I Don’t Want “Ladies First,” But What’s With These Men?
by Rita Banerji
It irritates me when a man fawningly says “Ladies First!” I find it condescending. As a woman I see myself as perfectly able as any man and see no reason for being singled out that way.
Yet, by the same token I hugely resent the “Men First!” approach that I encounter everywhere in India. While walking on pavements, driving, inside homes, and even in offices. It’s that attitude that says, men are entitled to shove women aside and be served first.
It happened again at the bank yesterday and left me fuming. I had accompanied my mother to the bank and she needed some cash deposited. There was a long queue at the counter, so I told her to sit down and I’d stand in line and do it for her. A man came and stood behind me, and then suddenly moved in front and stood next to me, very close. I knew his intention was to make me uncomfortable enough so I’d step back and he’d move in front of me, or to thrust his deposit slip in front when my turn came. I’ve seen men take this liberty with women too many times. It’s like an aggressive, non-verbal statement of male entitlement. I told him – loudly and firmly, that he was out of the queue and making me uncomfortable, and that there was no way I would allow him in front of me. He did not protest, but stepped back quietly.
Interestingly, the man who got upset was the man at the deposit counter. The sense of male dominion was all over the bank, as it often is in all public spaces in India. There were five counters, all tended to by male bankers. I looked around at the customers, those in the cues and those sitting, and there were about 25 customers, and only 2 of them women. The man at the cash counter looked sullen as he took my deposit slip and cash, and then he put it on the side, clicked on something and then to my surprise reached over for the order of the man standing behind me. Then he started to work on his order, letting mine just sit there. It was that man to man silent pact that says: let’s put this bitch in place.
Needless to say I exploded, after which they hurriedly processed my request. The manager offered some idiotic excuses, which got me angrier, for example apparently he thought he’d finish with this man fast and then do mine at leisure. This behavior was not just sexist, it was unprofessional. “What kind of training are you giving your bankers?” I demanded to know. This is one of those large, private, corporate style banks – the types that have been putting women in the top most posts and shouting ‘women’s empowerment’ from the rooftops. Woman on top is all hogwash! What matters is how ordinary women, women like you and me have to live every day.
So unless all of us women kick up a storm in precisely these kinds of every day sexist interactions, and demand immediate action then and there – nothing will change.
So women, please – Speak up!
Demand your rights!
Do it EVERYWHERE you go.
Do it EVERY single DAY.
Do it at HOME.
Do it in PUBLIC.
Do it at your WORKPLACE.
Remember, your fear and silence gives power to an environment that is horrendously, and shamelessly repressive of women.
ABOUT THE WRITER
Rita Banerji is an author and gender activist, and the founder ofThe 50 Million Missing Campaign to end India’s female genocide. Her book ‘Sex and Power: Defining History Shaping Societies,’ is a historical and social look at how the relationship between gender and power in India has led to the ongoing female gendercide. Her website is www.ritabanerji.com . She blogs at Revolutions in my Space and tweets at @Rita_Banerji