More of the Same Old Sexism Bullshit

screen-shot-2011-12-06-at-11-55-15-pm (1)

On Saturday morning, as I undertook the long metro ride from college to my place, I saw a couple of young women crossing the metro to get to the women’s compartment. It wasn’t even that they were doing that (which is kind of inevitable now, because if you’re a woman who happens to find herself in the general compartment, this is what you’ll get to hear: “Aap apne compartment mein jaaiye na! Yahaan kyun baithi hain? Hamaare liye bhi jagah chhodiye!” You’d think it was the men’s compartment). It was how they were doing it. Instead of assertively asking the men to move aside or even saying excuse me, women usually (like those women did) walk meekly across, bending over backwards and sideways to avoid the bodies of men who for some reason tend to spread their surface area over as much space as is physically possible (apparently not a problem that plagues Delhi alone; for those of you too lazy to read the article, here’s a Tumblr instead :P).

The point I am trying to make is that sexism is not always as blatant or in-your-face as the Insaaf posters make it out to be or would like to be (just to clarify, I have nothing against the posters or Insaaf. I think they’re doing a really good job getting conversation going on campus). Ricky Gervais’s (whom I’ve subscribed to) latest Facebook status says, “if you grabbed Hitler and shouted, stop killing people, you cunt, someone on Facebook would call you out on your sexist language.” Yes, perhaps there is too much emphasis on sexism nowadays, especially within our campus. But it is definitely not unwarranted. So today, I’m going to tell you what I observed about the recent formal farewell and why I think it was, in some ways, sexist, gendered and pandering to stereotypes.

It started with the dates. Although a couple of boys did ask out boys, and that’s commendable, girls were apparently denied this opportunity; I was told about an incident where a 5th year girl wanted to ask out a 4th year girl but was told she couldn’t, because “too many of the guys are still left.” However, when the organizers were asked, they said there were no such rules. Perhaps the idea that even fake dates must conform to the social ideal of heteronormativity is a little too ingrained in us for there to be any need to make it explicit? And let’s not even get into whether the activity itself is sexist, the kind of attributes one has in mind while asking people out and whether they differ for girls and guys. Popularity? Social skills? Waist size? I’m not exactly sure what the considerations tend to be but for some reason, I have a feeling intelligence or even sense of humor isn’t one of the factors for the girls. And no, I’m not just saying that because no one asked me out (OMGTHETRAGEDYOFMYLIFE!), though if you were thinking that it means you think I am intelligent and/or funny! Ha, gotcha. However, since I really have no definitive way to know what the considerations are, I’ll give humanity the benefit of doubt there (however loathe I am to do it).

Next, let’s talk about the posters. One of them was depicted as a faceless yet very sexy woman with an almost bare back. Surprisingly, this wasn’t even lust. Unsurprisingly, it was the most popular one. Who doesn’t like a naked woman with no face or personality? And although Aditya Raj worked on the posters (and did a great job of it, I may add), I was told that the girls from our batch were expected to put all of the decorations up including the ones above the red carpet, in the relentless afternoon heat, while the guys sat and goofed around in the air conditioned auditorium. Why is it that only women are expected to make things (including themselves) look pretty? Traditional gender roles, anyone?

Singing, a much more gender neutral activity, was outlawed, apparently due to the paucity of time. Instead, dance performances where women did pelvic thrusts and other such provocative movements to songs like Baby Doll and danced in heterosexual pairs, were favored. I can’t blame anyone; the heteronormative ideal playing out on stage in suggestive yet blatant ways did ensure audience appeal. Most of the speaking was restricted to men (including all the speeches from the graduating batch and most of the stage time for the emcees) while the dancing was mainly women (let’s face it, performance time for the guys was comparatively less). So it seems that on stage, men are supposed to give insightful and intelligent speeches about the memories they’ve made and the lessons they’ve learnt, while women are supposed to move their bodies around in titillating ways. No, I don’t think I’m oversimplifying it; this is simply what I observed. And I really don’t want to delve into more detail about how I thought the dances were gendered and pandered to assigned gender roles for fear of getting weirdly explicit. I’m not alleging that the dancers and/or choreographers had some evil design to further patriarchy; I’m simply observing the kind of on-stage activities that seem most pleasing to us as an audience.

