Image used for illustrative purposes only. (Photo | Pixabay)
Image used for illustrative purposes only. (Photo | Pixabay)

Stereotypes that define glass ceiling or gloss over them again

Stereotypes influence our thoughts and actions towards others, leading to discrimination and exclusion.

A day after the 77th Independence Day, the Supreme Court released the ‘Handbook on Combating Gender Stereotypes’, which lists words and phrases steeped in gender stereotypes and cautions judges against using them in court orders. At the handbook launch, Chief Justice of India D Y Chandrachud cited several offensive words used for women in past court judgments. “These words are improper and have been used for women in court judgments. This handbook’s objective is not to criticise those judgments or doubt them. This is just to underline how gender stereotypes are perpetuated inadvertently.” He writes in the foreword, “Even when the use of stereotypes does not alter the outcome of a case, stereotypical language may reinforce ideas contrary to our constitutional ethos. Language is critical to the life of the law.”

Stereotypes influence our thoughts and actions towards others, leading to discrimination and exclusion. While lauding the Supreme Court for taking this first step towards ending gender insensitivity in the judicial system, it is still to be seen whether it would correct societal attitudes towards women and sexual minorities. A society that strongly believes that women are responsible for inviting abuse upon themselves and should be thrown out of the house—or divorced for bearing a female child—has to travel light years even to start reading into the patriarchal propaganda that has thrived through generations at the cost of the woman. The list of stereotypes is long and jaded, like the minds which keep them alive: A woman’s success cannot be her personal achievement.

A woman army officer cannot be deployed at the border areas for fear of being kidnapped or abused by the enemy. A girl has to dress up in a certain way to protect herself from being teased and violated. A girl cannot turn down a boy for fear of being killed or maimed. A woman’s final house is her marital home, whether or not she is safe there. A widow has to surrender her right to dress in colour and cannot stitch her life back together when her husband dies. A female foetus has no right to be born….

While the handbook aims to help judges discharge their responsibilities with a greater commitment to the constitutional ethos, society needs to look inwards, question the status quo and be honest about how it perceives a woman’s identity beyond her clothes. Women’s safety has been a ‘non-achievable priority’, and this continues to haunt our criminal justice system.

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The New Indian Express