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Sexist Culture in India

India is known for its patriarchal culture in the world. This culture is so ingrained in the minds of the people that certain inhuman actions (like husband beating wife; not allowing boys to cry; women’s opinions are not given much consideration, etc) are considered normal to them. For a very long period, this patriarchal notion of society has been developing which led to associating certain sexist values and ideas to different genders. According to UNICEF, sexism is prejudice or discrimination based on gender.[1] And this sexist attitude stems from the stereotype of gender roles.[2] Under the patriarchal world, though both men and women are falling prey to the sexist culture men are at the advantageous side as compared to women. Women are expected to undergo violence if they act against the patriarchal notion of society. India is considered to be a developing country but in reality, it is lagging behind in its mentality.

In India there exist a huge gender inequality. And language is one of the important tools that frame the minds of the people in any society. In India, the language normally used by the people or seen in any textbooks is man-centric, where men are portrayed superior to women[3] for e.g., a boy is asked not to cry like a girl or when a girl is asked to be a man in order to show some courage.  Sexism is an invisible but influential hand that is framing our day-to-day language or jargon.[4] And language plays a pivotal role in expressing different ideas and concepts and shaping them.[5] Therefore ever since a person is born, society starts creating a web within which that person needs to behave. From the very beginning, children are taught that certain roles, status, behavior or activities are masculine and certain others are feminine and therefore it is assigned to males and females respectively[6] for e.g., men are bound to work and women are bound to cook food. There are certain quality that are attached to males and females. It is believed that a man should be strong, brave, intelligent, hard-working and a woman is considered to be generous, beautiful, helpful, caring, emotional, weak, etc.[7] And if a woman is braver than she is called more ‘manly’ than being called as more ‘womanly’.

Such languages stereotype the sex role and do more harm to humanity than doing any good.[8] These distinctions are made on the basis of biology. But people fail to understand that it is unscientific to divide roles on the basis of sex.[9] Every human being has both masculine and feminine qualities, it is just that the levels of these qualities may vary. But that does not mean that society has got the right to decide one’s behavior, role, gender, and whatnot.

Gendering a person

Sexist culture does not allow people to act or work beyond the box and if at all they do, then they are either asked to stop going against the decided norms of the society or they are judged and looked down upon. People are stuck in this culture and even if they want to come out of it, society does not allow them. So like the Indian middle-class family, they will not allow their son to become a kathak dancer or grow long hair or to become a homemaker and, on the other hand, girls are expected to get married in their 20s and wear decent clothes. Girls need to sound pleasant all the time. They should grow their hair long. Also, if a parent of an unborn baby knows the sex of the baby, then they paint the room with a blue color or pink color if the baby is boy or girl respectively. This shows how, even before a baby is born, their parents decide what color he/she will like. They decide in what manner he/she should behave. But when anything goes against these ‘ideal’ roles associated with different sexes, people are reluctant to accept it and they fail to realize that something different from the set standards can also happen.

It is very strange when people assume a woman as a man simply because she has short hair. They tend to call her ‘sir’ instead of ‘ma’am’.[10] Also, people constantly read our appearances, mannerisms and other actions as part of the gender. So even if we do not intend to do gender but directly or indirectly we actually do gender.[11]

Sexism and Rape culture in India

India is considered to be one of the countries where the highest number of offenses are committed against women. And rape is considered to be the fourth most common crime in India.[12] We daily come across news that talks about the rape of one or the other girl. And nowadays, Delhi is more known for its rape culture than for any other good development in the city. It is called the rape city of the country.[13] And one of the strongest reason behind rape is sexism. One such example is the 2012 Nirbhaya Rape case, where one of the convicts was justifying his case saying that the girl had crossed the line of gender role and feminine morality.[14] Also, it comes as a shock to know that all the educated people like the lawyer of the convict, some members of parliament, leaders of Hindu political rights, policemen are of the same opinion.[15] They believed that the girl went against Indian culture. According to some studies, around 70% of the women in the world have experienced violence from their intimate partner and around 137 women are being killed every day either by their intimate partner or a family member.[16] According to a 2013 report of the National Crime Records Bureau, around 24923 rape cases were reported and out of this 98 % of the rapes were done by someone who was known to the victim.[17]

How far are men falling prey to Sexism?

Sexism is affecting not just women but also men. Gender inequality has been continuing for such a long period of time that now it has been normalized. Where women are facing sexist torture of society, men are suffering no less. David Benatar, in his book “Second Sexism” says that the discrimination against men and boys on the basis of sex remains unrecognized.[18] From the very time a baby boy is born, his family starts expecting so much from that little baby. As and when he grows, society starts expecting a lot from him. There is so much burden put on a man but he never complains about it and does all his work like it is his duty. A man is expected to be a strong, smart, the breadwinner of the family. He is taught not to cry, to be strong, to go out and work, etc. whenever he cries, he is asked to not cry because crying is a feminine quality. But nobody at any point in time asks him, what he wants to do or what is his opinion. What if he wants to grow hair; join kathak classes; become house-maker after his marriage; become a babysitter. But our society does not allow people to act according to their whims and fancies, instead, it makes the person feel inferior and ashamed about himself.

