-Photo by Shameen Khan
-Photo by Shameen Khan

“That's sexism, that is. Going around giving people girly presents just because they're a girl.” ― Terry Pratchett, Good Omens.

You are sexist.

No, I’m not talking to you guys — the ones who believe a woman’s place is in the home, preferably locked in. Not talking to those who feel that if a woman gets harassed, molested or raped it’s all her fault. Definitely not talking to the guys who think smacking a woman around is their God given right.

Sexism comes in many forms; the overt misogynistic one is hard to miss but others are subtle and so deeply ingrained in our psyche that we never even think of our behaviour as sexist. Don’t believe me? Well here’s a simple test. Picture a brain surgeon. You thought of a man didn’t you? (be honest now.) Think athlete, think president, think aviator and you will almost always think of a man. That’s unconscious or unintentional sexism and it’s hardwired into all of us at some level. Even the Western press — the supposedly staunch defender of equal rights — going by their announcement of the Wimbledon victory, can fall prey to unconscious sexism.

“Andy Murray wins Wimbledon, ends 77-year British drought”. Murray wakes Britain from 77-year slumber”. “Murray ends 77-year wait for British win.”

These were the headlines carried by some of the most reputed news agencies. The body copy does, in most cases, explain that Murray is the first British man to win the Wimbledon since 1936 and that four women have won the title during that period, but putting all that into the headline would have just killed the impact. So maybe this is more of a case of deliberate sexism — prompting Chloe Angyal to ask if women are people too.

Sexism lives in your home. You buy your daughter a doll house and a cooking stove; your son gets guns and cars. Perhaps he’s got a talent for cooking (oops, sorry, you don’t want to hear that do you?) and your daughter is the one with a mechanical bent. It’s not always the girls who fall victim to sexism.

But perhaps the most insidious of all is benevolent sexism because it actually makes the victim believe the myth that it is perpetrating, creating a new generation of benevolent tyrants all the time. And ironically, it’s the women who are the worst offenders. What is benevolent sexism — it’s when a woman is kept from doing what she wants, go where she wills, wear what she likes and pursue whatever career she dreams of ‘for her own good’. The world is a big bad place and naïve girls need to be protected for their own good, we’re told. Again and again. Until we internalise the message, curtail our academic career, turn down any job that involves travelling and accept the first reasonable proposal that comes our way because after all ‘beti, a woman cannot survive alone in this society.’

It’s benevolent sexism that invests a woman with all the so-called feminine qualities: A ‘good’ (read acceptable to societal norms,) woman is chaste, self-self-sacrificing and gentle. She is apparently born with the innate ability to keep a pristine house, soothe a crying baby and make chapattis. She is never cranky, violent (bite your tongue) or unfaithful (because a lustful thought never entered her pretty, naive head).

She is the kind of woman a man feels comfortable putting up on a pedestal, secure in the belief that she’s never going to step off and go anywhere, because hey — where would she go? Her mental map has been kept limited to the tiny world she’s told she was born to inhabit (and dust and decorate, thank you).

Well newsflash. As Chloe Angyal says: women are people too. Not all of us love babies. Not all of us are neat and tidy. And none of us are made of sugar and spice and all things nice. No, we’re made of dreams and ambitions and a desire to pursue happiness to the ends of the earth if need be. Same as men. And you can’t run after your dreams if you’re stuck on a pedestal.

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