Pride and Prejudice
What stops our country from reaching the greatness it is capable of? When asked this question, people have several answers, but gender-based discrimination makes it to the very top of the list.
“It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.” — with this line, Jane Austen perfectly summarises the social structure and inherent sexism in Victorian England. However, yet another universally acknowledged truth is that while we are well into the 21st century, we have still not been able to do away with gender based constructs and stereotypes. Gender stereotypes are the ways in which societies expect people to behave based on their gender. Girls, for example, should stay at home and help with housework and childcare, dress modestly, and avoid going out late at night. People are frequently judged based on how well they conform to gender stereotypes. Because of the perceived ‘male nature’ of these pursuits, girls are less likely to be encouraged to pursue science and technology subjects or leadership roles in school and at work. Similarly, seemingly positive stereotypes and gender roles, such as men being the family’s ‘provider’ or ‘protector,’ place an unnecessary burden on men and boys that could be shared more positively in an equal partnership. These attitudes limit girls’ power by making them less capable of contributing to making the world a better place.
Objectification is when a person is treated as a commodity or an object without regard for their personality or dignity. It is common in the media for women to be photoshopped and airbrushed, resulting in a much greater emphasis and value being placed on their external appearance over other capacities. This has an impact on girls’ body image, self-esteem, and, ultimately, the value they place on themselves.
Girls are frequently portrayed negatively in entertainment and the media, reinforcing harmful gender stereotypes and traditional roles. Objectification should be condemned, and people must be encouraged to tell their own stories that reflect their strength, potential, and diversity. The normalization of harassment and catcalling, as well as the inaction of bystanders and authorities restrict one’s freedom.
Gender discrimination, however, goes far beyond this. One simple Google search might show you one aspect of it, but it irresponsibly cloaks the other; the gender-based discrimination and violence faced by the queer community. This specific type of discrimination manifests in a myriad of different forms, the severity of some of which tend to get simply brushed aside.Things seemingly simple as misgendering people on purpose can have far-reaching effects, often invisible to the untrained eye. The very fact that gender is not the same as one’s biological sex remains misunderstood, whether unintentionally or otherwise, by a majority of the population.
Gender equality surveys and other statistical data fail to take into consideration the spectrum of gender identities, and thus underreport the discrimination faced by many. The several parameters used to calculate gender inequality indices specifically focus on improving living standards for cis-women. A pattern of indifference and insensitivity pushed 200 transgender individuals in India to end their lives in 2020 (according to Statista). How distressing is it to hear that a successful radio jockey and politician in Kerala, was forced to end their life due to systematic discrimination in the healthcare system and medical negligence! It seems that no matter how hard the members of the trans community try, they remain marginalised in society. The lack of knowledge and understanding, paired with ignorance and intolerance, end up being the feed to the fire that is gender, gender identity and gender expression-based discrimination.
Discrimination finds its seed in our upbringing, in our mentality and the ways in which we express ourselves through language. Many individuals are subjected to several uncodified crimes by their families and community. There are extreme cases where exercising the right to choice may lead to the endangerment of life. Between 2014 to 2016, the Supreme Court of India recorded 288 honour killings. Crimes like domestic violence, marital rape and other forms of abuse that fall under the domestic sphere are generally neglected by the legal system, or were, until recently. This should not be the case, as these are not merely household matters — these are grave symptoms of an impaired social system. They indicate our collective failure to provide sufficient protection and assistance to victims.
While a change in mindset is clearly the need of the hour, it cannot be achieved overnight. The situation calls for more stringent laws that do not allow any perpetrator to go scot-free. Turning the yellowed pages of history, one thing becomes clear; the system is changing. Laws are being made against gender discrimination, and the levels of sexism, transphobia and the like that were commonplace have gone down, even marginally. But the fact remains that gender discrimination needs to be fought against, and there are specific tools that could turn the tide of the battle.
The very first is, of course, education. Clichés exist for a reason, and the pen being mightier than the sword is one such clichéd phrase that rings true. Nothing can battle hate and ignorance like the spread of awareness and information. It is the most accessible, straightforward tool and should be wielded with pride. Fictional and nonfictional literature, as well as self help books promote better understanding of gender identity and should be made easily available. Changes in the curriculum to promote inclusivity, as well as informative sessions and initiatives organised by schools and educational institutes go a long way in curbing discrimination. Sensitivity training in companies to make workplaces gender inclusive is an important step. Activism acts a major catalyst in bringing to focus the issues faced by gender and sexual minorities.
And finally, laws and their proper implementation. The Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act was supposed to protect the rights of the trans community, but the problematic Act has faced opposition from many transgender activists. The Act fails to recognise gender as a spectrum but instead views it as binary; the Act also has a lesser sentence for sexual abuse committed against a transgender person than, say, a cis female. Ironically, the law that was supposed to stop discrimination against transgender people ends up pretty blatantly discriminating against them. There is a huge outcry for gender neutrality in Indian laws against rape, which continue to reinforce binary notions of gender. Other such cases, whether the violence and criminal acts are rooted in gender, sexism, identity or expression, are exceedingly prevalent, and quite often, they go unpunished or unheard. The legal definition of rape has been expanded under the Indian Penal Code (2013) and strong amendments have been made to the Domestic violence Act in 2017. Not only does the judiciary need to become more vigilant, but the community also needs to become a safe and accepting enough space for people to come out and express themselves in whichever way is most authentic, to live with pride and the self-respect that they deserve.
Chipping away at gender discrimination is a slow but necessary and feasible process. One step at a time, gender discrimination can be, must be and shall be stopped.
Written by Aditya Mitra and Arkapriya Chakraborty