. We still have the restaurants where the cheque always goes to the guy, and the plumber or electrician who wants to talk to “the man of the house”.
Recently, I was diagnosed with kidney stones. One of the reasons for this condition was drinking less water. I didn’t realise that I wasn’t drinking enough water; I just didn’t feel the need. But now, I put in a conscious effort. Casual sexism needs conscious treatment as well. Often, we don’t realise that we’re a part of it, and we find it okay to let it go without thinking about the consequences and impact it can have. We all have to be more careful and conscious about not letting sexist remarks pass unnoticed in our conversations. At home, office, and elsewhere, we have to make sure that these remarks have no place. This needs conscious effort.
So, the next time you’re hiring, don’t ask a woman if her family is "okay with it if she works late”. She is equally, if not more, passionate about her career as the men working late. And if she doesn’t have a kid yet, at 30, it’s not because she’s ambitious. It’s simply her choice, a conscious one.
While this article primarily focuses on casual sexism targeting women, there are instances where men are targeted as well. Remarks like “Men have a one track mind. Their brain lies between their legs,” are equally insensitive.
Let’s make conscious efforts to stay away from casual sexism, for it can potentially cause harm to an extent we don’t expect. Casual sexism can’t be taken casually, and it needs to be pushed out of our daily lives.
(With inputs from Shradha Sharma, Sindhu Kashyap and Sharika Nair)