Updated: May 24, 2021
She could never forget. This wasn't a day that everything changed, nor was it one in which anything out of the ordinary happened. It was just another, in a long list of unfortunate events that she had tolerated.
She sat in the chair at the farthest corner of the table. Silent. Eyes averted, for what was there to say? He spoke, confident as ever, eyes shining with satisfaction, pride and wicked pleasure. Everyone applauded when he was done putting his 'business idea' into formal words.
A pat on the back. A smirk. A passing comment.
Wasn't that the same idea she had brought up twice before? Hadn't it been 'not well thought out' and 'ingenuine' then?
She didn't protest, nor did she cry. Why bother? Any retaliation would just incur a comment from her colleagues saying, "AND THIS is exactly why I told you that girls don't belong in a position this high."
Girls? She was a mother of two.
She came back home. On her walk through her neighbourhood, a motorcyclist glanced at her. Not much, just a look. Then why did it make her skin crawl?
Back in her warm and cozy house, she answered her phone- A call from her friend. Finally, a 'no- judgement allowed' conversation.
"Wow, I still don't understand how you manage to work and take care of the kids". Didn't her husband do the same? "Can't expect men to look after the household, can you? They can hardly tell the difference between sugar and salt!". Her friend kept rambling on, apathetic to her own feelings.
Just another day. Just another day of being silent.
What you just read is not, in any way, a fictional scenario. It happens to millions of women on a regular basis. Casual sexism has become an overlooked issue. Truly, nothing about this issue is casual. Our minds have been ingrained with these discriminatory and patriarchal concepts for so long, that it's become easy to let things slide.
Those comments that we ignore, the jokes that we laugh at, thinking they're just a bit of fun, those gestures that we expect and all those times we avert our eyes because something made us uncomfortable- have you ever stopped for a moment and thought, how exactly was that funny? Or why am I okay with this gesture? Or why am I not saying something?
Perhaps, society is moulded to think of these actions as normal. Perhaps they once were considered to be, but shouldn’t anymore. For these everyday instances lead up to larger problems like glass ceilings, the wage gap, gender roles, political injustices etc. It is the everyday actions of normal people that hold that tether between inequality, and a world free of it.
Double standards exist. Whether that's within the four walls of one's home, or in a formal setup. To quote Taylor Swift, “A man does something, it's strategic, a woman does the same, it's calculated. A man is allowed to react, a woman can only over-react. A man does something? Confident. A woman does it & she's smug. A man stands up for himself, a woman throws a temper tantrum.”
However, it would also be ignorant to not acknowledge the other side's perspective. Men too are victims of casual sexism. They don’t deserve to hear “eh, why the nail polish?” or “don’t cry like a girl”. This concept of ridiculing 'feminine' traits is actually internalized misogyny. Be it men, women or trans, everybody on the spectrum gets judged and hindered for expressing their authentic self.
Pretending like you've never been witness to such a situation would be a lie. So would thinking that you know better. More often than not, we don't see red flags that are right in front of our eyes. Despite being infuriated by this system of condescension, mansplaining, slut shaming, insecurities and lack of representation, most of us do nothing about it.
Some of you might try to look at the bright side and say how we're better off than we were a hundred years ago. Yes, change is coming. But it's at a rate that's too slow for women and girls whose lives depend on it. According to the Gender Gap Index in 2020, it will take India close to 100 years to bridge the gap in areas of politics, economy, health and education.
Progress is further slowed down by societal boundaries. Even the most privileged people I know, are victims of what they see and hear around them. It's sort of difficult to teach people new ideas when our entertainment industry promotes women's objectification and toxic masculinity. That's one of the thousand things that affects the way we function as individuals.
So what can WE really do?
As the ones going to be in charge, we have to stand by each other. Whenever we see casual sexism, let’s all just try to call it out, unapologetically. The next time you see it, don’t wait for the sexist joke or conversation to be over to point it out. Call out the sexist right then and there. We've let things happen in the shadows for far too long. Let's not just be feminists on the outside but also work towards uprooting the ingrained sexist concepts. Remember, casual sexism is only casual if we let it be.
Written by: Isabel Williams and Riya Shaharkar