“She’s PMSing. She’s hormonal.”
“You are behaving like a girl.”
You must have heard these comments, even if you hadn’t said them. Men and women frequently seep similar remarks into daily conversations in a casual manner. So, what did you do? How did you respond? Most of the time, you just move on, as would the conversation.
Sometimes, we don’t realise while reading, listening, or sharing these as jokes that they disparage an entire community. These subconscious thoughts lead to casual sexism, which, over time, has an irreparable impact.
Sexism is a prominent issue that both women and men experience, personally and professionally. This takes a more subtle, indirect form at the workplace and is known as casual sexism. Most people don’t realise how often snarky, dishonest, and disrespectful remarks are made to women or men under the guise of humour, concern, or praise. The use of phrases like ‘you look great for your age’ or ‘you are so fit having just had a child’ may fall under this category. While these statements appear to be innocuous, they serve to maintain and reinforce the ingrained stereotypes and biases against women.
There are many places where there is a zero-tolerance policy against any form of harassment and bullying. However, casual sexism often goes unnoticed, unspoken, and is overlooked. “One day in the office, I was having a terrible headache, and one of my colleagues came to me to talk about something, so I said we would discuss this topic later. Then my colleague asked me, are you on period? Just because I was having a headache, he thought that I was on my period. If a man had said the same thing, then his answer would be the same,” says Nandni Mandal, artiste manager.
There are so many comments in our daily conversations that people ignore or forget. But it is important to understand and stand up for yourself whenever you feel uncomfortable. There are many instances where people casually comment about individuals, which is not right.
“Once, in my previous term, I joined as Manager Corporate Communications in a bank, after confirming my pregnancy. My child and career change were important, and I did not want to let one go because of another, so I continued. In the second year of my three-year contractual term, one of my male colleagues and my reporting boss made it a point to pick on me for no reason,” shares Shilpi Singh. “Once he curtly told me that I had joined the organisation to make babies. This upset me and I quit with immediate effect. As a contractual employee, I wasn’t entitled to question him. I couldn’t stay in a full-time toxic environment ever since then,” she adds.
It doesn’t take a genius to figure out the hidden message of casual sexist remarks. Over time, it damages the person’s confidence. Of course, Shilpi moved on from the incident, but for some it is easy said then done.
Similarly, if you think that casual sexism happens only to women, then you are wrong. It happens with men too. “In my previous office, many people used to comment about my behaviour. In a meeting, eight of six people voted for another idea, and one colleague supported the alternative idea. After the meeting, a few people came to know each other, and randomly during conversation said, ‘Why are you being stubborn on the alternative idea like women?’ It’s simply fine if you see me as stubborn as a woman, but I will not change my view on the subject,” mentions Abhishekh Singh, a data analyst.
Sometimes, men take it on their ego, and often, they ignore and forget about it. It is important to not ignore these comments and to make people aware of them. Hanish Sugadh, a fashion model, shares a situation that he faced in his office. “There are many people in my office who pass comments on my dressing style. They casually passed comments like, ‘You’re looking gay’ based on the clothes I wear. Sometimes I gave a befitting reply to them, and now I don’t comment about it, at least not on my face. I believe in wearing clothes that make me feel comfortable and stylish,” he reveals.
Whether it is a woman or a man, making comments about someone’s appearance, personality, or personal things, even as a joke, is not okay. These casual remarks often lead to discriminatory behaviour and can be exhausting and detrimental in terms of emotions, careers, and personal lives. So, next time if this happens to you or someone in your presence, stand up for them and tell them it is not okay to do this.