Some of the titles were also pretty sexist; though there’s nothing inherently wrong with them, I bet Cherry Blossom and Social Butterfly would never be used to describe men. Seriously, can I please hear Pretty, Petite and Poised for a man next year? Or are we as a collective community mature enough to abolish titles based on appearance yet? I guess not.

And let’s not forget the standard of beauty requisite of the theme of the evening, which differed widely between men and women: it takes about four hours to put together a sari ensemble with the right makeup and hair and so on (I’ve tried), and about one hour tops for a tux. Please, correct me if I am wrong. But then again, standards for beauty always differ between men and women anyway. So that’s alright, then.

When I tried to express my views, I was told to just enjoy the thing. Let me be very clear, I did enjoy the thing. Thoroughly. If inherent sexism stopped me from enjoying things, I’d be a pretty morose personality 24/7. Maybe I’m taking an extreme position but you know what, somehow I’m okay with that; yes, this is sexism on a much smaller and subtler scale, but how can we even start to combat the big stuff if we don’t start with the small stuff?

Just to clarify, I have nothing against the graduating batch but the utmost respect and admiration, and I really do wish them well as they step out into the big, bad world. I have no malicious intentions whatsoever as I write this. I’m also not saying that everything I have mentioned above was necessarily sexist or motivated by sexist thinking, simply that the conditions on our campus are conducive to such thinking. But I know that I am a small minority on campus when it comes to these views and I’ll receive a lot of flak for this piece (I can see the anonymous comments flooding in even now); I just think it is important to point this stuff out. To what end, you might ask. None whatsoever; these are traditions that will continue years down the line. It would be a tad too optimistic of me to hope that things might change anytime soon.

Or would it?

Ten points for recognizing this awesome person!

Ten points for recognizing this awesome person!

Advertisements

18 thoughts on “More of the Same Old Sexism Bullshit

  1. I believe, merely adding “I was told” does not take away your responsibility to use right facts to make an argument, neither does it give any credit to the work people put in. Writing an argument based on “alleged facts” is akin to subscribing to the fact stated and this is seriously not an acceptable practice.

    Like

  2. Not sure I can or should comment as an outsider (especially on the veracity of the allegations), but I have to say that I quite appreciate the article.

    Assuming that this article is just an observation by the author – it has been well compiled.
    I liked part about girls having to put up decorations – making themselves and everything else pretty. I could sense in it a satirical tone, and as far as its an attack on the societal expectation from the sexes, and the unequal ways that gender expectations play out, its a fair point.

    However, I don’t see how dance isn’t a gender neutral activity. That women came up on stage and danced out titillating moves was their choice – that we as an audience swoon over it is something that will take a 110years (easily) to overcome.
    Generally, I don’t think dance or singing is or can be associated to gender (in the sense that it appears the author has associated them). What you might be asked to do as a dancer or singer, or that girls are taught to sing and dance right from childhood to become ideal bahus or something ridiculous like that however, can be weighed in the gender balance.

    Also, not sure if sarees and tuxedos were necessarily the dress code for the event, but the standard of beauty cannot be imposed on anyone.
    I mean, its totally your call if you want to do your hair and put on make up apart from wearing a saree.
    Tying a saree takes no more than half an hour, tops.
    Its about what in your opinion is beauty.

    As far as societal expectations of beauty go – I think that’s limited to a certain class of people who’re always at the helm of affairs – as actresses, sports persons, even politicians to an extent (and I don’t think that’s correct either, but its just something we have to make do with).

    The rest of us can judge for ourselves what is beauty, and what makes us beautiful.
    So I don’t understand what you mean by saying – “But then again, standards for beauty always differ between men and women anyway.”

    The statement you made, according to me, has much more to do with individual preference than to do with any sort of sexual difference or gendered notions of beauty. I think we as educated students, not fooled by fairness cream avertisments, can judge for ourselves what beauty really is.

    And if you were attacking some sort of gendered notions( and I stick to what I wrote above on this issue), well then, its definitely NOT alright.
    At one level you wish that in future there wouldn’t be undertones of sexism but you are also saying that its okay to have different standards for men and women?
    That simply does not fall in line with your article.

