The Virago
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The Virago

4 Small Everyday Things That Are Actually Promoting Sexism

They may be small, but they add up

Photo by Towfiqu barbhuiya on Unsplash

We’ve come a long way in the war against sexism. Modern women vote, drive, work, and are financially independent. We have our own identities, dreams and goals. Legally speaking, we are equal to men in every way.

But the law isn’t everything. The strong and independent women who came before us fought to change the law and give us the rights and privileges we enjoy today.

But culture still dictates a large number of everyday things in our lives. And when it comes to these cultural norms and practices, the fight is far from over.

Now it’s our turn to fight for these changes. We need to battle against the small everyday things that we mostly ignore, but are silently perpetuating sexist ideas.

Here are some examples.

Unnecessary options on official forms

Whenever I filled out a form, I am required to select one of three options for myself — Mr, Ms and Mrs.

Why?

Men aren’t defined by their marital status. Why are women today still expected to check these different boxes?

I have never selected the ‘Mrs’ box. I am married, but I don’t see what that has to do with opening a bank account or signing up on a new e-commerce website. It is unnecessary and it takes up the bandwidth of every woman every single time she fills a form. Imagine how much bandwidth that is when it adds up for all the women in the world!

Also, why do we still have a field for ‘maiden name’? I recently had to fill out an application that asked me for my mother’s maiden name. What do people even do with this information?

Filling out a maiden name is another action that takes up bandwidth, and reminds women that their marriage somehow strongly defines their identity. If there really is some administrative purpose served by this information, I fail to see why men aren’t asked for their marital status as well.

Here’s the icing on the cake.

Once, my husband was filling a form out at a hospital and these were the options for him:

Son of
Daughter of
Wife of

He was confused. He wanted to list me as his emergency contact, but there was no ‘Husband of’. When he asked the receptionist what to do, she insisted that he check ‘Son of’ and list his father as his emergency contact.

Do you see the problem? The system is designed in a way that reinforces the idea that my husband can care for me in an emergency, but I am incapable of doing the same for him.

My husband, gem of a person that he is, fought with the receptionist and told her that the form was sexist and he wasn’t going to conform. He scratched out all the options with a pen and wrote ‘Husband of’ and listed my name next to it.

But not many people do this. They ignore it as a minor inconvenience and adjust to fit in the boxes that are available. And I get that this is too small an issue for most people. But if you do have the energy for it, do take the trouble to call out these systems. With every such confrontation, our culture moves in the right direction.

Cashiers and waiters who give the bills to the man

Every time my husband and I go to a restaurant or go shopping, the bill is always handed straight to him. There is no exception, this has always been the case in the eleven years that we’ve been together.

I tried giving cashiers and waiters the benefit of doubt. After all, for the longest time, it has been the man who pays for everything. For all I know, this might be the case in their own lives, and they’re just doing it on autopilot without really meaning any harm. Even today, there are so many women who are financially independent and still expect the guy to pay on dates.

But sometimes, it gets toxic. There have been multiple instances where I have taken out my credit card to make the payment, and the cashier has swiped the card and then returned it to my husband. While I’m standing there with my wallet open and my hand outstretched.

This should be very embarrassing for the cashier, but in the past, I was the one more affected by this. It is a very disempowering feeling to have some silently tell you that your financial independence means nothing to the outside world.

They still only see you as a ‘Wife of’.

Emails that say ‘Dear Sir’

Just last week I received a reminder to renew my car’s insurance policy. The email started with “Dear Sir”. Because only men own cars…?

What really sucked was that the email was written by a woman.

My sister-in-law is a counselling psychologist and she gets tons of emails like this as well. People reach out to collaborate with her or invite her to speak at an event, without doing the basic courtesy of checking if they’re reaching out to a man or a woman!

She outright ignores those emails the moment she sees the “Sir”. That’s the kind of discrimination we need for a while — until we can level the playing ground!

Seemingly harmless passing comments

I’m sure you’ve heard those popular wife jokes and girlfriend jokes. Some of them actually are funny in context, and I don’t have a problem with such jokes.

But there are times when they aren’t really jokes, or they’re really uncalled for in the situation. And people laugh it off uncomfortably, not wanting to cause a scene. When I told my coworkers that I had planned my honeymoon in Europe, some of them commented on how I must have married into a rich family. When the truth was that I paid for half the trip out of my own pocket. I wish I had stood up for myself during all the post-marriage comments I suffered.

But I have started speaking up now because I want it to be uncomfortable for them, not for me.

Once, I visited a vineyard, which had a fun tour and a lot of information about different kinds of grapes. And out of nowhere, the tour guide made a random comment about how his wife never shuts up. I gave him a low rating on his feedback form and reported the comment to the organizers.

I recently came across a video by The Female Lead where the creator heard someone make a joke about his wife being a maid and called him out on it, making him very uncomfortable.

We need to do this repeatedly until people feel unsafe making such comments. It would be amazing to live in a world where a guy sees a rash driver on the road and thinks to himself “Must be a woman, but I don’t feel okay saying that out loud.”

And one day, his children will see a rash driver and not even think about their gender. They would have grown up without having been taught to think that way.

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Aditi Balaji

Aditi Balaji

Writing about relationships. feminism and books. I’m an introvert, a fantasy/sci-fi nerd, and a dog mom.

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