Gender Shaming, Biases and Vitamin Art

We Need To Talk Gender Shaming

If you were classmates with Miloni in college, you’d like her a lot. You’d probably strike a conversation with her about the scribbled artwork on her desk or the paint stains on her jeans. If you’d failed to notice those, you’d probably bump into her on the corner staircase, scribbling into her small sketchbook.

If you would have then become friends with Miloni, you’d love how chill she was. You would probably bond over cars, especially if you loved the Lamborghini or superheroes or you would probably discuss art and tattoos.

I liked Miloni for who she was and more for being herself despite all of the noise around her.

When I put out Instagram stories for the shaming project I was working on, Miloni sent me a text. She said it had been happening to her for a long time now and she wanted to speak about it in detail.

We finalised a date for us to meet, have a chat and collaborate on what you’ll be reading today. In fact, Miloni has even sketched on the photographs we took that day.

We Need To Talk Gender Shaming

We met at Matunga station and decided to have this conversation over a long walk around that part of town. We walked through parks, in and out of lanes, landed at the seafront and watched local fishermen take their boats from under the sealink. After catching a quick breakfast, we went over to her uncle’s place where we climbed onto a septic tank on the terrace. We took some photos there and spent the rest of the morning catching up on each other’s lives.

Miloni’s story is that of a lot of girls around the world, even more so, in India. Gender bias in India has been seamlessly fit into our daily life. We see patterns of it at our workplace, educational institutions and in our societies. While our generation is quite rebellious and fights the system on many fronts, we are still far away from gender equality.   

On asking Miloni what she thought she was judged for, she told me and I quote, “I was judged for being a girl.”
As we walked around the parks in Matunga, she told me how she had faced a lot of gender shaming. “I think after being born with a particular gender, there are certain prejudices and norms that are set for you. You have to act and behave in a certain way. In India, like so many countries, if you’re a girl, you’re the second gender. We’re judged for the clothes we choose to wear, drinking alcohol, coming home late, having too many friends of the opposite sex. I’ve been questioned for wearing shorts inside the house too.”

What is gender shaming?

Gender shaming, as it sounds, is the kind of shaming that is directed towards one’s gender. Whether you’re male, female or from the LGBTQ community, gender shaming discounts nobody. Whether you call the transgender community as the “third gender” or you feel that it is a woman’ job to cook, gender biases in India have us believing in several structures and frameworks for each gender. There are very strict norms about what is okay and acceptable for a certain gender, not only in India but in many countries around the world. Even in the 21st century, in a world far more advanced than the medieval times, we’re fighting for equal rights every day.

Behave like a girl

We Need To Talk Gender Shaming

“Being a girl in the family means you have to do all of the household chores. The whole concept is highly influenced by patriarchy. Like cooking, taking care of the children, catering to the demands of the men in the family, whether it be for water or a hot cup of tea.”

“I remember once there was a family gathering with all of our cousins, most of whom are older to me and have children. On a messaging group, one of my brothers made a comment saying – the men will sit in the bedroom, the ladies will serve hot snacks from the kitchen and the kids will play outside. To this, someone else added that they expected the womenfolk to be courteous and prompt at delivering hot and fresh eatables. Naturally, I was expected to be in the kitchen with the other women of the family making sure the men and the kids are well fed.”

Miloni’s mother passed away when she was quite young and so when she got into a college in the suburbs of Mumbai, she moved in with her aunt. It is very common that in a typical household the women are responsible for all or most of the chores. However, a lot of modern households try to distribute the chores evenly, or better, create employment for maids.

“I have often wondered that if I was a boy, my responsibilities would have been very different. I would be allowed to sit and order tea, come home late and possibly even wear what I want. Then I wonder if that is what I hope for.”

She recounts an evening when she returned late from a college festival. She got home at 9:30 PM, over exceeding her deadline by an hour. Her aunt asked her to stop attending events and festivals that go beyond her deadline. “She told me that it wasn’t allowed and so I’ve never been to any parties or festivals when I was in college, except for my farewell.”

Equal pay, equal rules and equal responsibilities is the cream of the gender biases in India. There are women everyday who are struggling for basic sanitation, primary education, healthcare and in some parts of the country, their fundamental rights.

Vitamin Art, please.