    Like

    • That women come on stage and choose to put out those titillating moves — that speaks volumes of what is expected of them in society and what kind of behaviour is approved of in women. * I * really find it difficult to understand how some people find it difficult to understand how dancing is a gendered activity. The fact that they moves are supposed to be titillating itself alludes to the fact that it is a gendered activity. The observation of how bodies move — if there isn’t some sensual connotation there I’m less than human. Now by itself there is no problem with dancing being gendered. The problem comes in when there are expectations imposed on people based on their sex in these kinds of activities.

      I fully agree with the author when she points out that the entire idea of asking out is flawed and unlike her, I think the whole thing is much better done away with, irrespective of it being ‘fun’. I think open space, people, and alcohol can solve any shortage of ‘fun’ that a college crowd can ever face. We really don’t need these stereotype enforcing constructs to engage ourselves.

      Your understanding of standards of beauty and their imposition on others seems flawed. The question is not what you choose to do apart from what has been stipulated. It’s about what kinds of standards are imposed on you. So to take the example you created, it;s not about a saree plus hairdo. It’s about giving the girl a choice to wear jeans if she wants to. And societal expectations of beauty are NOT, I repeat, not limited to the upper echelons of society as you seem to understand. They very much extend their grasp to the very core of human society, right down to the smallest hut from the biggest multistorey. I sugest you read or watch a bit more material to understand how the bane of human need for “adequate visual representation” affects us all.

      On a general note, I thought that the author was far too apologetic about everything she wants to say. I think there is real merit in her observations, and she does them a sad disservice by bending over for those who seem to differ. Because you know what? Not everyone is able to enjoy things that have inherent problems with them. Because some people do actually care about these things, and if everyone else really does as well, these things ought not to be as enjoyable as they are made out to be.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. 1. There really was no rule about who one could or could not ask out.
    2. Shamim spent most of the day in the ‘relentless heat’ putting up ALL the decorations that you saw outside. Sagar and I put out the red carpet. Each committee was constituted through a voluntary basis. Each committee member chose their committee either themselves or through proxy including the decor committee.
    3. The opportunity to speak on stage was opened up to the entire outgoing batch. Those who volunteered, spoke.
    4. To avoid a situation like last year when some acts were cancelled during the event itself due to time constraints we decided to integrate all batches into one performance of the 7 sins. In the absence of the practice hours required to put up a performance bringing together the number of people who volunteered and in lieu of the fact that setting up for a musical performance itself takes longer, the decision to put up only dances was taken.
    5. The dress code…. Actually, you know what? Forget it. What the insaaf team started off doing was useful. It got people talking. But we’ve reached a position where I can now relate more with the graphic up top than I can with your post. You’re overdoing it and it’s putting people off.

    Like

  4. @Sagar: As far as factual veracity is concerned, I did verify what’s what from the organizers, and you can ask them of the same. And as I’ve stated in my post, I am not writing allegations, simply observations. I do not subscribe to any arguments, nor do I think I have made any in my post. If you still think I went too far, I sincerely apologize for that was not my intention.

    @Radhika: Thank you for your appreciation. I must however emphasize the point that this is not about personal autonomy. I was not attacking women’s (or men’s) choice to do anything; in fact, women’s autonomy is precisely what needs to be recognized in today’s discourse. What I was attacking however, is exactly what you said: that audiences swoon to titillating moves, or that there is an expectation about what girls on stage will do, or societal expectations of beauty. It’s all very well if a woman wants to wear a saree and do her hair, indeed it is, but what of that woman who has no desire to do the same but is coerced into it? And I repeat, this is not because there was some explicit rule or that the organizers mandated it, but simply because that is social convention and she feels she might be ostracized/publicly ridiculed if she does not conform to traditional femininity.
    And are you really all that certain that things like fairness cream ads don’t fool all of us? :P
    As for it being okay to have different standards for men and women, that was sarcasm ;)

