What I usually do on weekends, when I have a lot of time and feel lethargic, is to roam around with my cyber feet in the world of internet and eavesdrop on what other people are saying (on their blogs). Of late, I started reading a lot of science blogs and from there drifted to women who practiced science and wrote blogs. Almost in each one of them, I encountered a discussion on the ‘sexism’ being experienced or seen at their workplaces. These were mostly American blogs ( I think all of them ).
Now I am not an academician, but I have a huge interest in science. I am also a female and happen to have deep interest in women rights. Topics like these, dealing with sexism and feminism, interest me. They invite me to speak in the cyber world and so, here I do.
India is a country with a huuuuuuuuuge baggage of culture. Some people tend to exalt this cultural load and others try to completely dismiss it. I prefer to take the middle route, which is to choose my pick from the offer on this giant plate.
Position of women, in terms of discretionary rights, has never been much here. Till about 20 years ago, women were largely the submissive housewives who looked after kids. Then, a small wave of change came and at least the urban women started going out and being assertive. With the boom of the IT and related industry more and more young females, who went to colleges, got jobs and got some independence. I am one of those. I went to the top college of the country to study in a field which is dominated by men. When I decided to join this college and the field, the first remarks I heard from every man around me (except my Father, who actually made me take it ) was that I was a fool taking up that subject and that I should drop it and settle for a lesser college. Unwarranted advise came for free. People felt free to give me directions as they desired because I was a young female, nerdy, but obviously not smart enough to make up my own mind.
I have often been a fierce speaker about women’s rights. Sometimes, I concede, I go over the top. But most of the times, it is justified. It angers me more because people refuse to even accept that they have made sexist comments even if unintentionally. Perhaps, I am too fierce. But anyway, this bug bit me since I was in school. There, some boys gave it back to me by proclaiming that a “guy” had topped school when actually his percentage was lesser than mine and in reality, I, had topped the school. They totally, absolutely, refused to accept the simple and harmless and an inconsequential fact that a girl had beaten all the guys in the school to actually top the school. I did not understand this mentality at all. I could not figure out that why would someone hate me so much so as to blatantly un-acknowledge my achievements on my face. Was it because I was a woman and didn’t behave like the coy, sweet, girl next door or because they really hated me? I could never tell.
When I got through a tough entrance exam, I went to share my joy with one of my mentors. He told me that the field I was going to go in was meant for men and I should not be taking it up. He actually said that!! On my face!! I lost all respect for him that day. There was another person, who told me what career I would eventually choose in life and his whole prediction was based on a single fact : me being a “female”. There were others also but they can be ignored. These two can be not and never will be. I am glad that my parents were not affected in the least by any of these remarks and that I take pride in the fact that I was able to judge these ‘sexist’ remarks very early on and was not deterred by them.
When I actually entered the college, I came across such a flood of ‘sexism’ that I hadn’t ever imagined or expected. ‘Girls’, being so few in number, were an item who needed to pleasure the eyes of men, who were so many. Those of us who reached there just ‘got lucky’ while the men-they totally deserved it. Girls, who performed better were so sincere and hard working and ‘favorited’ by the professors and those who performed worse were obviously ‘dumb’ as is their nature. It was an accepted, said and unsaid norm. They just used the guys to perform well in the exams ( I still wonder how) while the poor old boys did all the intelligent thinking and everything. And all this happened where some of the brightest people of my country go ( male and female ), where the first level intellectuals are made. ‘Girls’ were the butt of jokes and whole basis of ‘satirical/comical’ plays being put up in boys’ hostel.
I should take a break here and just put a disclaimer that I absolutely have no problems in one person making fun of another person. It is harmless. I do it myself. But here, the issue is graver. It was a bi annual ritual to insult the girls of the college in boys hostel. I don’t think it is harmless. It is intended targeting and was proudly done so. It was deeply ‘sexist’ in nature. If some one spoke against it, they had to face the ridicule of the whole batch. I should stop getting in detail because there will be too much to chronicle then. The point is, overt sexism was practiced in that institute and some boys even took pride in that. Girls, mostly, did nothing about it. Some of us who did, were an eyesore and anomaly. I thought then, and I think now, that it is very very unfortunate and again I applaud my girl friends who marched ahead with great aplomb without being deterred by these events.
College got over. It is now time to come face to face with reality. I talked about the booming Indian Service Sector. It is a little broad minded. As an employee, my services are valued equally(I think!). Mostly, because I think that in businesses the bottom line is “Revenue” and whoever brings it best will be your ally. So corporations will value those who give them value for money. Sounds fair!! Right? But it is fair on the surface only. The prejudices which have been sown in the minds of men are not so easily eliminated. Are they? The ‘sexism’ is rampant in the behavior. A free spirited girl is a slut, a smoking female is a wastrel and hiring more females is a policy so that the boys are kept ‘entertained’ and ‘motivated’. Lest you not believe me, it is not a made up claim. It was an actual discussion which went on between my ‘male’ manager, my ‘female’ HR and my ‘male’ colleagues. I chose to not participate in it at all.
But even if it is on the surface, the somewhat equality which is there, feels great. I can’t complain. There is sexism but it is not very blatant. It is tolerable for us because we are accustomed to much more of it.
I can’t put my finger on any one factor responsible but there are many which come to my mind explaining this particular behavior of men. One, is of course the deep seated prejudice that boys are superior to girls, in all respects other than child rearing. In the urban educated India, this notion is being greatly modified but some of the chauvinism remains. It angers me!! It angers me so much.
It just does total discredit to a person because she happens to be a ‘she’. To me, it is unacceptable. My colleagues sometimes feel, I am unnecessarily blowing up. I am not. Do I ever say it to them that they are incapable and insufficient, just because they are men. And if I did, on every single step of the way, how would they feel??
And I am not even getting to the men on the streets who very offensively and freely grope women passing by taking them as their property.
Why do they make it so difficult for us to be women? It could easily be sorted. Just let us be people, humans!!