That women are at a disadvantage in the society is no new news. Yet despite such awareness, progress in terms of women empowerment has been excruciatingly slow. Most people like to believe that today’s woman is empowered and free, but nothing could’ve been further from the truth. Sexism is a very ugly truth that we would rather ignore. Because it isn’t about our freedom to wear clothes or stay out late – sexism manifests itself in ways that can be cases of life and death. One such manifestation is domestic violence.
What is sexism?
Sexism can be defined as discrimination, stereotyping or prejudice on the basis of sex. A common misconception is that sexism affects only women. While women do suffer more, in very subtle ways it affects men too.
Stereotyping is one of the most fundamental aspects of sexism – most other issues like prejudice stem from it. Society, at large, has certain rigid ideas of what a man and a woman should like (the LGBTQ community isn’t even counted) and how they should behave. It likes to put human beings in little, suffocating boxes of blue and pink. It has attached certain characters and traits that it considers is suited to those boxes. Anyone who chooses or wishes to live outside of those boxes is either disturbed or sick – and undeserving of respect and love.
So, women are pink, weak and docile, and are meant for “soft work”. Men are blue, strong (ie muscular strength), dominant and meant for “rough work”. This is the standard against which society measures every individual. It’s all around us – in our daily conversations, in the media we consume and even in the way we look at ourselves.
Sexism is so deep-rooted in our daily lives – it is difficult for us to perceive it. We don’t realize that it’s sexist when we attribute bad driving skills to being a woman. It’s sexist when we ask our daughters to help with household chores but not our sons. It’s sexist when we find the idea ( or a scene in a particularly pointless movie) of a man being molested humorous.
Media plays a very important role in the way sexism exists and survives in our society. Again, we don’t realize it’s sexist when, for some unknown reason, all detergent ads show only women doing laundry. It’s sexist when all car ads show only men driving.
At times, even the way we judge ourselves can be particularly sexist. We don’t realize the conditioned sexism when women feel the need to rid themselves of something as natural as body hair as a way to show their femininity. We don’t realize the conditioned sexism when a man feels the need to be dominant to portray his masculinity.
How sexism manifests itself as violence
While casual sexism may seem to be harmless, it manifests itself in particularly destructive ways. Domestic violence is one of them. Again, while the majority of the victims are women, there have been a few cases filed by men as well. Cases of domestic violence are about asserting dominance over someone that is believed to be weaker. Perpetrators of domestic violence often believe in their right to assert their dominance over their partners because that is what, through casual sexism, they’ve been taught to believe. Victims believe in their duty to be subservient because that is what, through the casual sexism around them, they’ve been taught to believe.
It is important to note that the term ‘domestic violence’ doesn’t just entail physical abuse, but also emotional, mental and economic abuse. In 2016, 1,13403 cases of “cruelty by husband or his relatives” were registered 1. Unfortunately, no such sub-section exists for cruelty on men because of their perceived rarity. And this is the paradox here. The sexism that allows for and supports domestic violence against women also holds back men from reporting the cruelty that they may have experienced.
How helpful is the law here? Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005, was brought into force from 26 October 2006 and is primarily meant for protection of wives or female live in partners from domestic violence from the husband/male live-in partner or his relatives. Under this Act, domestic violence includes not only physical violence but also includes acts of sexual, verbal, emotional and economic abuse. However, the Act doesn’t penalize, it simply provides protection through protection officers 2. Section 498A of the Indian Penal Code penalizes this crime with a punishment of three years of jail term and/or a hefty fine 3.
How effective is the law? Not much it seems. Reports say that protection officers, designated under the Act to provide protection to complainants are often missing and women have to make a number of visits before any significant progress is achieved. It has also been said that protection officers are burdened with secondary responsibilities that ultimately affect their primary work.4 Poor legal infrastructure proves to be a huge deterrent to women who may wish to stand up and speak out.
But there are several other reasons also. Victims tend to develop a rather stoic acceptance of their conditions and feel duty-bound to continue to suffer. Moreover, if a victim expresses her wish to report the crimes, she is held back due to family pressure and the ever-present fear of bringing shame to her family name.
Sexism, while particularly harsh towards women, affects men also. The fact that men are taught to be domineering and violent holds them down from being the best that they can be. Domestic violence is one of the extreme ways sexism plays out in the society. While it may have been the norm a decade ago, there is no logical reason why it should still be allowed to continue and fester.
– Sakshi Shivpuri
(St. Xavier’s College, Mumbai)
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