Casual Sexism & Me

” You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink”

The popular proverb-
” You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink”,
holds true for me.
I’m only beginning to realise how I’ve been oblivious to my surroundings.

I’ve usually prided myself in being a sensitive person who doesn’t mind calling out people who make insensitive comments, jokes and generalisations. I’ve worked hard to not be the source of exposure, for stereotypes and discrimination, to the people around me. And just as you would know, it has earned me multiple inaccurate judgements which I continue to carry. “She’s so uptight”, “Learn to take a joke at face value”, “Don’t be so overly sensitive”, “Such a joy-kill”, “Stop over analysing every word” and on and on and on.
It continues to feel hurtful being ghosted or ignored by the people close to me for no wrong doing on my part, but that’s life I guess.

Having have said this, in the recent time I was shown the mirror. And boy, was it harsh!
Contrary to my understanding of self, there is one person I realise I’ve failed. I’ve failed because I’ve run along with age old discrimination when it comes to this set of people in my life.
As a daughter I’ve been ignorant and supported sexism in my home, in ways I only now understand through my own experiences.

Casual Sexism is women eating after men at home
Women getting interrupted while speaking, told to lower their voice and watch their tone.
Not making space for us on the couch or at a table.
Us gravitating towards housework at all times.
It’s the little things too.

There is one thing to have gender roles and another to have relationship roles. I’m not sure if it is the right term, but by relationship roles I mean the roles imposed on a person based on the relationship status in the complex equation. To make it simpler, as a daughter I have different roles as compared to as a daughter-in-law. It is like a sub-categorisation of gender roles- a deeper pit.

It was through an instagram reel, where two successful celebrities were being interviewed and they shared how as a woman their family doesn’t mind interrupting and/or disturbing them in the workspace while their male counterparts were available at the same time.*
For a moment I was disappointed by their families and almost a second later I was ashamed. I was ashamed of perpetrating the same- and no I’m not being harsh on myself.

Every so often, I’ve assumed that my mother was always available for what I want without checking with what’s on her mind, while I’ve always enquired with my father if he wished to help me on his day off. Only today, when my mood, willingness or need isn’t acknowledged before assumptions are lathered upon, do I feel frustrated. It’s more like tasting the same medicine, and I understand it is taxing physically mentally and emotionally.

This isn’t me venting. This is me working on my block one aspect at a time, as I promised myself.
This isn’t me venting. This is me sharing what I feel and what I’ve understood, so we can help one another and realise that we are not alone.
This isn’t me venting. This is me putting myself out there and hoping that it helps someone learn from my mistakes and not having to learn it the hard way.

Casual sexism is real. It is so real that we do not even realise that we are the victims and perpetrators of it, all the same.

I’m currently being more aware of my assumptions and generalisations with others and trying to be more patient with the ones making the same mistake that I’ve made all these years. Everyone has a different learning curve and the best I can do is start a conversation to kick start the process. Because like I said at the beginning
” You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink”

The Circus Elephant

The show stopper for me always remained the elephants. The ginormous and magnificent beings that have ears and noses larger than all and suspiciously tiny eyes.

As a 90s kid, a large part of my summer vacations was making a day out of a trip to the local circus. We’d spend days planning the day; making a group, convincing parents, thinking of the potluck, prepping for the post show games in the garden and actually picking a date- most of which was done by the mothers while we just nagged around.
As trivial as it sounds right now it meant a great deal then. The drive to the venue was filled with incessant chatter among cousins and friends, trying to recall the events of the previous year’s circus, making creative assumptions about everything we wished to see in the current year’s performance and how much fun the immediate future was about to be. There was a large part of this conversation which revolved around the food our mothers had packed, the sandwiches and juices, the jams and candies… no one wanted to talk about the fruits of course.

The sight of a familiar, larger-than-life, multi-coloured, striped tent would automatically have us gushing. Our caps and hats in place and shoe laces tightened, we were like bulls waiting to charge, waiting to find a seat and waiting for the show to begin. Visiting the zoo was one of the compulsory trips on our annual curriculum, but a circus always held a different charm. The animals were the same, but here they were let loose instead of being inside cages and yet they were sources of entertainment rather than being intimidating; funny, isn’t it?
Year after year, the routines remained the same. The monkeys cycled, the gymnasts were on acrobats, the dogs carried baskets of flowers and sometimes fruits, the lions roared, the bikers rode in horizontal circles defying gravity, the masters made the lions act like tamed dogs, the magician pulled out vibrant ribbons, white pigeons and rabbits from their hats.

The show stopper for me always remained the elephants. The ginormous and magnificent beings that have ears and noses larger than all and suspiciously tiny eyes. Unaware of the order of the food web or placement of herbivores in it, to me they were the most powerful of them all. The reason they had all my attention was because despite their size they played the role of a juggler with hats and colourful balls. They stood on two legs over an inverted bucket. They made me laugh and tickled my ribs like the clowns around them.
Why was someone who is strong enough to uproot trees with a whisk of its trunk alone, being so cordial?

The answer of course came much later. Years after I had stopped going to circuses. Years after the use of animals at circuses was declared as cruelty against animals. It came in a lecture when the professor was teaching the concepts of Conditioning, Learned Helplessness and Parenting.

A baby elephant is left in shackles and nailed to the ground for majority of its free time. Every time it tries to break free, it is punished with severe pain around its ankles. With years of trial and error resulting in pain and failure, it learns a lesson for life!
Fast forward many years ahead, as a full blown adult sized elephant with the ability to crush anything and everything on its way, it remains humble. It is humbled by an experience of its childhood. It has the potential yet it undermine itself. Tied down to a spot with just a feeble rope and anchored to the ground using a disproportionately small piece of wood, it never tries to make a run for its freedom and allows itself to be commanded at the helm of a midget stick being pointed at it.

Many of our actions have consequences large enough to change the fate of a person and their self image.
When you compare between siblings or friends, you are always inflating someones self efficacy while deflating the other though the short term agenda was to motivate. When you tell your child that they are not yet prepared, you could be leaving a long term impression about them not being good enough. When you tell your spouse to be more like your parent, you are telling them that they do not compare or provide as well as you have been provided for. When you tell a hurt boy to not cry like a girl, you are forcing the thought process that girls are weak and among girls that boys are stronger. When you ask someone to work on their size, complexion and tan with the intention of helping them work on their appearance, you could be instilling an inferiority complex through discrimination.

There is an old hindi proverb “हाथी के दांत खाने के और दिखाने के और” which loosely translates to “elephants have different teeth to eat and different to show”.
It is the same with our words. They intend something but could have a very different effect.