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Of Unequals and Unequality

Be quiet, speak softly, don’t argue, never answer back, don’t laugh loudly, girls from good families don’t hang out with boys……’Koi Shaadi Nahin Karega’ (no one will marry you) because you are ‘bindaas.’ Almost every girl from a young age in our culture goes through the pressure of looking and behaving in a certain way that is acceptable to our society. And this develops a certain belief system which influences how we think about ourselves and others and how we must behave and present ourselves.

When we look around, we see several well- dressed, educated women around us and it does make us believe the world has changed. Believe me, these are external changes which are quite misleading, because on the inside we have not changed much. And, let me tell you why I believe so. In a recent party, I overheard her saying, ‘I am not drunk, I am intoxicated by you.’ I think this was the funniest pickup line I had ever heard after college. She was surely flirting on purpose in the hope it would lead to conversation. Some of my friends caught her wink at him and all of us were a witness to how uncomfortable he was with her advances.

Even today when a woman wants to be bold and shows interest in a man or makes the first move in her relationship with a man, its still a big taboo. Often, we make fun and tag such women as ‘desperate or morally loose’ because it is unusual and not in line with our belief system. We have grown up learning it is the man who must take the lead when it comes to making the first move. Since we have got years of good girl conditioning, we are troubled to see in her what we have not permitted to ourselves, we become judgemental whereas we all at some point of time would have seen men openly flirting with women. I wonder if men around them also feel morally bounded for their friend’s action the way we women feel.

Most of us fear having progressive discussions like this in our peer group, but it is only when we step out of your comfort zone, we will grow. Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook may wear jeans and T-shirt to work but has anyone seen Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook dressed like that. This shows women are mindful of managing their image and understand how it will be viewed by others despite being equally talented. In 2019, Mckinsley and LeanIn surveyed employees and they found that for every 100 men getting their first promotion, only 72 women are promoted. The number one reason for this difference was the assumption of some leaders that men have more potential than a qualified woman. The second reason was woman are not given the same support and guidance from senior leaders. Men support men and help each other in climbing the corporate ladder whereas women feel underappreciated. Last but not the least visibility plays an important role in one’s growth. For men, self-promotion is an accepted norm whereas if a woman is a self-promoter, she is seen as violating the norm of female passiveness and being humble. This means she knows the importance of visibility but chooses invisibility to avoid backlash from men.

Now let us look at the business community. In 2018, Singh and Sebastian, in their state-wide study of Gujarat found that women’s connection to entrepreneurship was mainly through the business occupation of their father or relatives. Even when these women are included in business, they are not seen as potential successors but are there by virtue of being born in the family. And, now let us look at the global level. Surveys have found that women tend to start businesses with much less available capital than men and they aren’t even taken seriously when pitching to investors. Surprisingly, studies have found that businesses led by women deliver more returns in comparison with those founded by men. You look anywhere around you, when great businesspeople are portrayed, you will see pictures of Steve Jobs, Jeff Bezos or Bill Gates. If we also include in these pictures of Arianna Huffington, co – founder of Huffington Post, Falguni Nayar, Founder of Nykaa and Kiran Mazumdar Shaw, founder of Biocon. This will change the perception of society in general and of investors that success does not come a specific gender.

Let us look at Indian cinema which I consider as one of the biggest industries and an interesting space to understand the changing role of woman in India. The fate of women in Indian cinema is always decided. We all know the character of Radha (Jaya Bahudari) in the movie ‘Sholay’. She played the role of a daughter-in-law, a widow living but not communicating with anyone. She is shown in a white sari, almost invisible to the villagers but visible to Jai. I still wonder, had Jai survived would Radha carve a new future for herself by marrying him. Above all, how would Thakur and the villagers react to it. There was another movie ahead of its time’ Prem Rog’ which showed woman have as much right to happiness as any man.

I am sure many of you would remember the movie ‘Lipstick under Burkha’ which was declared ‘unfit for release in India’ whereas it had won several awards internationally on its screening. The Central Board of Film Certification led by a male chauvinistic board found the movie ‘too lady oriented.’ I believe the movie was too vocal about the real issues of several women around us

These are sensitive subjects that have simmered under the surface for centuries and as a society we are still uncomfortable listening to women’s issues. This needs deliberation to find ways to change mind sets. Art is one way of one way of doing it as it holds the mirror to society and shows what’s happening around us. Eventually, it gives people a chance to reflect on that and possibly bring in changes. Another way that comes to my mind is celebrating the triumph and success of women around us. Let us ‘lift’ each other up. We can start with a kind word, a helping hand and by appreciating every woman you meet from this moment onwards. Let us reverse the cliché ‘ women don’t support other women.’

Let us affirm to celebrate both our differences and similarities, create a relationship of trust, love and companionship

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