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When men ask you to smile, to wear shorter skirts, to get them coffee, it’s time to hit back and speak up! For in 2020, we have no time to deal with the offensive ‘boy talk.’
How often have you been the recipient or witness to a casual sexist remark that is delivered guised in great levity and bonhomie? The one that sears and scalds its way in. Which then severs and damages the cords of confidence and self respect along the way? I recall instances that will take multiple fists to count.
What got me thinking about it today was when I saw a video from Nas- a massively popular online sensation who creates thought-provoking and socially relevant content. In this particular video, he spoke about a time when him and his wife attended a talk show. The host was constantly jibing and ribbing at the other panelists, making some obviously sexist and downright vulgar remarks.
His wife, unlike everyone else, who watched the show with genial nods and smiles, called out this behaviour and slammed the host for his comments.
For a few moments I felt the righteous indignation and a small vicarious victory at having witnessed this episode. On the heels of those emotions, a volcano of a anger and frustration came bubbling forth.
I suppose it didn’t belong to one instance. It was a culmination of a lifetime of observing and experiencing this behaviour despite having led a life of privilege and equality for the most part. And the fact that irked me the most, was that though I had been complicit, I was also one of those people who ignored or brushed off such incidents with a perfunctory smile. I wondered if I should’ve waged a war every single time or if I should’ve stood my ground and created a scene?
As a young girl, I was so consumed with being a strong but good girl that being affable and congenial, ‘not making a scene’ or ‘losing my marbles’ was an inherent need. But with time, as I gained confidence and perspective, I realised that something that rankles me on the inside is something my mind is rejecting. I realised that it needs attending to, even if that means going against the codes of ‘good behaviour’ or ‘social sense.’
After this realisation, I felt like a changed person. I wasn’t bottling anything up anymore. Every time some ‘uncle’ spoke about my assets as part of a marriage conversation, or a boss asked me to ‘be a good girl’ and order food, I spoke. When I was asked to wear a short skirt to a meeting, or that life was easier for pretty girls, or someone laughed about an ‘ugly’ colleague being a good ‘f***’ for frequent promotions, I made it a point to speak.
Sometimes with a smooth tongue, sometimes spewing fire. I didn’t care if I was considered snarky, rude, a battle axe or labelled any other rich moniker. Because the beauty about finding your tongue is that it doesn’t matter how it wags. When it does for the right reasons, the bliss and satisfaction you feel is a great substitute for all else that comes in its wake.
So I find myself apologising for the younger me. The one who may have stood around smiling uncomfortably when women and their worth were bracketed and clustered on the basis of their faces, breasts, vaginas instead of their skills, merit, education and capabilities.
Now I am wiser. I know that a smile is worth a million bucks. But when it is born of a million tears shed from broken hearts and battered self worth, it truly means nothing.
And when you say no to sexist talk often presented as ‘banter’ or ‘locker room chatter,’ remember that it reduces all women to the same level. Speak up for yourself, for the women you work with and the ones who work for you. I urge you to speak up for the help who seeks shelter in your home and the woman you don’t know on the street and the stranger arguing alone in a nightclub.
Giving in even once, makes you complicit. So ladies, speak up!
Picture credits: Still from movie Lipstick Under My Burkha
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