“A big part of sexism is gender policing,” says N.K Jimisin, author of The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, about gender policing.
So what is gender policing?
Gender policing, according to N.K Jimisin, is “all the small and not-so-small ways in which society dictates how women (and non-women; point is that this is centered on womanhood) are ‘supposed’ to look/act/think, and punishes them for being different.”
Now, being different can encompass a wide range of things: it could be seen through dress, work, or behavior. In fact, anything that diverts from the prescribed ‘ruling’ for women can result in societal gender policing.
Gender policing can lead to very harmful and damaging effects in a society. A society that believes that women could be ‘punished’ for ignoring implicit rules can lead to gendered attacks with no repercussions.
Girls are told to walk, sit and behave in an appropriate way prescribed by society. They are supposed to dress ‘modestly’ (in the case of countries like India) or ‘secularly’ (in the case of France).
In India, girls are asked to not step out of the house after a particular time, as it is regarded against the norm. She isn’t allowed to talk a certain way and is expected to love ‘feminine’ hobbies like painting and cooking. Yet should she want to do something else, when her choice is taken away, then it becomes enforced and a subset of oppression.
Women who don’t live within these gender roles are subjected to punishment in the form of rape or sexual assault. Strict adherence to these rules therefore becomes mandatory, like imposing hostel curfew regulations. Complaints about assaults are disregarded by law officials, as they look for more ways to blame the victim.
Victim blaming is another method where gender policing is enforced.
The comments made by the state lawyer in the 2012 Nirbhaya rape case are a horrific example. The lawyer for the rapists advocated that the attackers shouldn’t be punished for rape, as it was the victim’s fault for being out so late. He went on to add more demeaning and vulgar statements that re-enforced ideas of male dominance and gender policing.
In another recent rape-murder case, Jisha was failed by her society and the law. The attack was justified by many online, because she ‘knew’ the attacker before the incident. As a result, reports of abuse are often not filed, due to vulgar questions by the police about what the girl was doing at the time of abuse.
Because society refuses to catch up, we are effectively silencing abuse victims, so more and more women begin to police themselves to fit within society’s rules. The cycle continues with an increasing victim count.
Unfortunately, it isn’t just about how a woman behaves (as if that wasn’t bad enough) – it also extends to her physical appearance. Somehow, excelling in a field makes it okay for a woman to be scrutinized under a microscope. Recently, some women athletes came under attacks for being too masculine.
According to writer Katie Matlack, even the runner’s website, Let’s Run, joined by posting a discriminatory post about people with hyperandrogegism. Hyperandrogegism is increase in the presence of testosterone hormones in women. Katie went on to tell how the condition had isolated her as a teenager, because of different body maturation rates and metabolisms.
Organizations like International Olympic Committee (IOC) and International Association of Athletics Federations felt that hyperandrogegism gives an unfair advantage to athletes. In the past, these organizations have sought to push a ban against women with higher levels of testosterone than the preset normal value. However, the ban was put on hold due to a lack of evidence.
Such intense gender policing can lead to damaging effects and misunderstandings of femininity. To cover or not, to go out or not, to work or not aren’t gender-specific choices, they are human rights.
It’s time to stop policing women’s choices, and start protecting human rights.