When I asked Miloni what kept her going, I pretty much teased the answer out of her. “I think I can safely say that my art saved me because it really did. After college ended, I had plenty of time. I wasn’t working for almost a year because I wasn’t confident of taking up a full-time job. I stayed home all day and because I had nothing to do for most of the time, I watched movies and overate. There were days when I was angry at myself and my situation so I started giving myself scars. I don’t know when it happened but I started sketching and putting my ideas on paper. It felt like the only worthy thing to do at the time. There was always something I lacked, whether it was resources or skills but over the years I found ways to do things my way. It was around this time that I accepted art and sketching as my true calling and I started working towards it vigorously.

“When I started sketching, I was scolded at and told that it was a waste of time. They thought of it as a skill women didn’t need for their daily activities. I would cry for hours at a stretch. I was lucky though to have friends who believed in me and my art. They helped me get through it and that kept me afloat.”

Miloni recollects her first days of sketching when she didn’t have a style or even a clue of what was it that she wanted to create. She tells me, “I would sketch my favourite superhero characters and cars. I would Google sketches that were made and try to learn the techniques of shading and rendering from existing sketching. So every day, I dedicated 2-3 hours for this. I had very little to do after college, so I focused on learning to sketch.”

We Need ToTalk Gender Shaming

“I remember this conversation that my aunt had with me about how my sketching was a waste of time because there was no way I could make money of it. She told me how the sketches I made were irrelevant and a waste of time. She even went into the karmic theory that because I was sketching expensive cars that I couldn’t afford, I would, in my next birth, be a fly sitting on the car or a dog who chases it. Never being able to own it. Her words still come back to me, to this day.”

Miloni’s initial artwork was inspired by tribal tattoos. She would do these endless designs on paper, shoes or whatever she could find to make her canvas.

“When I started exploring my skills and moved from pencil work to art liners and then acrylics and ink, I started improving my skills and learning new techniques to express myself. It was the time when Instagram had just become a thing. It gave me a lot of ideas of what people were doing around the world and my friends pushed me to add some of my work on it too.”

Gender Biases In India
The stall “Last Page Doodles” which Miloni set up on campus during a festival to sell her doodle work on notebooks, phone covers and trinkets. She takes a photo with her friends who helped her sell the very last of it.

In college, for a festival Miloni and her friends had put up a small stall. She had doodled on notebooks, mobile covers and made trinkets to sell. “People buying the things that I made was a great boost to my confidence. I felt like my art was being appreciated. I couldn’t have done it without my friends who stood there with me, helping me sell the last of everything. This led to me starting an Instagram account where I would sell sketches on envelopes, art frames and notebooks.”
Whenever I see Miloni, she has something new sketched either on her bag or her shoes or even her clothes. “There are t-shirts, shoes and walls and glasses and mirrors that I have sketched on. It lets me be creative with everything around me and not just a plain, white canvas.”

We Need To Talk Gender Shaming

Whenever I see Miloni, she has something new sketched either on her bag or her shoes or even her clothes. “There are t-shirts, shoes and walls and glasses and mirrors that I have sketched on. It lets me be creative with everything around me and not just a plain, white canvas.”

One of the things I admired about Miloni is that she never gave in to the expectations of the society around her. She was comfortable being the person she was, in her own skin.

Not your idea of a girl

“Everybody told me to “look like a girl”. I don’t understand that phrase. How does one look like a girl? I was told to wear Kurtis and dresses, apply makeup and what not. I’m more comfortable in a t-shirt and so that’s what I wore, always. I continue to wear my t-shirts not caring for whether I looked fat or weird or not appealing.”

We discuss how gender shaming and being judged is mentally exhausting. It is terrible that as women we have to constantly prove our worth and intelligence to stay relevant in what is still a man’s world.

We Need To Talk Gender Shaming

“It is always going to be there, somewhere in the unconscious mind. You have to fight it. Fight all of the negative comments, unnecessary advice and bullshit. People are never going to stop telling, so listen to it but do your own thing. You’ll be afraid and broken but the trick is to still do your own thing anyway. Don’t let anyone decide what you should wear, do or believe for you.

“Gender norms, patriarchy and misogyny are deeply rooted in our culture. There are bigger fights going around the world for equality but you’ll also have to fight the smaller battles every day. It is easy to give up and say that society didn’t let you but find something to thrive on and you’ll do just fine. For me, it was my art.”

If you’ve been shamed for your body type, you should read Parthiv and Priyanka‘s stories.



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