[VoxSpace Life] Casual Sexism : The Effects Of Our Patriarchal Society In Defining Sexism Via Our Language And Culture

The Normal Existence Of Sexism Which I Failed To Recognise

Growing up in a majorly patriarchal society, it never crossed my head that a thing called ‘patriarchy’ existed. Eighteen years of my existence, of learning and observing, and still I was oblivious to the idea or norm of sexism that had defined my entire existence. The way I walk or talk or laugh or think, everything that I was, had been fed to me, keeping in mind the abstract concept of patriarchy. Like any other teenager (insensitive and ignorant) I would giggle at the transperson at the signal, a prostitute was the biggest slang possible, there were good girls and bad girls and most importantly there was a character, purity, that had to be maintained.

My first experience with the term ‘patriarchy’ was when I was in my first year of graduation and India saw its first anti gang-rape movement post the ’16th December rape case’ in Delhi. A B.A. 1st year student, participating in those huge protests and marches while the so-called learned ‘MEN’ leading our country went on to prove, through their statements, that it ultimately is the woman’s fault. An eighteen-year-old marching the street against rape was being told that how her clothes, her smile, her gestures and basically her entire existence might be responsible for her getting raped some day. The world came crashing down. The same people who would chill with me, teach/preach me right and wrong were now against my existence as a free individual.

That was the first time that I realized that I am only acceptable if I do not question what ‘they’ want me to be, if I am that sweet docile homely being that I am expected to be.

What Made Me So Blind To The Apparent Sexism & Patriarchial System Out There?

If I was so neck deep in the patriarchal norms, why did I never see the sexism coming? Why was it that up until then my life seemed perfectly normal? Can ignorance be the answer? Was this ignorance my fault or was it fed to me? I, like most women in this country, was taught to be ignorant, was taught be a stupid eye fluttering doll. All of us are expected to be an epitome of love, affection and sacrifice, who is selfless and forgiving. We are sisters, daughters, mothers to the men of our lives. This society tells us about how our existence is relevant only in reference to the men in our lives. And we somehow make peace with the idea, because the world, of course, is a very dangerous place.

What is this danger? Who are we being protected against? Why is it that this docile homely being is attacked by random people? Who have we wronged?

The problem here lies not in women, but, rather in what they have been made into. First, this society, to hide its own scavengerial face, glorifies women into something that has to be protected and later exposes its own double standards when it attacks a woman at every fall of the hat. The problem is more deep-rooted than how it appears at the surface level. This process of organizing women into a group of lesser able individuals, who cannot take care of themselves, is a continuous process, which goes on simultaneously with our lives. Our societal structure, our traditions and most importantly our language are the propagators of misogyny. The language, which is one of our primary identities and means of expression, is also one of the key components of the structure that we all fit in.

Why Does The Study Of Language Become An Important Asset To Study Sexism?

A deeper study of the language we use gives us an insight into the character of the society we live in. So, a doctor by default is a man and a nurse by default is a woman because we sure have a job division according to gender roles. So, when we have to say that the doctor is actually a woman a new term ‘Lady-doctor’ has to be coined. All the power positions are occupied by chairmen and when terms like officers, army, lieutenant, colonel, major etc are used it is presumed that it by default refers to men, unless the ‘lady’ term is specifically used.

Even when we come down to a very personal level and look at how families function, we do see a similar pattern. So, father is the ‘bread earner’ of the family and mother is the ‘bread maker’. Mother is the one that is expected to cater to the family and father is the one who has to go out and face the world, because, of course, the mother cannot do it on her own.  This power relation is present everywhere.

Almost all the abuses that we use are sexist. So, if you want to insult a man the best way to go about it is to attack the woman he is associated with- mother, daughter, sister or wife. The logic behind this being, if you cannot ‘protect’ the woman of your family, you are not man enough. The primary duty of a woman is to raise a family and that of a man is to protect her, at least this is what this society wants us to believe.

The Sad Part of Casual Sexism In Our Normal Swearing As Well

What is extremely sad is the fact that we, educated and well-read individuals, despite living in the 21st century allow these things to not just propagate but also flourish.  So, ‘don’t be a sissy’ is accepted as a harmless comment and so are words like bitch, slut, whore. We somehow have reached a time when these are used as salutations without even realizing how derogatory these terms are. ‘Stop whining like a girl’ and a bunch of girls giggling to it? Is this not directly offensive?

What we do need to realize is that sexism is everywhere. It does not come in a special envelope with labels on it. It comes from all directions. When your father asks you to stay home and you think it’s care, it is also an implication of patriarchy. When a mother tells you to ‘behave like a girl’, there it is; sexism giving you lessons. When your brother tells you to wear a longer skirt, there it is, taking away your choices. It comes across in different costumes like love, care, protection etc but the ultimate goal is to make you that cultured woman they expect you to be. The fight against patriarchy is the fight against the idea that women, as a group, have to be controlled and protected.

The fight is for equality, in principle and in practice.  And if at all the culture and the familial notions contradict this then they will have to change. No culture can be our culture if it does not provide us with an equal space.

‘Until Our Most Fantastic Dreams Are Met, Fantasy Will Be At War With Society.’


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