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OP-ED: Keeping up the fight

  • Published at 03:42 pm July 21st, 2020
Gender equality women men
Photo: Bigstock

Sexism is ingrained in our society, and those who fight it are met with a lot of resistance

It’s no wonder that now and then we get to see content on media, including both mainstream and social media, that are explicitly sexist. We can define “sexism” as society-led perceptions, attitudes, norms, and beliefs based on a person’s sex.

With the digital wave grasping Bangladesh, there has been plenty of opportunities in the areas of information dissemination, communication, employment, and entrepreneurship. However, we often do not speak about how this digitization process also led to a culture of sexual harassment and violence against women and girls. Despite a series of great initiatives from the government of Bangladesh, digital space remains largely unsafe for women.

On the other hand, women and girls who gained access to the digital world are limited to urban and semi-urban areas, and lack digital literacy. We noticed two distinct types of content developed by women that can be connected to the discussion of sexism.

The first category comprises media content that reflects extreme levels of sexism and represents the localized version of being “sexy” and “attractive” as women.

Some of them managed to become satisfying alternatives to night-time “cut-piece” movies (used to run in cinema halls) and used the social media platform to drag the attention of countless male followers.

I noticed another group of women that were already a part of the mainstream media and actively reinforcing sexual stereotypes. In the process of selling the mantra of an “ideal body shape” in the packaging of confidence, they continuously promoted sexism. These women belonged to the upper-middle-class and upper-class of the society, with access to gyms and personal instructors, and capable of affording expensive beauty augmentation surgeries.

Little do they realize that developing and sharing content like this re-establishes the message that there is just one way to be the “ideal” beauty and that’s based on a particular body type. These contents are often endorsed by multi-national companies that sell beauty products. Having these “fashionable, literate, and progressive” upper-class women with visually appealing beauty helps these companies’ product sales get a hike.

In social media, it is “normal” and “cool” to react to digital content that is developed to retain the spirit of sexism. We see people from all socio-economic strata interacting with this kind of content and sharing their opinions through Facebook posts and comments.

If we notice carefully, the mass people’s reactions are often heavily influenced by “conservative” ideology, with a twist of being an active participant in the emerging sexism culture.

Getting overwhelmed by contradictory messaging and behaviour on social media has deeply influenced women’s lives -- either they have to become “iron ladies” (who are in complete charge of their lives), or “sexual pets” obsessed with pleasing men. The big question is -- who benefits from this?

The media seemed to endorse this attitude, belief, and behaviour. A series of recent “hot-selling” stories are reflective of this form of endorsement. Not only have the majority of media platforms applied an extremely sexual lens to explain any allegations associated with a woman, they have also gone above and beyond to shatter anything that the woman may call her “personal space.”

With collective violation of a woman through social media trials, we must realize that we are killing the aspirations of other women and girls to become next-generation leaders. The fact that news and stories like these bring in good “TRP,” the media is unlikely to let go of their obsession with sexism.

MNCs are also not lagging in this race -- they managed to exploit women who are flag-bearers of sexism and made a good profiit out of it. If there is anyone who has been losing out of this political game, it is women -- women who are trying to pursue a career, create identity, lead with examples, and live their lives.

Betty Friedan wrote a book in the 1970s named, The Problem That Has No Name that revealed an utter dissatisfaction of women trying to fit into the standards of patriarchal society. Actions taken by women that justify and reinforce patriarchal norms and values may, in the short-run, benefit a handful of them; however, it will result in miseries for the majority.

We are standing at a point when kindness, passion, respect, and cooperation are needed more than ever. If we continue to validate sexism in our culture and daily life, women empowerment will become a dream only to be fulfilled after centuries.

Duality is inherent in human nature, but let’s not make it as extreme as the way we’re acting now. It’s a hard time and we as a nation have much more difficult challenges to overcome, like an economic recession potentially dragging people back to ultra-poor status.

Ishret Binte Wahid is a development worker and activist. She can be reached at [email protected]

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