To the right of a woman are people who believe that she should not emerge out of her veiled existence.
To the left of a woman are those who pledge to bestow her with equal status to a man.
To the right and the left of a woman, there are squabbles about her place in the sun.
I am a woman and let me tell you I have a quarrel with people both to my right and left.
Let me first make short dispatch of the people to my right. To them, I would like to simply ask:
“What are you afraid of? Are you scared that if you free the bird from her cage, she will fly away never to return?”
If that’s your fear, let me tell you she might; if she fears you, her oppressor. On the other hand, if your little chick senses that your oppression of her is caused only by blind belief and the desire to protect, she will take wing but will always come back home to roost. Women are like that, you know. They rarely leave the side of the ones that love them.
With that, I will leave people to my right to ponder over what I have just said.
Strangely, I have a larger quarrel with those on my left. But I will get to that in a minute. I first need to qualify my quarrel or run the risk of a horde of feminists, socialists and liberals coming down on me like a ton of bricks.
I think it’s good that there is a worldwide movement towards the goal of gender equality. I think it’s good that issues such as women’s rights are being discussed increasingly. I am delighted with campaigns such as the Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao (Save Your Daughter, Educate Your Daughter) campaign in India. Such initiatives are important in reducing the incidence of female foeticide and raising awareness that women can be productive economic contributors to a family and nation.
That said, here’s why I have a quarrel with people to the left of a woman.
I am a woman and I often feel condescended upon on occasions such as Women’s Day. Celebrations in offices and elsewhere mostly feel like a father giving a daughter an absent-minded pat on the head while all his attention is on his son’s report card.
Perhaps I would feel different if there was a Man’s Day when men received a single rose, a Rs. 10/- Cadbury Milk Chocolate and a card that eulogised their manly qualities. But one doesn’t see that happening, does one?
So, what equality are we talking about here?
I have a similar but bigger issue with award categories instituted especially for women. Why should there be a best actor (female) category? Or, a plethora of Women Business Awards?
An actor is an actor. A businessperson is a businessperson. By separating awards for men and women, what equality are we talking about?
Are you beginning to see why I say I have a squabble with people to the left of a woman?
I don’t think they are doing a woman any favour by continuing to keep her in a category apart from men.
A worse crime is when discussions revolving around Women Empowerment highlight precisely those issues which cast a doubt over a woman’s ability to compete with men in any arena. Yes, I am talking about marriage plans, pregnancy, maternity leave and child rearing.
A few months ago, I was invited to attend a function billed as Fortune India Most Powerful Women debate in Mumbai. I guess the title stemmed from the presence of successful women lined up to discuss the question, “Are Foreign Multinationals More Women-friendly than Indian Companies?”
The evening was fun in so much that the women panellists were spirited and having a great time battling out not so much the question itself but what seemed more a Multinational versus Homegrown culture round. Much to my chagrin though the women-friendly focus seemed largely only on issues such as maternity leave policies. Whereas, I would have thought that a female forum such as this one would raise more serious spectres such as equal pay, growth opportunities and the need to refrain from allowing rooted female archetypes to influence decision making.
The last, that is, female archetypes sums up the problem I have to the right and the left of a woman.
The right will keep her veiled up, barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen.
The left will have her fight but on a turf earmarked for the purpose. The male bastion is still left untouched. Sadly, even the women who have made their way into that bastion continue to see a woman’s marriage and her role as a mother as an obstacle. Here, all I will point out is that these obstacles exist only because the male partner in a marriage and his counterparts in the business world and elsewhere cannot see beyond a framework instituted by a patriarchal society.
Otherwise, the world is replete with stories of women who have shouldered more than their share of responsibility on farms, in homes and in offices. As evidence, I will proffer the fact that there are only two entities women and men alike call on when in acute distress. One is God. And the other is called Mother.
Coming back to the issue of female archetypes in business, I should know what I am talking about after spending most, if not all, my adult waking hours in the corporate world. The issue was something that dogged my heels pretty much right through. Inevitably then, female archetypes is something that I nilly-willy discuss in my book A Dance with the Corporate Ton: Reflections of a Worker Ant. It’s something that two reviewers of my book picked up on pretty much straight away.
In her review, Somali Chakrabarti says, “Having spent a long stint as a corporate professional, I could easily relate with her writing, and I strongly feel that the experiences shared in the book will resonate with many professional women, and offer them many insights.”
Sunaina Bhatia elaborates, “Her being a woman, working at a time when not many of her sex were in the ‘higher’ rung of the corporate world, helps her see the politics of patriarchy at work. The objectification of the female body, the use of heels, her own ‘voice’ that is her succor, are actually ways to control, and employ assets to their best advantage. Bemused over high heels which are an important part of the formal attire, Lata asks, “Or were the confounded instruments of torture designed by devious men and women to keep women off balance and always in their place?“
Like the confounded instruments of torture, heels, many an aspect of the women’s rights and equality movements seem designed to keep women always in their place.
P.S. The image with the blurb “Hmm…she’s not exactly the right advertisement” is one of several illustrations in my book A Dance with the Corporate Ton: Reflections of a Worker Ant. To purchase the book, click here.
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Featured Cover Image: Women’s Equality Day, after Bertha Margaret Boye by Mike Licht (Flickr CC By 2.0)