Have you ever walked into a room full of people and greeted them with ‘hey guys’? It is assumed using the term ‘guys’ means no harm, but there is. Referring to people as ‘guys’ while there are women is considered sexist. While some women may be comfortable being addressed with what has been accepted as a gender-neutral term, it might not be acceptable to everyone.
Casual sexism is said to be anything that involves treating a person in a discriminatory way because of their gender. It could be in the form of a harmless joke, and can even stretch into serious forms of harassment. Sexism manifests itself in different spaces and often, some people do not know that it is sexism. At the workplace, this can have serious implications. Sexism in the workplace can range from assigning gendered work by asking women to clean the area where everyone in the office just had lunch, or being overlooked for a promotion because the woman in question is pregnant. Sometimes, sexism is hidden in jokes, where one’s boss asks you to make him tea but with a woman’s touch. Inappropriate jokes that tend to make a person of one gender uncomfortable pertain to casual sexism that seeps into our daily lives, unfortunately.
Sexism is often said to exist because of patriarchy and its seeds have been sown right from childhood. It was often seen through how doing dishes was said to be a woman’s job and that men are not allowed to cry when they are hurt because ‘they are not girls’. As such, it is important to note that women aren’t the only ones who suffer because of patriarchy. It harms men too. By shaming men for being sensitive to saying that they are not man enough if they show their feelings, these are all signs of sexism. We need to acknowledge that patriarchy doesn’t help anyone, not the victim, and certainly not the perpetrator. Patriarchy tries to hold people to a standard, an abysmal one at that. By not allowing people to exhibit their feelings, you are limiting how they behave and interact with each other. It makes them feel less of a human being and that is not what we want the boy child to grow up feeling. Men need to be allowed to feel and express their emotions without being called a little girl or evaya because they are sensitive.
We need to stop reinforcing the patriarchal rules and change the language we use every day. Encourage language that makes everyone feel good about themselves. People should be made aware of gender stereotypes, talk about their ill effects openly and work towards eradicating them. Women should be vocal about patriarchy, call out instances and find male allies who are willing to make the effort.
• Frieda Mukufa’s lifestyle section concentrates on women-related issues and parenting every Friday in the New Era newspaper. She also specialises in editing research proposals, proofreading as well as content creation.