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Wednesday, June 23, 2021

Gender bias is outdated, but then who cares

It is easy to imagine patriarchy represented by conniving men in suits and ties looking down upon women with a smirk on their faces. But what is the role of women in all this?

Written by Harikrishnan Nair |
Updated: July 11, 2015 12:42:49 pm
partiarchy, india patriarchy, patriarchy in india, feminism india, india feminism, feminism in india, india news,indian express blog, Do women too, at some level, lend support to this narrative that some jobs are just not for women? (Source: ThinkStock)

A couple of months earlier this year, three women made news. Vankadarath Saritha from Telangana became the first ever woman bus driver in Delhi. In another corner of the world, Hillary Clinton decided to contest the US presidential elections and Niloofar Rahmani, an Afghan national became the first female pilot of her country.

Each of them were seen as breaking the gender barrier- a situation where one gender is usually disallowed from practicing in a particular field or is simply blocked from obtaining a position. This affects the cause of women empowerment, increases inequality and thereafter standard of living and quality of life.

In fact, the concern in this area is so great that the United Nations has an agency dedicated to it- UN Women- and promoting gender equality is one of the eight Millennium Development Goals.

A patriarchal society is often blamed for the barrier that prevents women from obtaining gainful employment, chasing her dreams or even a promotion.

It is easy to imagine patriarchy represented by conniving men in suits and ties looking down upon women with a smirk on their faces. But what is the role of women in all this? Do women too, at some level, lend support to this narrative that some jobs are just not for women?

Bias against women by women is surprisingly not uncommon nor unnatural but not obvious.

Even in a matriarchal society such as the one in Kerala, it is common to see mothers drawing the familiar ‘patriarchal’ line for their daughters.

In a paper published in the prestigious Proceedings of National Academy of Sciences, researchers claim that irrespective of their gender, science faculty of reputed universities had a bias for male candidates. This, despite male and female candidates having similar qualifications.

But why isn’t this obvious? Shouldn’t we recognise it?

“It is probably due to the mental conditioning that we received as a child,” suggests Dr Pulkit Sharma, psychologist. “We are brought up with the notion that as a woman, there are certain responsibilities only she can take and which she has to take.”

This sort of conditioning has affected every conceivable form of art. From movies to books, the gender stereotype creates a vicious cycle that enforces and re-enforces it upon the people who consume it. This is then imitated in practical life.

Indra Nooyi, the CEO of Pepsico, revealed this episode with her mother in an interview to David Bradley of The Atlantic last year.

“You might be president of PepsiCo. You might be on the board of directors. But when you enter this house, you’re the wife, you’re the daughter, you’re the daughter-in-law, you’re the mother. You’re all of that. Nobody else can take that place. So leave that damned crown in the garage. And don’t bring it into the house,” her mother had said.

The gender bias that we see today probably worked when people and societies as we know it were still evolving. During those days, it would have been imperative that for the sake of survival, labour needed to be divided among men and women based on mental capacities and physical endurance.

But today, with women’s role increasingly being tied to the increase in almost all fronts such as economy, health care, poverty alleviation and many socio economic programmes, such considerations can only be termed as parochial.

Cultural narratives have even shaped the jobs that women can seek by stereotyping gender.

Women are considered soft spoken, more caring and having maternal instincts. This makes them suitable as teachers, doctors, nurses, house maids, artists and what not.

But a bus driver? A politician? A pilot?

These are considered masculine careers to which women entry is viewed negatively. It comes with a sense of responsibility and strength that the stereotyped woman does not have. In an Indian context, taking up such careers is seen as unfavourable in terms of suitability for marriage which is the gold standard on which a girl and her family’s honour is judged.

The enforcers in such cases are more often than not women themselves.

To bring about diversity, Sebi had directed companies to appoint women directors on their board. According to news reports, promoters of certain companies appointed close women relatives as directors.

This is a typical case of dancing to the tune of patriarchy. And women directors who took the job were merely enforcing the notion that unless you are no ordinary woman without ‘connections’, there will always be a glass ceiling.

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