    @Akhil: As I have stated above, I asked the organizers about the asking out rule for the sake of factual accuracy, and the response I received has been reflected in the post. If you do not think it is sufficiently reflected, do let me know; I am always open to edits :)
    I was told all the decorations were put up by the girls and indeed, every time I passed the place I saw only girls putting up decorations. However, I admit I was not aware of the red carpet bit and if Shamim did indeed put up those decorations and my information is factually incorrect, I sincerely apologize. And it was certainly not my intention to cast aspersions on the voting process of the farewell committees.
    As for your third point, I completely agree. However, the precise fact that those who volunteered to speak turned out to be men speaks a little bit about the kind of gendered societal expectations that exist in all our minds, don’t you think? Again, no fault at all of the organizers here.
    And about what you said last, I’m sincerely sorry you feel that way. This is just my opinion and I felt it was important to express it publicly. Of course, I could just be an arrogant little fool whose opinion no one gives a shit about, but I was willing to take that risk to put this out there and get maybe one, perhaps just two people thinking about this. I’m sorry those people do not include you, and certainly, causing offence or hurting anyone’s sentiments was the last thing on my mind. I’m genuinely sorry if I have done so.

    @Everyone: Thank you so much for your comments and feedback. As I said, I am completely open to edits and can only hope to be better. Keep ‘em coming!

    Like

    • 1) The argument was based on the “alleged facts”, and the fact that you made an argument based on it itself is subscribing to the validity of the facts.

      2) By your own acceptance, there was a “voluntary decision” in choosing to speak or not to, and unless you are stating that the women bowed down to “gendered social expectations”, in deciding against the speaking, you really cannot use that speaking part as an illustration.

      3) Leave that aside, which part of the post remains standing, if the basis of the post never even took place? By your own admission, you do not know the events that materialised and in the absence of the same, this post is as credible as a fairy tale. In which case, the use of the farewell event as a foundation for the post is wrong and this post ought to be taken down, rather than apologizing for faulty basis.

      Like

  5. Hello again Sagar!
    1. As I have stated before, I have mot made any arguments. Nor have I alleged any facts. I have simply put down in writing what I observed, and any facts about explicit rules governing the event that have been stated in the article were verified from the organizers.

    2. I am not saying women voluntarily did not speak because they felt it unfit to do so to fit in with traditional societal constructs of gender. In fact, that is precisely what I want to point out: that some forms of sexism are much, MUCH more subtle. So the fact that it turned out the way it did speaks to the subconscious gender roles we all exhibit and experience, is my suspicion. As I state here and have repeatedly clarified in the post, it is merely a suspicion. I do not impute any sexist motives on anyone. Then again, who is to say what factors play out in our collective subconscious? :)

    3. I’m not quite sure I understand this part of your comment. What basis never took place? What events have I admitted to not knowing? The only thing I seem to have been factually incorrect on is Shamim, you and Akhil putting out the red carpet and Shamim putting up the decorations. Surely you cannot be equating that to the very basis of the post? I do not understand what makes you say that the basis ‘never took place’?

    Overall, it seems that your problem lies more in the inherent style and structure of my post than the substantive content of it. I fear that further discussion of the same would just boil down to a tedious argument on semantics :(

    Like

  6. Hi Mini!
    Thanks for reverting to my comment and not taking it too seriously.
    I appreciate your observations, and like I said I’m not in a good position to comment on the same, being an outsider.
    About the expectations, I’m saree (pun intended), but I don’t feel that a girl is expected to wear a saree. I’m pretty sure you could bust out jeans and a checked shirt if you so wished. Its all about letting go off those expectations and of the fear of being ostracised and going for what you find comfortable.
    I’m pretty sure there are people who can take a stand without fear of any kind and stick to it too.
    Its one of the ways, I feel, you can personally save yourself from sexism, and you never know when people might follow your lead.
    Forgive me for using words like ‘your’, ‘you’, etc. I’m not directing this at you, but individuals like you who may have had similar observations and didn’t even have it in them to come out and write about the same.
    Congratulations on that front, really!
    I really really appreciate the article and respect your views. :)

    About the fairness creams, I’d like to not have my bubble burst. :p

    Yuvraj – I don’t think its expected for girls to come on stage and bust out titillating moves. Its a little hypocritical to ‘expect’ (not my words) them to wear sarees and also to move their bodies in a particular way.
    What do you mean by “the moves are supposed to be tiltillating”?
    As in, were they choreographed in that manner?
    Because if they were, then I totally get your point.

