In 1991, India began its journey towards economic liberalization. This long journey has pushed India to now rank 3rd, behind China and USA, in economic growth (as recorded in 2018). A common result of economic growth, observed world over, is gender equality. Indian womxn now find their place at the table as decision makers and leaders. However, does seeing a womxn on the board mean the absences of sexism at the workplace? Sadly, the token womxn on the board does not change the reality that India still struggles with covert and overt sexism. India’s young, educated, modern womxn still encounter widespread gender inequality, and often internalize conservative attitudes toward their social roles. On the contrary, despite the economic growth the gender inequality is growing India and a common evil of this is covet sexism.
Overt sexism is visible/obvious/ blatant forms of sexism.
Covert sexism is subtle sexism which takes the shape of modern sexism. This form of sexism is hidden and unnoticed because it is built into cultural and societal norms.
It is now easier to spot overt forms of sexism, and the Indian Sexual Harassment Act (2013). sets guidelines for safe workplaces and holds the perpetrator accountable. However, it safeguards the interest of only women and no one else. It is also limited to overt forms of harassment. This suggests that gendered language, stereotyping and casual objectifying are often passed. Indian womxn, in therapy, often report unwanted attention, being passed for an opportunity or silenced because of their gender identity. The casual sexism found at the workplace is a reflection of the covert sexism rooted in society in the form of language and culture.
“Chup,” the Hindi word for the imperative “Quiet.” has been recently added to the Oxford Dictonary. That word was chosen, Narayan said, because it has become so ubiquitous in silencing women.
Sexism is dangerous! It robs one of their sense of safety and security. Both are integral for one’s mental health. Covert sexism, especially at the workplace, can make womxn constantly doubt their skill, competence and sense of self. It often pushes one in corners based on their external appearances and stereotypes. Very often womxn in therapy bring to light that they want to viewed as an “expert” and be known for their skill and not because of how they look.
Sojo et. al. in a meta-analytic review of 88 studies with 93 independent samples, containing 73,877 working women. Researchers compared the associations of different harmful workplace experiences and job stressors with women’s work attitudes and health. Results showed that more intense yet less frequent harmful experiences (e.g., sexual coercion and unwanted sexual attention) and less intense but more frequent harmful experiences (e.g., sexist organizational climate and gender harassment) had similar negative effects on women’s well-being. The power imbalance between the target and the perpetrator appeared as a potential factor to explain the type and impact of harmful workplace experiences affecting women’s occupational well-being.
Sexism and gender harassment are just as harmful to womxn’s health. When we are
are the targets of sexism and harassment in the workplace, we are dissatisfied with our work, colleagues and supervisors.
Harmful workplace experiences were independent from and as negative as job stressors in their impact on women’s occupational well-being.
Indian womxn unknowingly live in a constant state of vigilance, watching our backs, be careful of what we say, what we do and what we wear. Being in this state of constant vigilance is fear inducing. Just because it is done by many does not make it okay. The fear to truly embrace who we are and what we want to do is often limited because of the fear of being “slut shamed” or “victim blamed”. The thought of making a choice without the fear of societal repercussion is almost alien to most womxn.
Covert forms of sexism at the workplace threatens a large part of woman’s sense of identity. It is important to note that womxn entering the workforce is still a relatively new concept for India. Womxn are still fighting for their job, not based on competency but based on their gender. When they are questioned or dismissed through covert sexism it often leads to depression, anxiety and complex PTSD. It threatens one’s sense of self-worth and identity. The evils of covert sexism is often dismissed and neutralized with comments as “you’re over thinking”, “you can’t take a joke” or “you’re oversensitive”.
Sojo et. al and their colleagues highlight the damaging impact of covert sexism. It is as trauma inducing as overt sexism is. Making a difference at the workplace begins by a zero tolerance policy, learning to identify covert sexism and being mindful.
About the author…
She believes emotional and mental health care are at the very core of us experiencing happiness in our life. Her qualifications include a Masters in Clinical Psychology and in Counselling and Psychotherapy. Priyanka enjoys working with young adults and understanding life as it changes with intrusions like the internet and the pandemic. Above everything else her true love is homemade chocolate cake.