Also, a very strange thing about our society is that it somehow could not see that there are sexual harassment crimes happening against men as well. So when a woman is raped, we have a system to which she can approach and get justice done. But when a boy is raped, first of all, he does not share with anyone thinking that people will not understand. Secondly, even if he shares this traumatic incident with others, they will make fun of him. And even then if he wants to report this matter, we do not have any law or support system that talks about the rape of a man.[19] Because people think a man cannot be raped. They think this is something that happens to women only. Our society is very insensitive to our men.

Men are assaulted and harassed in a similar way as women. There are cases of domestic violence against men.[20] Some men have a really bad relationship where they are tortured mentally and physically. In offices, a man is expected to perform better than any woman. His boss might misbehave with him but he can take any action against his boss because people either not understand his pain and makes fun of him or they will tell him that such things are pretty normal. But the question is why we assume things. Why do we think that a man cannot get uncomfortable with a woman’s behavior say when a woman is constantly staring at a man or touching him inappropriately.

Third Category

A man who does not behave like a man or a woman who does not behave like a woman is forced to be gendered. In such cases, they are associated with that gender with which they are closely related, for e.g., if a man has more feminine qualities then he will be treated as a woman[21] and people start making fun of that person by calling him gay in a humiliating way. This happens because society fails to understand anything beyond male and female. It does not talk about the gender that falls between these two genders. People find it difficult to talk to a man who is more feminine or a woman who is more masculine. Generally, we do not take into consideration genders apart from males and female but that does not mean other genders do not exist. In India, transgender people are now recognized under the third gender.[22] But even though recognition has been given people are still reluctant to accept them as the third gender.

Recommendations

Sexist language has been generalized to such an extent some people find sexist behavior to be normal or something that usually happens. [23] There is a need to eliminate sexist language, as that would be the first step to destroy sexism from society.[24] We need to start providing gender-neutral education. We need to uplift all the genders in society and try to be accommodative and comfortable towards the changes that happen in society. Our society needs to develop with changing social norms and not just stick to older norms. We should inculcate the idea of equality in every individual. We need to learn to respect a human being rather than categorizing people on the basis of their gender and assigning them gender-specific roles. Education should be given a lot of importance. Schools should emphasis more on moral science in order to inculcate basic human values in them. We should ask our government to make primary education for the students below 6years compulsory because in order to become a good human being one needs to have a strong base. Also, there is a great need to made laws gender-neutral as like in U.S. and Europe, unlike our present situation where law relating to sexual harassment, assault, rape is skewed towards the women.[25] We have various laws in the country that protect the rights of only women and children and not men. For example, Sexual harassment at the workplace (prohibition, prevention, and redressal) act, 2013, Indian Penal Code, 1860, etc, according to these laws sexual harassment or rape can happen only against women. There is no law as of now in India that protects men from harassment or rape. We all need to come forward and fight against the sexism. In all the sectors of life we need to bring equality among different genders. We can also see the change in the dynamics of our film industry. Our industry is working towards breaking the gender biases. A great shift can be seen in the industry from beating a woman in the movie and calling it a gesture of love to raising voice against it as seen in the movie ‘Thappad’. Our society is trying to develop but this development will take years to end the stereotypical gender roles and behaviors. Also, regular awareness programs should be carried out by various organizations like government, schools, NGOs, etc to spread awareness about gender equality and breaking sexist culture.

[1] UNICEF Ireland, 2014, available at https://www.unicef.ie/itsaboutus/cards/unicef-itsaboutus-gender-sexism.pdf (Visited on March 03, 2020).

[2] Ibid.

[3] Narendra Nath Kalia, “Women and Sexism: Language of Indian School Textbooks”, 21 EPW 794-795 (1986).

[4] Lynda G. Kahn, “Sexism in Everyday Speech”, 20 SW 65 (1975).

[5] Ibid.

[6] Supra note 3.

[7] Supra note 4.

[8] Supra note 3.

[9] Supra note 3.

[10] Betsy Lucal, “What It Means to Be Gendered Me: Life on the Boundaries of a Dichotomous Gender System”, 13 G&S 781 (1999).

[11] Ibid.

[12] Radha Kumar, “The agitation against the Rape” (2003).

[13] Shweta Sengar, “In Delhi, The ‘Rape Capital Of India’, Five Women Were Raped Each Day In First Quarter Of 2018”, India Times, May 07, 2018.

[14] Kavita Krishnan, “Rape Culture and Sexism in Globalising India”, Sur IJHR (2005).

[15] Ibid.

[16] Elaine Murphy, “The boys learning Anti-sexism in India”, BBC Future, Nov. 12, 2019.

[17] “Crimes in India 2012 Statistics”, National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), GOI, 385, (2014).

[18] Carol Quinn and Rosemarie Tong, “The Consequences of Taking the Second Sexism Seriously”, 29 STP 233 (2003).

[19] Tasneem Nashrulla, “These are the Indian Women fighting for “Men’s Rights””, Buss Feed News, Nov. 30, 2015.

[20] David Benatar, “The Second Sexism: Discrimination Against Men and Boys” (Wiley-Blackwell, 1st edn., 2012).

[21] Supra note 10.

[22] National Legal Service Authority (NALSA) v. Union of India, (2014) 5 SCC 438.

[23] Supra note 4.

[24] Supra note 3.

[25] Supra note 20.

This article is authored by VAISHALI SONI, student of B.A.LL.B. (Hons.) at Maharashtra National Law University Mumbai.

Also Read – An Analysis of Sexual Harassment of Women at Work Place in India

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