    Othetwise, I think its a choice we (can) make.
    Its a choice a lot of the girls in the group probably made, unless it was forced on them through a set choreography – which again, they could have opted out of.
    You can’t just be a part of a sexist activity, have a problem with it, not do anything about it, and then blame it on the world.
    You gotta have it in you to take the first step.

    What’s amusing and rather upsetting, is that the audience enjoys it and expects it. That’s what I have a problem with, the latter more so – expecting it.

    About the standards of beauty, I’ve read enough to know how entrenched this whole idea of made up beauty is within the mind of every individual. But again, I’m talking about a specific class of people here who have the knowledge to be able to make a reasoned choice and decide for themselves individually what beauty means.
    I think I used the words “educated students”?
    I mean, if you and I are only going to fall prey to a ridiculous standard of beauty, then well, you and I are perpetuating it, so we’re ourselves also at fault and we can’t simply blame the society who expects it.

    Thanks though. :)

    Like

  7. I agree with Sagar. And no, our problems do not lie in the “the inherent style and structure” of the post. They lie in the “substantive content”, since there are too many factual inaccuracies for the post to have any value.

    Like

    • Could you please point out the same? Apart from the decorations and red carpet bit, which I admit I could have gotten wrong :(

      Like

      • Okay.

        1. The men giving speeches and women dancing bit. Too far-fetched a conclusion based on absolutely nothing. Had you commented on how certain ‘stereotypical’ songs were more popular than others irrespective of the gender of those dancing on the stage, I may have seen some sense in what you were saying. But I don’t think you argued that at all.

        2. The women taking hours to tie a saree out of choice. I know women who did it in 15 mins or so or wore a suit without being judged. In fact, one couldn’t even tell the difference between a 15 minute saree or a 1 hour one. It’s a matter of personal preference as opposed to societal coercion. Not sure about the world, but as far our college is concerned – some folks like the glitter while some like to keep it simple. Neither is judged by your differential “standards of beauty”. I know that our society is highly patriarchal and there are standards of beauty imposed on everyone – especially women. However, it has become quite a thing to see patriarchy/sexism/objectification/standards of beauty etc. where none exist.

        This is all in addition to the things pointed out by Akhil, BM and Natasha. I mean it’s really not that difficult to realize these inaccuracies if you read the comments properly.

        I like the idea of your post, and would have loved to agree with it. However, the choice of examples is abysmal. Kind of ruins it. But that’s what mostly happens these days. Get a good idea, hold the pen and let the enthusiasm take over at the expense of logic and a justifiable basis.

        If you wrote this to provoke and get a discussion started, then a job well done. However, I thought we were beyond that now. Let’s add meaning to some of these discussions. Sexism at the farewell, hypothetical problem-based moots v. GDG, dissecting certain abuses without knowing their actual meanings etc. should not satisfy our intellect and social sensitivity. Else the purpose of all these positive changes in the University that occurred during this semester would be reduced to pure entertainment. We don’t want that, do we?

        Liked by 1 person

  8. Let’s go allegation-wise, yes? Or wait, observations, apparently.

    Sabrina and I organized the date-shenanigans. We never told anyone that they could not ask out people of the same gender. I believe the girls in question here are Jegha and Pragya. I remember Jegha telling me that her date was Pragya, and I happily wrote it down. I didn’t object. Further, you are free to determine the kind of attributes that you keep in mind while asking people out. Are you telling me that I must discriminate against someone who had the misfortunate of being born with a low IQ? And let me add that I wouldn’t be as attracted to my own date if he wasn’t so intelligent.

    No, the girls from our batch were not expected to put up the decorations. I was there when Somil and Raghav put up the posters in the Auditorium. And they did this while I sat and watched – no one asked me to replace them. I saw Sagar helping with the red carpet. Also, I was in the auditorium from 12:45 to 3:30 – there were no boys goofing around.

    Singing was definitely not outlawed – I had personally written it in the schedule. However, Sabrina and I were told that the singers backed out. Sure, there were heterosexual dance pairs – that I’ll give you. But there were an equal number of songs with men and with women.
    The speeches – wow, I can’t even begin to explain how ridiculous that is! We asked for volunteers. Women CHOSE not to speak. This has nothing to do with “the kind of gendered societal expectations that exist in all our minds”.

