Recently, some influential journalists were targeted for using sexist vocabulary and instances like these have caught many people’s eyes and led them into thinking how they view women in society. We live in a society where we are taught survival involves performing for the patriarchal male. Many girls are given rituals to symbolize what is right and what is wrong and are shown how to be a proper “lady”. The social conditioning that women should not be concerned with anything but domestic affairs has caused more harm than good for society. It has brought in suffering to so many women that an estimate cannot be drawn upon. These atrocities have fuelled the practice of gender-based hate speeches, which are now called sexist hate speeches.
Sexist hate speech is considered to be harmless. However, not only does gender-based hate speech undermine the freedom of speech of women and girls but it’s the psychological and physical impact is real and serious. The intention of sexist speech is to demean women and to undervalue their skills and opinions, to destroy their reputations, to make them feel vulnerable and fearful, and to control and punish them for not following a certain kind of behaviour. Sexist hate speech marginalizes women, encourages them to adapt their behaviour, confines their movements and involvement in diverse human activities.
WHAT SEXISM MEANS?
Many people still don’t understand what feminism is all about, which automatically obstructs their understanding of sexism. Feminism, as defined by the Oxford Dictionary, is the ‘advocacy of women’s rights on the ground of the equality of the sexes.’ Oxford Dictionary describes sexism as “prejudice, stereotyping, or discrimination, typically against women, on the basis of sex.” Girls have excelled in fields from Sports to Science, leaving no stone unturned. Have we not heard about Mitali Raj or Kiran Mazumdar Shaw? There is no reason to believe that they’re lesser successful.
FACTORS CONTRIBUTING TO SEXISM
Multiple factors contribute to sexist hate speech, including the prevalence of patriarchal societies, the dissemination of degrading messages about women or girls, violent and hyper-sexualised images, notably in the media, and the expectations about women and men’s sexuality and roles in society. It is a cause of dismay that even after all advancements in the twenty-first century, this area still needs a lot, and lives in the seventeenth century.
Gender inequalities in the media sector are also part of the problem. In 2015, women made up 25% of the people in the news. This shows that women are seriously under-represented in the media that often presents messages and images of women and men that reinforce gender stereotypes. On one hand, women are looked down upon as incapable, and on the other pressed by some people to reinforce their claim of ‘incapability.’
SEXISM AND EXPANDING HUMAN RIGHTS CONCERNS
Sexism can lead to human rights violation. The Right to Dignity, which is the right of a person to be valued and respected, has been valued as the most essential human right which is violated by sexism as sexism not only deprives an individual of respect but also subjects it to discrimination Inherent to the idea of gender equality is the belief that everyone, regardless of sex, is free to improve their personal skills, follow their professional careers and make decisions without the constraints of stereotypes, traditional gender roles and biases.
The United Nations has expressly recognized it in Article 2 of the United Nations Human Rights Declaration.  It states, “Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinions, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.” Article 16(1) states, “Men and women of full age, without any limitation due to race, nationality or religion, have the right to marry and to found a family. They are entitled to equal rights as to marriage, during marriage and at its dissolution.” Therefore, the importance of gender equality has been reiterated by the United Nations.
Degrading remarks on women are also a violation of Article 22 of the United Nations Human Rights Declaration, which states, “Everyone, as a member of society, has the right to social security and is entitled to realization, through national effort and international co-operation and in accordance with the organization and resources of each State, of the economic, social and cultural rights indispensable for his dignity and the free development of his personality.” It’s important to acknowledge that women’s rights are human rights.
Stereotypes and cultural norms that dictate prescriptive roles for women in society also have a negative impact on women’s enjoyment of their human rights. For example, girls’ lack of access to education has often been justified on the premise that, as mothers and wives, they do not join the workforce and thus do not need education.
SEXISM: THROUGH THE PRISM OF THE LAW
- It is a trespass to a person.
Trespass to the body may also include sexual penetration. Such kind of interference is unwanted and constitutes sexual harassment. Therefore, sexual harassment may be categorized as trespass to the body. Innuendo can be a contributing factor to a sexually hostile workplace. Sexist remarks which cause or excite an apprehension of battery should be considered trespass to a person and the person committing this trespass should be liable to pay damages.
Many a time, when a girl is drunk, sexual advances are made without her knowledge. She is not in a position to deny them and may not even know what is happening with her. She is held for a long time, (sometimes gets raped) and there is a restraint on her liberty. In cases of gang rape, this is more often. Such bodily detention is unlawful. False imprisonment (a form of trespass) not only happens when she is caught at a place where she is sexually abused and cannot escape from there but also when she is held in the hands of the accused so as to restrict her movement. Both detentions are unlawful, and therefore constitute trespass.
- It amounts to Verbal Abuse.
Sexism amounts to verbal abuse. Social media is both a boon and bane to the feminist movement. The increasing availability and use of the Internet and social platforms have contributed to the growing occurrences of sexist hate speech. Although the fourth wave of feminism has stressed much on the invaluable support it has gotten from the social media, there have been times when social media platforms have reckoned sexist comments and memes to be “okay” for example, a meme which was in the form of memes like “I may not have x, y or z but I can still win your heart”. Instead, it said, “I may not have the biggest muscles, or the best looks, or the best salary, but I can still rape you.” Memes promoting rape culture have been considered acceptable and okay, but disrespecting someone should never be okay and acceptable.
Section 294 of the Indian Penal Code states “one who does any obscene act in any public place, or sings, recites or utters any obscene song, ballad or words, in or near any public place, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to three months, or with fine, or with both.” Yet so many Bollywood songs that sexually objectify women, and scenes that involve sexist comments have not been taken down simply because they’re a treat to the eyes of the viewer. This shows us that as a society we have developed a high tolerance for verbal abuse and this is not okay.
There are several remarks that, while clearly supportive, somehow still feel incorrect. These remarks may concentrate on the appearance of the author rather than the substance of her writing, or they may show how shocking it is that she is a woman, as her field is mostly filled with men. But do we realize that it was only in the year 2019 that a woman was even given an ‘opportunity’ to play a ‘man’s role’ and head of the Ministry of Defence? Did she disappoint you? No. In order to stop this, we have to see sexism as an institutional issue and we also need to fight the perception that sexism doesn’t exist and feminism is not needed and is a dirty word. We need a global understanding that development is not possible if women are not given a seat at the table.
This is a structural issue and this can only be solved when the structure is revamped because business corporations’ institutions all are responsible for this. Recently, Quartz tweeted “Employers favour men not because they’re prejudiced against women but because they have a perception that men perform better on average at certain tasks.” That is what prejudice is. These views of gender roles, and the socialization that keeps them alive, have led to discrimination against women in public life, as they are often seen as inappropriately defying their assigned gender role.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Pravah Ranka is a first-year student at Gujarat National Law University pursuing BA-LLB (Hons.).