‘You Can’t Go Because You’re A Girl’: Everyday Sexism That I’ve Grown Up With

Posted by Karthika S Nair in Sexism And Patriarchy
March 14, 2017

Being a woman in a patriarchal society is either a very difficult or a painful process. Personally, I am born in a very liberal family which prioritises my education and my right to choose a career. My parents hoped for a girl child when my mother was pregnant with me. While growing up, I read about the harsh forms of misogyny that are prevalent in our country. Being a girl raised in a conservative culture, it is very difficult to not face sexism and internalised misogyny.

Since childhood, I have been told to be nice, not provoke boys, to be decent, not to go out alone after 6 pm. I’ve had restrictions which boys do not have. Once, when I was 12 years old, I was playing with my cousin brother and we both felt like having ice creams. There was a shop near our house and we asked my grandmother (paternal) if we could go. She said casually, “he can go but no you.” When I asked her why, she said, “it is because he is a boy. You can’t go because you are a girl.” This situation pissed me off so much. My rebellious mindset was ready to simply step of the house with my cousin but my elder sister stopped me, saying, “grandma will simply worry about you. A lot of men are seen loitering around that shop. That’s why you can’t go.” She was right, few men smoking cigarettes were near the shop but then I thought, “if they misbehave with women, will no one question them?”

In my family, it was a taboo for women to travel alone and to go to shops. Especially, markets and butcher shops, to buy chicken and fish. This was revealed to me. Yet, on one day, I simply stepped out to buy chicken from a nearby shop. Even though elders in my house were initially anxious, they eventually came to terms with it. It did not stop them from pointing out that it was a ‘man’s job’ for a long time.

A relative of mine, who is openly against girls’ right to mobility and speech, raised his daughters in a very conservative fashion. His daughters barely talk, let alone smile, when they are asked something. According to their father, women should be like that.

When I was in school, three boys bullied me and when I complained about it, the teachers gave a two-hour long lecture (in private), saying that these are small things that I should ignore and that I should be ready to ‘tolerate’ issues. They echoed this again and again as if they wanted to prevent a catastrophe. Back then, I was convinced that I committed a big crime by reporting those boys. To make things even worse, the girls in my class sided with the boys and kept calling me ‘bad’ and ‘harsh’ for complaining. Finally, they became cordial when I lied. “It was not me but my parents who reported.”

I have seen girls being beaten and bullied by boys. Seemingly, boys enjoy doing this because girls do not hit back. For them, it was fun. There were many classes and lectures by our teachers asking girls to be cautious, gracious, to be respectful to boys and above all, to protect themselves. Boys were lectured on how they should protect girls but I have barely come across those who asked them not to bully girls. Except on one instance, where the teacher was angry at a boy for pinching a girl in my class. Boys being aggressive was normalised as ‘boys will be boys. As per my observations, students (both boys and girls) barely come forward to complain, after class 12, because they are treated as outcasts by their fellow classmates. So, whatever happens, they keep it to themselves. After all, these are ‘small’ things. Perhaps, when analysed from a child’s point of view, they are small things that happen in school life but it does contribute a lot to a person’s character. Boys who are not corrected from childhood will go on to do bigger crimes when they grow up.

Internalised misogyny is something that is prevalent in both the school and college lifestyle. Girls are stereotyped as ‘gossipmongers’ and ‘back-stabbers’ who betray friends/lovers. A girl in my college said, “women like that deserve to be raped.” Women speaking fluent English and wearing modern clothes are stereotyped as ‘rebels’. A lot of people have an aversion towards such individuals.

And of course, the ultimate form of misogyny is the slut-shaming of girls who wear modern clothes and are independent. At one point, the chairperson in my college attended a school function wearing a sleeveless blouse. My friend said, “perhaps, the next rape case will be in Kochi.” I expressed my anger to her, saying, “even naked women travelling alone deserves to be respected.” She simply smiled at my argument. When the Nirbhaya case occurred, I came across people asking very shocking questions. Why did she climb the bus? Why did she have to go for the movie at that time?

Exasperated, I shouted at a group, once, “the youngest rapist was 17 years old at that time,” to which they remained mum. However, one girl said, “he should be ashamed.” Once, when we watched the beginning of the song ‘Agar Tum Mil Jao’ with the same group, one of them said, “this reminds me of the Delhi case“. I was both shocked and hurt at her statement because one was a gangrape involving an iron rod while the other was consensual love making. Sex education had failed to educate her.

The most irritating form of misogyny I have witnessed is the shaming of men by using feminine overtones, while women are appreciated using masculine overtones. Many men are abused with words like ‘pussy’, ‘weak’, ‘fair’, ‘mangina’. They are also asked to wear bangles and sarees. A lot of platforms from cinema to journalism do the same. So, how will it not be reflected amongst the youth?

Women, on the other hand, if they are bold, tough or if they have achieved something, are termed as ‘the man’ or ‘masculine’. I’m referred to as the ‘man’ in my group of female friends, because of my Kung Fu skills and rebellious nature. It pisses me off. One of the main reasons why guys get offended when they hear feminine overtones is because of the notion that women, in general, are weak and cowardly. This is a very prevalent form of misogyny. Not to mention, many women want to be a man in their next birth. The girl who calls me ‘the man of my group’ has said, “I want to be born a man,” several times. No matter what you do, your role as a woman is being disregarded. I hate terms like ‘tomboy’ and ‘mardaani‘. Why can’t they be termed as women living on their terms or the ones being themselves?

So, are women inferior? Are women second class citizens? Is a woman a figure to be sacrificed? Should she depend on men to survive? Should she whine about her birth as a woman or just break the glass ceiling so that the next generation of girls feel, ‘yes, I matter’.


Image source: Juha Uitto/ Flickr