Everyday Sexism: Engage and How

Posted: March 1, 2013

How do you deal with sexist loved ones when you’re a Feminist with a capital F?  I had been dealing with this question myself when I saw this question tweeted by Women’s  Web.


As soon as I saw it, I was eager to know how others dealt with this and gave my opinions as well.

First of all, dealing with sexism from people you love and are emotionally attached with is VERY hard, especially if  you despise  attitudes which are sexist, casteist, racist, communalist and bigoted like me.

We grow up in a society which is really unequal. We think that such attitudes are “natural”. We don’t discuss it much, but it is understood by us from the time we are children. We glean it from movies, music, art and the blatantly sexist (and casteist, racist, etc) attitudes of our elders. Many of us who despise such attitudes probably held it before. Aparna wrote about her experiences (where this phrase struck out to me – truer words never spoken “..Often, even when you engage with people in a respectful manner, and brings facts, experience and examples to the table, you are seen as being ‘too argumentative.’ Precisely because of this, it is sometimes easier to explain our ideas online, where we are assured some measure of anonymity, or distance..”) and I blogged about it as well.

Therefore, I strongly feel that such attitudes should be engaged with and that they can be changed. After all, so many of us did it. But it is very important that both should understand where the other is coming from. We should remember that we were like this once too, and why. Belief systems can’t be changed in a day. They take months and often years. Personally, I think that it is very hard for people who have already crossed their middle age to change themselves. I am in no way excusing sexism or any bigoted behaviour, though. In the same way, they should try to understand where we are coming from as well. Dialogue becomes terribly hard otherwise. Respect and empathy is essential while engaging.

It is very easy to feel guilty and hypocritical if you can’t (or don’t want to) cut these people out of your life. We may feel we are betraying ourselves and our beliefs if we continue to keep seeing (and loving) them. It would be good (or would it?) if the world was always Black and White. If we loved the people who were similar in this regard and hated the people who were not. Just as we may love people despite their hurtful attitudes, sometimes we hate people who are just as feminist as us. Sometimes, love and hate are not emotions we can control – and when this happens, don’t beat yourself up, but don’t compromise your beliefs too. You still believe that clothes of a rape victim don’t matter and your loved one should know that and yes, respect that.

This is very important – remember that despite your emotional attachment to the person in question, YOU are YOU. And you are NOT responsible for anyone else’s actions/behaviours/thoughts. You may not be out there with a microphone protesting in the streets but you are doing your best to not contribute to our misogynist culture in important ways! They may seem small, but their importance is absolutely not. It is these small actions and attitudes which uphold the upper-caste, upper-class, heterosexist patriarchy we live in. You are doing the best you can.

Another thing to remember is that VERY FEW people are completely non-sexist, non-casteist, non-racist, etc. Most of us are forever in a journey to be less bigoted and get rid of our social conditioning which makes us hold beliefs like these. This includes women too! You will notice that I have never once used men – I have used “people”, because:

a)  Men aren’t the only ones affected by such conditioning

b)  Man/Woman is too simplistic. Addressing this article to “both genders” or “both sexes” would have not recognised that there are many who do not fit into this binary but deserve to be included in discourses

It is important that we do not feel we have a higher moral ground while engaging because it may give us a feeling of superiority (and not empathy) which, I don’t think, is conducive to a discussion. And who knows? If the loved one is open to engagement, zhe* may (someday) be more free of these biases than we are today – and then, perhaps, the tables may turn. Or perhaps they are freer of other biases we have not even considered? Maybe they are more non-classist? Perhaps they will engage with us on those topics? Perhaps such engagements can be a learning experience for both of us?  Don’t we all look forward to the day?

“The enemy within must be transformed before we can confront the enemy outside”

–      bell hooks

*zhe and hir are gender-neutral pronouns

Brought up in a patriarchal society, but not a misogynist.

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  1. totally agree with you.. the hardest part is mainly trying to make my parents understand that clothes dont determine if i am safe on road.. i have been tryn to convince them forever and may b have succeeded a little bit..thankful that they were ready to understand even if real slow..

  2. It start with clothes and then it goes to how you talk with men (are you too vocal to raise their aggression), how to you look at them (does that invite them), etc. etc. to several such questions. Yes, this is an important and difficult issue to make your loved ones understand that you are not only a girl/woman but a human being. You would not always like to play safe or walk with your head down or talk politely but would just want to play, walk and talk. There comes a time in every girls life in India where she either have to bow down to her family’s ‘she is a girl so so she cannot do this’ viewpoint or she can engage her family with her viewpoint and try to create a path for herself. That is a tough call, requires lots of grit but once done changes the views of an entire family, set of friend’s families and neighbours too. This spurs other girls to open their minds as well!

  3. I totally comply with your article in fact I could instantly relate to it. Don’t really know how much of a Feminist am I,but one thing is for sure,it always hits me real hard when I witness people around succumbing to the socially constructed patriarchal norms and practices.”HELPLESSNESS” is what surrounds me specially when it is between me and my loved ones or the ones whom I expect to understand.But that doesn’t mean that we stop trying and stop being vocal about it.I am doing my part by expressing what I think is right and thankfully my loved ones are open enough to at least listen to me and respect my individuality(till how far have I been able to change them is hard to answer ,because as you said any belief system cannot be changed in a day)but I have this positive feeling, that change is surely on its way. :-)..CONGRATULATIONS FOR THE WONDERFUL ARTICLE!!

  4. An appropriate article.We as educated women have to get ourselves rid of all the parochial and misognyst attitudes and give importance only to those things that matter.
    When dealing with our loved ones, dialogue is very essential.
    It’s the attitude on roads that really rankle though.
    e.g- I commute daily by local trains and once there was a discussion among some women (who were definitely working women) about how some girls in IT hub were “shamelessly” smoking cigarettes. The conversation soon veered to “favourite” topic of how this attitude amongst “today’s girls” was making them victims of rape.
    I could not keep my mouth shut anymore and asked them why they do not have problem when men in their families or on roads smoke cigarattes. Smoking in general by anyone (be it man, woman, children, elders) should be criticized and the focus should not be put on who is smoking it.
    There are so many incidents like this which show the deep rooted misognyst attitudes even among the educated class of our society.

  5. Hi Archismita,
    Very valid points about belief systems. If possible, please go through this – http://www.wahsarkar.com/2013/02/what-do-we-mean-by-empowerment-of-women/ . You may find it interesting.

  6. Pingback: Letter to ‘Mr.Right’ From ‘The Modern Indian Woman’ | Women's Web: Online Community For Indian Women

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