A day or so after Meghan Markle and Prince Harry’s Oprah interview released, we came across this tweet:
To give you some background – Meghan Markle shared in the interview that when she was pregnant, there were concerns at The Firm about Archie’s skin colour, you know, since his mom is biracial.
When we saw that tweet, of course, we livid, and while we don’t endorse Twitter wars, we were compelled to point out the benevolent sexism in Gabbar Singh’s comment:
Gabbar Singh’s tweet is representative of how many men in our country think. It comes from a need (or conditioning?) to protect women from the harsh realities of life. While on the surface, benevolent sexism sounds positive and friendly, it reinforces damaging stereotypes. In this particular case, Gabbar Singh’s claim that Prince Harry shouldn’t have shared the information with his wife propagates the following ideas:
- That it is okay for a husband to withhold information that directly impacts the wife and their child
- That a woman in not equipped to handle others speaking ill of her
- Upholding the family unit is more important than honouring a woman’s self-respect
The idea that a woman needs to be protected is used as a reason to withhold all sorts of important information. In many families, finances are handled solely by men, while women are provided with zero financial literacy. This keeps women dependent on the men in the family, whether that’s the father or husband, or brother, or son. Another example of withholding information because of benevolent sexism is men not sharing work stress with their partners because it’s not for the woman to deal with. This is especially true for families where women are homemakers or mothers.
In one of his tweets, Gabbar Singh also points out that it was wrong of Prince Harry to break the news to Meghan Markle while she was pregnant. He writes, ‘pregnancy is a time of great emotional upheaval.’
This one statement is so problematic at so many levels that we don’t even know where to begin. Pregnancy sucks, yes. With all the physical changes happening in the body, it is a lot for a woman to take. But, it’s no reason to infantilise a woman and keep her from pertinent information. Isn’t it ironic how we, at once, expect a woman to bear the responsibility of raising another human being, and treat her as not strong enough to handle the truth?
What exactly is benevolent sexism?
According to Glick & Fiske, benevolent sexism refers to “attitudes about women that seem positive in tone but nonetheless connote inferiority to men based on fragility, lack of competence, or need of help and protection.”
Below are some examples of benevolent sexism:
- Not teaching women how to manage everyday tasks at home like changing a light bulb, using a tool box, working the electricity meter, etc. This, instead of taking the load off women, keeps them dependent on men.
- Hiring drivers for women instead of teaching them to drive themselves.
- Telling a woman that she’s the better parent only because she’s a woman.
- Making it the woman’s responsibility to uphold relationships in the family.
- Glorifying ‘maa ke haath ka khaana’ as if ‘baap ke haath ka khana’ is poison!
- Believing that women are more organised and neater, and abating the man of any responsibility of the upkeep of the house.
- Expecting women to be more understanding and forgiving, because women are naturally nurturing and compassionate
When we box women into traits and characteristics we regard as ‘feminine’, we rob them of the choice to explore who they really are. Take the trope: ‘Women have a natural maternal instinct.’ Hell, no! Many women don’t have a maternal instinct. Our ovaries don’t turn green with envy when we look at someone else’s baby. We have to learn how to feed a baby, what to do if it cries, and how to change a diaper. And no, not all of us love our kids unconditionally! When we extol the virtues of motherhood, we end up placing the larger chunk of the responsibility of raising a child on the mother’s shoulder. This is how benevolent sexism harms a relationship.
But a couple don’t have to be parents to fall into the rifts left behind by benevolent sexism. Playing up feminine qualities of a woman, and masculine qualities of a man, keeps the power dynamic of a heterosexual relationship greatly skewed. Women continue to take care of the men, and men continue to not be emotionally inaccessible. While women bear the load of emotional labour in a relationship, men continue to feel that they must be protected. Even if that comes at the cost of honesty and candour.
I write. I read. I do yoga. I hula hoop. I love cats and dogs in equal measure. I'd say the same for wine. My zen motto: "Eat kale for the body, cake for the soul." Find me on IG: @prachigangwani87