    Now the titles – Cherry Blossom had to do with how her nickname was Cherry. I call men social butterflies all the time (yes, you, Raghav). Did you notice how girls were titled ‘All Star’ and ‘All Rounder’?

    I’ve put on a saree many many many times. No, it does not take four hours. It took me about 30 minutes to get dressed (saree, make up, jewelry) for a wedding. Also, last year, boys went and got their hair done. This year, I know of two boys who went to get haircuts. Let’s not even go into the amount of time spent into finding the perfect purple tie and then finding a matching pocket square (believe me, I know).

    Like

    • I forgot to add one detail about boys dressing up and the need for a perfect tie. My tie was a gift from friends – I had asked for particular shades of orange and green. The orange one was difficult to find (I almost had to settle for red!). The green, they’re still trying. So you can essentially say that my “dressing up” for the event is still not done because I don’t have my preferred shade of green. I blame it on the society though, because I’ve been told that “chicks dig green”. [I am not being serious]

      Like

  9. Okay. One thing that I have ‘observed’ is that we have extremely low tolerance for such thoughts. Most of these articles make people feel that they’re being blamed and they immediately jump up to defend themselves. Now I do not know what Mini had in mind while writing this, but I highly doubt that she was calling out on the organizers inherent sexism. She was merely stating what she had observed and what those things could have meant.
    There may have been mistakes of fact and over-reading into things, but that doesn’t take away from the basis of the article. She was trying to bring out that all events may have elements of sexism in them, and they are almost always unconsciously done. No one is being accused of deliberately enforcing sexism.
    “this post is as credible as a fairy tale”, “In which case, the use of the farewell event as a foundation for the post is wrong and this post ought to be taken down”, “You’re overdoing it and it’s putting people off.”- Chill out.
    1. Dance as it is performed in our college, on any event, isn’t a gender neutral activity. This is because women coming up on stage and dancing with titillating moves may be doing so because it is socially acceptable. I’m not saying that if we dance differently (like the group with Ishita, Pragya did when one of them dressed like a boy) we will be socially ostracized. But is dancing with swaying and sultry moves easy, more fun and more likely to get appease people? It is. Do we realize that we are conforming to the image that the society has created for us (the babydoll)? We may, we may not. But do we still end up dancing like that? Almost always, yes. Because we’re conditioned that way. I too, end up trying to dance the way girls dance in music videos, because that’s the trend everyone subscribes to.
    And, if we’re on the point of dance, all sins were depicted the way they are. As sins. The dance on Anger was amazing because it showed the actual sin. The dance on lust, actually depicted lust. But, when the dance on “chumma chumma de de”, which had Shamim surrounded by fourth year boys depicted some form of sexual harassment. It was a fun dance, with everyone pulling his clothes, manhandling him. But, unlike the dance on ‘anger’ which actually showed that anger was a sin, this dance completely trivialized eve-‘teasing’. I know, this will piss everyone off, but it mocked the actual nature of the offence, and became a joke. People had fun, I too laughed initially, but then I realized that our audience could have had people who have actually suffered such things. And I have no idea how they may have felt when they saw something like sexual harassment being made into a joke.
    2. “Also, not sure if sarees and tuxedos were necessarily the dress code for the event, but the standard of beauty cannot be imposed on anyone.”
    No one is saying that there are no standards expected of men. No one is saying that saris are unfair because they take up so much time. And I’m sure that if a girl wanted to come in jeans in her fifth year, no one would ostrasize her. But we must ask ourselves, how easy is that decision to make? When you’ve been brought up in a world where beauty and looking pretty are the main objectives, how easy is it to let go of all those years of social conditioning, even if you are ‘educated students’? Again, no one is blaming anyone for people wearing saris, it isn’t the organizers job to ensure personally that no one feels obliged to do so. It’s just a question of self-introspection.
    3. I don’t think it was the organiser’s fault that no woman chose to speak at the Farewell. You shouldn’t be blamed for being sexist because men happened to be the only ones speaking. But again, it’s something to think about. The question is whether there need to be active attempts to ask at least one girl to speak, in order to have equal representation from both genders. Do there need to be overt attempts to bring about some sort of trend wherein both genders speak at every farewell? Again, just something to think about.

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s