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First Among Equals - Like a Girl?

Updated: Jan 26, 2022

Over the weekend, I watched this show about a premium engineering college in India, IIT KGP and I was taken aback. I believed the more educated people were, the less likely it would be that sexism would find itself nudged deeply in their thoughts. But clearly, I thought wrong, one of the oldest colleges had rampant sexism.

We would all like to believe we have principals and ideals, but context seems to play a pivotal role in the application of principals. For example, most public transport in India has seats reserved for women and the elderly. And most men complain about the same under their breath.

The logic being, if women want to be treated equally why do they need reservations? I wholeheartedly agree with these people, I think there should be reservations for men. The gender ratio of the country is around 47% women and 53% men. We should reserve 53% seats for men, so they don’t need to feel left out.

How do we tackle the feeling of injustice? How do we justify that we deserved it, when it is often true, that the action is based on a diktat from those wanting to enjoy the positive PR.
One among many, odd one out.
Desi women and their fight for equality

The Importance of Context in this Discourse

An incident once narrated to me, captures the essence of equality to me. The general compartment of a train was bursting at its seams with men, they grudgingly stared at the adjoining women’s compartment which had empty seats. Some loudly complained about the same, to which an old woman brazenly replied, “Let women have the same opportunities as men, and then we will see which compartment is empty”. Now comes the role of context. Had it been the other way around, with the women struggling to find a seat and the men sitting in comfort, no one would have complained about the reservations.

In an ideal world, your principles should be unaffected by context, but in the real world, context is everything. As we struggle to put more women on boards of companies, the actions taken to do so are a thorn in the eyes of men, who feel an opportunity has been snatched from their deserving hands to be awarded to those who don't deserve it.

How do we tackle the feeling of injustice? How do we justify that we deserved it, when it is often true, that the action is based on a diktat from those wanting to enjoy the positive PR.

There are 3 ways in which we look at those different from us, and by different, it could be gender, caste, identity choices, affiliations etc.

We either see them as below us, better than us or are equals.

For those who see women as below them, it is a long journey to recovery. But for those who see us as their equal, their pain arises because the rules, said or unsaid, being put in place don’t provide for equality but for privilege.

During placements at XLRI, a premium business school, with no reservations of any kind, one of my batchmates said to me, “ Why do you need to worry, you are a girl, you will get a job!”, I was enraged as to how my entire being was reduced to my gender. I replied, “I have better scores than you, I communicate better than you. I am smarter than you, and the reason why I will be getting a job is because I am a girl?”. Not having words to salvage himself, he walked away. But the inherent truth is, the more we talk about diversity norms, the more we shift the focus from equality to privilege.

The same trend has been seen across the world, when BlackLivesMatter started trending, there were those who said, AllLivesMatter. When we highlight a particular group, however deserving they may be, their rights start looking like a privilege to those that don’t belong to that group. But without calling out an issue, how do we bring to light the plight of the repressed. How do we make what is fair, more acceptable?

Get the Inputs Right

When it comes to gender equality, I would focus on getting the inputs rights, and not the output. Choosing a woman candidate for a job, between two equally qualified candidates may not seem fair to a man. It is, after all a discrimination based on his gender, but ensuring that the candidate list has 50% women, the right input, is fair.

When your team has 50% women, and a woman is promoted, it would be hard to attribute that to gender, the problem arises when the team is 90% men and a woman is promoted. What inputs can you change to tackle racism? If I had to think like a girl, I would go back to what the old woman said, focus on equal opportunities.

Focus on the input and there would be no need to define the output.

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