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?