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“Let Me Explain”: 4 Forms Of Subtle Sexism At Workplace That Need To Stop In 2021

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By Manpreet

Occupational sexism can affect anyone, but it primarily affects women.  Among many reasons for dropping out of their jobs, sexism at the workplace is an intimidating factor. Sexist expectations and practices are observed to negatively affect the employees’ performance, mental health, sense of belongingness, and occupational well-being. Women are rejected for higher positions or detracted to roles requiring “feminine skills” and similarly, men tend to drop out of jobs predominated by women due to social stigma.

Different from sexual abuse and overt sexism, subtle sexism at the workplace is harder to preconize. It is slow, toxic, and sweeps in the most unnoticed ways.

According to Jessica Bennett, a journalist, and author of Feminist Fight Club, “While overt sexism is inarguably bad and inexcusable, that doesn’t mean that covert sexism isn’t damaging- often it is more dangerous because it is harder to document and even harder to call out. It’s like being interrupted when you speak- something that happens twice as frequently to women as men- or being mistaken for the office secretary when you’re the one in charge.

Here are the forms of how subtle sexism is taking over the workplace and how one can deal with it subtly. 

“Hahaha…. Take Offense”

One of the major forms of this prejudice is cracking sexist jokes. Sexist humour includes insulting, victimizing, stereotyping, and objectifying someone on basis of their gender and sexuality. These touches of humour often seep into workplace conversations in the form of jokes, puns, comments, and gags from episodes of “Bhabhiji Ghar par hai (Sister-in-law is at home)”. An office where such behaviours are unchecked becomes a difficult place to work and survive in. 

Source: Pinterest

The best way to stop and intercept such practices is to confront them. Stop laughing over these unsavoury statements and ask them to explain why they think so. There are chances that others around you might stop validating these comments. Take the lead.

Credit: Feminism In India

“I Think That You Will Not Understand This. Let Me Explain.”

This is something very common, faced by women. Mansplaining is a common sexist behaviour where a man (usually) oversimplifies the explanation of something in a condescending and overconfident manner to a woman (usually) who is either at the same level or holds expertise. Unsolicited opinions, at times, implies that the woman is incapable of having authoritative knowledge and is ignorant.

The best way to encounter this is to clarify the misunderstanding. An assertive yet polite statement like “I suppose you assumed that I am unaware about this subject. I would certainly ask your help if needed.” will keep mansplainers away.

Double Standards

Have you ever been denounced for some of your actions whereas your opposite-sex colleague is praised for it? It is often seen that decisive and confident women are often labelled as “bossy” and are less approved than a man of similar demeanour. Women are told to look feminine and behave feminine. Men are told to be aggressive and display anger and sternness.

 Similarly, men taking care of their children along with career are praised whereas it is considered a “duty” for women. Unequal pays and promotions and differences in career-building opportunities are also quite overt. 

Dealing with double standards single handily is difficult. The organization has a great role in eradicating these discriminating standards. Changes in policies and building a positive environment can help. They can narrow the pay gap and provide equal growth opportunities.   

“Because You’re A Woman”

All the individuals who identify as a woman would have heard this at some point in their work lives. Preassumptions of capabilities due to biological differences are infuriating. Role stereotyping shows up when they believe that certain tasks could only be performed by certain genders. For example, men are preferred for technical and mechanical tasks whereas women are told to deal with the desk jobs like receptionist or secretary. Very often, the opinions of women are not given due attention and are not heard.

To wave off these presumptions and stereotypes, you can question their premises and assert your capabilities. Adopt the “panel pledge” to ensure high-profile discussions include an equal share of all genders.

Repercussions Of “Benevolent” Sexism

Standing up against all these will certainly bring some unwelcomed backlash and you can get into grave trouble. The best way to handle this is to have a supporting hand. Find people who will help you fight these odds. They can be those who are the victims and those who are ready to stand up against sexism.

Source: Pinterest

There is no arguing that all people should be treated equally. Sexism anywhere has adverse effects such as detrimental mental health issues, harassment, and wider gender gaps. Benevolent sexism has been ignored for too long. Every sexist remark against a gender, irrespective of where they stand in the hierarchy, disables thousands of those who are willing to work independently. This is the reason why why we must have a conversation about these taunts and go beyond whataboutery.  

You must be to comment.
  1. Snayini Das

    This is such an important topic yet not discussed sensitively enough. Glad to read about it

  2. Nairanjana Ganguly

    It’s really practical.This content is relevant for all of us.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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