That Sexist Condescendence

Note: I wrote this post last year, only now I found the time to finish it. A bit outdated it is.  

A couple of weeks ago when everyone was talking about Brexit, I came across an article listing down a few things about the British Prime Minister who was then stepping down post-referendum. That article reminded the readers of one incident when he was recorded giving a ‘sexist and condescending remark’ in the House of Commons by saying ‘Calm down, dear’ to one female MP.

Of course, that, to my ears, sounds truly sexist and condescending, no matter how he defended what came out of his mouth.

And that made me recall one particular moment in my previous life as a career woman that made me feel equally angry if not more.

It happened two years back, when I was invited to attend an internal interview with the HR department of the company I worked for, after being selected into their so-called Talent Programme. The truth was I hadn’t been in an interview for a long, long time and might have been severely under-prepared (partly because nobody knows about that interview and what it was about,  being a new programme and all).

So I had this 30 minutes interview with this particular HR personnel, an HR guy with warmth that I could barely detect, and that particular session saw me fumbling for answers over questions. I’m not going to dwell on that, but I could remember how irritated I was to keep hearing: ‘Listen, lady, ….’. He kept using the word ‘lady’ over and over again it got to my nerve. The first time I heard him saying that, I felt like punching his face and leave the room in an instance. I hadn’t feel that way for quite some time, so it left me puzzled as to why I was that angry.

But now that I am reminded of that feeling upon reading that article on Brexit, I know why I was annoyed: He chose to use that word in my moment of weaknesses and self-doubt and it made me feel like my being a woman was being pointed out as a reason. I worked for male bosses all my working life and never once they made me feel that way. I wonder why that HR guy did that, if he said those lines out of habit because he thinks they make him sounds cool, or because it made him sound more English (he said them lines in an accent which, well, annoyed me but not as much).

In a work setting where my capability is the one at play, I need no reminder of my gender. Or to be really honest, in most settings no one needs to be reminded of the gender, implicitly or otherwise. I am not saying that I am free of such sexist judgment or gender-conditioning myself. Years of being fed with such fallacies certainly made some marks on my psyche, but now that I have children – a girl AND a boy – I realise that there is an urgent need for me to unlearn so many things or I risk being unjust to them both, and by doing so limiting their potential.

Yes, being politically correct can be tiring (and at times sounds utterly ridiculous) but we have seen enough as a society that words can kill.

Words certainly can.