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8 Mar 2018 | Blog

Musings from Venus—A Collection of Thoughts

Nuvodita Singh

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Of Shampoos and Conditioning<

The first shock came when I ended up right at the back of the line in the ‘privilege walk game’ during ICIMOD’s gender sensitization training. This meant that I’d been more disadvantaged due to a combination of my gender, society, and class than anybody else in that group. Even though while growing up, I was made more aware of the things I couldn’t do than the things I could, I don’t remember thinking that I was more disadvantaged than any other girl—thanks to my ever-so-assertive character. But then again, if you’re a woman with a strong personality, you’re likely to be misconstrued as bossy/pushy/arrogant—as shown in this Pantene ad that I watched in another gender training.

I remember being told by my grandmother when I was a kid, “Ladkiyon ko unchi awaaz mein baat nahi karni chahiye” (Girls shouldn’t raise their voices/talk loudly), as I’m sure many other girls were told as well.  To some extent, this reminds me of the story of the elephant who was chained as a baby. It was so conditioned to being tied down that it didn’t realize it could easily break the shackles as a grown elephant. (Fun fact—Elephants are extremely intelligent beings and are part of matriarchal societies).

Powerpuffs Save the Day!

“…Fighting crime, trying to save the world, here they come just in time, the Powerpuff Girls!”

Source: http://powerpuffgirls.wikia.com/wiki/File:Tumblr_ld6pe3K70t1qd3poio1_1280.png

Humming this heartwarming jingle one morning, the uniqueness and importance of this cartoon suddenly dawned upon me. It was probably the only representation of little girls who could take on the world—irrespective of whether they represented Sugar, Spice, or Everything Nice.

Last year’s movie release Wonder Woman made a statement with a female superhero carrying the weight of the world on her strong Amazonian shoulders—a departure from the representation of women as the princess in distress.

To be able to see someone who may look like you, or may share the same socio-cultural background and its concomitant peculiarities with you, fight their way through challenges and emerge victorious at the end must have tremendous impact, as is evident from the discussion around another recent superhero movie release— Black Panther. You can google why.

Finding Superheroes Around Us

The importance of representation is relevant to our mundane off-screen lives as well. To be able to see women in important positions in the workplace, taking executive decisions, maneuvering negotiations, and closing deals, among other things, provides an ambition for many young girls and women. Personally, it is important for me to not just see women in important positions but also to know that they got there in spite of the challenges that women in our day and age face. It is important to know how they balanced everything, because as Sheryl Sandberg (COO, Facebook) says in her astounding Ted Talk, “success and likeability are positively correlated for men, and negatively correlated for women”.  This is also why sharing of experiences and mentoring by senior female staff is valuable.

The gender gap should be closed within households as well, since it is our upbringing and the examples that our parents set for us that determine a lot of our world view and actions. Mothers, whether working or housewives, are no less than superheroes either.

Time’s up? 

In his book ‘Sapiens—A Brief History of Humankind’, Yuval Noah Harari mentions a fact that baffled me. “Patriarchy has been the norm in almost all agricultural and industrial societies. It has tenaciously weathered political upheavals, social revolutions and economic transformations,” he writes. It is indeed true that our Gods, heads of empires, famous writers, inventors, and even dictators are mostly male.   How did it come to be that across centuries, religions, empires, and across ideologies, this system has persisted?

As Harari articulately questions, “if….the patriarchal system has been based on unfounded myths rather than on biological facts, what accounts for the universality and stability of this system?” And so we must question, what are we doing today that will break this historical and stubborn pattern? And, is it enough?

The good thing about social and cultural ‘inertia’ apparently is that change is easier when change is happening.

The tectonic plates of our world are shifting. Established norms and stereotypes—whether relating to gender, sexuality, nationality, or religion—are all undergoing adjustments. And that makes this a wonderful opportunity to look inwards, reflect, question, and deal with these quakes.

Change is not reserved for men only, but women as well. Whether within the workplace or without, transformational change towards reducing the gender gap will entail more than having changes in policy and law. It will require being mindful of our own actions, every day of every month of every year. Importantly, before we (both men and women) call others out for their lack of understanding, we should look at the (wo)man in the mirror, acknowledge the mistakes that we may be making or the stereotypes we may be promoting (even if unintentionally), and make that change.

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