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I Don’t Want “Ladies First,” But What’s With These Men?

July 23, 2014

woman washes mans feet

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!

Take action!

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.

© The 50 Million Missing Campaign. All Rights Reserved. To cite, please see ourcopyright guidelines.

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

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7 Comments leave one →
  1. Sara permalink
    July 25, 2014 9:59 pm

    So true! I’m sorry for your frustrating & hurtful experience. The way you handled it was really wonderful! Wish all of us had the same courage
    Yeah, the man-to-man-silent-pact is also true. These types (which are unfortunately way too numerous than fully evolved civilized human men) are “pack-hunter animals” like wolves & heynas, and display the pack-mentality or mob-mentality. You can easily notice that their bebaviour closely matches with that of wolves/wild dogs/other such pack-hunter predators in many ways. The main difference is that while those wild animals gang up & hunt other species for their prey, including stronger species, these reverse-evolved human packs are capable of attacking only the females of their own species.

  2. Theresa permalink
    July 27, 2014 6:29 am

    Well done Rita! Many women encounter this kind of behaviour in public spaces but most do not say anything for fear it will be seen as aggressive and ‘unfeminine’.

  3. July 29, 2014 12:29 pm

    It’s so true what you say about companies and especially political parties giving a few top jobs to (carefully selected) women and calling it job done on equality, when ordinary women are struggling with inequality all the time still. This happens even in ,enlightened. western cultures.
    Also with the Ladies first thing, I agree about that too, what most women want is to be treated with human dignity and the same respect given to a man, I personally don’t want a man to make a special effort to open a door for me, but also I don’t want it slammed in my face as he’s going through first. If he wouldn’t do that to another man why should he do that to a woman?

  4. July 29, 2014 1:36 pm

    Reblogged this on Love versus Goliath : A Partner Visa Journey and commented:
    This is a brilliant illustration of why the battle for gender equality is not yet over – not by a long shot. Many of the women on Twitter using the #womenagainstfeminism hash tag never experience this in their lifetime. This article should be shared far and wide. Please visit Rita to read the complete article.

  5. July 29, 2014 2:28 pm

    I can understand you, that you don’t like those methods of taking contact in public…

  6. Monistaf permalink
    August 22, 2014 2:44 am

    Rita – It goes both ways. At the luggage drop off line after web-checkin in Mumbai airport, I patiently waited for about 10 minutes for my turn. I was the next in line when this lady walks up and stands right in front of me. I politely reminded her that we are all in line and all she says is that she has an early flight. I told her that if she had just asked, I would have allowed her to go before me but she just simply cannot barge in front of me and has to wait her turn. She ignores me, checks her cell phone and as soon as a counter was available, she rushes in. I too went up to the same counter and complained to the person behind the counter that I was in line before her and I insisted that she service me first. The lady looked up and down at me with a smirk on her face. I dropped off my luggage and stood in line at the security line. She gets serviced next because none of the other men wanted to challenge her. Then, she walks straight up to the front of the men’s security line with the same excuse that she is late for her flight. Again, no opposition. She would not dare to do that with the ladies line because they will not let her. She ends up on the same flight as me!!

    • August 28, 2014 11:26 am

      This is opportunism which this woman may have pushed through with but most women won’t. The issue of aggressive male occupation of domestic and public space, which at times is threatening and unsafe for women in India is a very serious issue we cannot ignore or downplay. It extends from men and boys given priority with food and eating at home, which results in major anemia and undernourishment for women and girls, right up to sexism, sexual harassment and other sexual assault on women in public places. We hope you recognize the issue that is being addressed here.

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