Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Is this also sexism?

Recently, I got acquainted with a young gentleman through some common friends. A personable, soft-spoken, and affable gentleman who works abroad, drives, travels, and takes nice pictures. The photography-bit probably got me interested in prolonging the small talk. I realized that he was one of those who lived in the desi hubs of foreign land, hung out with desis, spent his weekends cooking desi food and traveling with more desis. Nothing wrong with that of course, so I chatted some more, asking about more personal information. Like, family.

He tells me that he has a younger brother, although the brother is a sister. I am clearly confused at this point, unable to understand, and ask him to explain. He beams, telling me that his younger sister grew up to be pretty independent, taking care of the family, their ageing parents and all since he left for foreign shores. She took responsibility for the bank, and sundry other such things back in India, and he was so impressed that he now calls her his younger brother.

Something didn’t sound right to me. I mean, he was all nice and warm and well-spoken, but something was really wrong with his values, with what he said. A sister becomes a brother when she turns out to be smart, independent, and responsible? I smelled sexism. Not sexism as in beating up a defenseless woman and looking down upon a woman and other such heinous crimes. This was more subtle, implicit, and innocuous. But it felt like sexism nevertheless.

I don’t know what you would have done if you were in my place. I mean, here, we were conversing effortlessly, with no undercurrents or looming tension. Confronting him, even most gently, would have made things uncomfortable. I shifted. I tried distracting myself, thinking of other things. But something did not feel right. I was convinced that if I did not confront him today, and told him why it sounded all wrong, I would be a hypocrite. A coward. I never participate in scathing Facebook conversations, where people fill up discussions with their strong, confrontational, opinionated views, provoking more confrontational views. I try to remain non-confrontational, not because I do not care, but because experience tells me that people are seldom willing to consider alternate viewpoints. But I had to say something here.

So I told him, that it sounded very wrong to me. I told him how my dad used to say the same thing, that his daughter is equivalent to a son, not realizing that what he thought was praise was actually demeaning me. Just because I had certain desirable attributes didn’t make me a man. I told him in the most genteel way possible. He was educated, he had traveled the world, and I assumed that he would understand. Perhaps he did. I don't know. 

He was clearly uncomfortable. And defensive. Embarrassed too. He repeatedly tried explaining that it was just a metaphor, a figure of speech, and I should not take it that seriously. Not once did he take responsibility. Not once did he say that I made him see something new, think of something in a new way. He did not own up to his views (“I see what you are saying. Thank you for sharing your thoughts. I will reflect upon them”) He just kept asking me to not take things so seriously. He kept shifting responsibility to my side.

Which is fine. At least I did my part. Hopefully made a difference. And I hope that in some little way, I made him think.



Richa Chauhan said...

When I was a kid, I too took this as a praise 'being called equal or even better than my male counterparts' in school or family. As I grew up, I realized this was probably because girls are not supposed to take their own decisions and most of them don't so by relative standards a girl's achievements are outweighed.
As more girls would become independent this bias would start to subside.

Another point well made in your post was .. 'shifting responsibility' ... Very true.. Majority of people are so full of themselves that they find it hard to understand other's opinion..
I have almost given up trying to convince coz everyone takes their own set of mistakes & lessons to open up to the fact that there are 'many more sides' not just 'the other'.

Art said...

I had similar feelings as yours when I read this -

Pooh said...

You have nailed it on the head. This bothers me at so many levels. Just because you do something well, you get "elevated" to the status of a man? Women cannot be responsible and independent as part of who they are? If a woman is responsible and independent she is "as good as a man"? As if men have patented all the responsibilty genes and traits. If a man gets called a woman because he cooks well or sews his own buttons it is an insult, but if a woman gets called a man, it is praise? Forget the self-congratulatory attitudes of men like these, i have seen so many women doing it. As a child i had fumed when the highest praise 'george" in famous five hopes for is to be told that she is as good as a boy. It is disheartening to see the same attitudes even after decades despite all the progress and achievements of women. But all that aside, what is such a big deal about women being able to deal with bank stuff etc in today's world anyway that he is so "impressed"? Women are now literally running global banks. Sheesh....