>Being Female!

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I was quite stirred by an article called “Unwanted daughters” by Harsh Mander in the Hindu Sunday Magazine dated 29th August, 2010  on a major recent study done on female feticide in India by Action Aid India and International Development Research Centre, Canada. 

The article among  disturbing facts like methods of killing the female child, neglect, illegal connivances of doctors and nurses, etc also talks about some interesting explanations cited up by the study that they believe perpetuate this evil norms in India.  The explanations talk about the paradox that how some of the progressive policies of the Government such as inheritance rights for women, higher age for marriage, etc make them much more of an economic burden to the families as further expenditure on the girl and any property owned by them would only benefit the husband’s family after marriage as also that the woman’s physical capabilities like child bearing, productive abilities, caring abilities become the property of the husband’s household.  Hence the article goes on to say that the female feticide is taking place  more out of economic and material reasons rather than a desire for make child over female ones. 

The articl  then goes on to suggest as to how only through long term social reforms such as society changing their view of women, parents willing to live with their daughters in the old age, stoppage of dowry and other practices and enhancing the social and economic power of women within families can bring about any changes in this most heinous  and inhuman practices in our society. It also brought the fact to the fore that some of urban areas and the educated class are also very much part of the female feticide trend. 

After I read the article, I was with two contradictory emotions, one was of understanding and some empathy for the families who were killing their female infants (understanding and empathy would not tantamount to supporting them) and the other was a slight hopelessness and shame as to whether our society will ever be able to look at itself differently and even if it does, how will it take for us to bring any changes in these customs and how aware are we, the so called educated and progressive part of the society which has at least in paper, the capacity to influence positive social reforms through activism, practice and awareness. 

While pondering over these, I also thought another incident that I was a part of in the recent past. 

I was working with a multinational organisation where large number of men and women work together.  The group that I worked with had the following demographic data: their average age is between 25 to 35, average education qualification ranges from postgraduate to MBA from prestigious institutions, most of them come from middle or upper middle class, most of them live in metros and have lived there for most of their lives, their take home salaries range between Rs. 15 to 30 lacs per annum.   The group had about forty percent women and sixty percent men. 

While working with this group, a particular narrative triggered off a question for them to explore the psychological status given to femininity in the organisation and we suggested that perhaps the status given to females and femininity in the minds of people (both men and women) were lower than the masculine traits and qualities.  This created a furore in the group and many of them, especially some women were outraged that we could even hint at a possibility like this in their organisation context, while some others agreed with the hypothesis.  

During a subsequent dialogue some of them argued that they never experienced any discrimination either during their growing up years nor do they experience any discrimination in their work places.  What was hard for them to understand that even if they did not personally experience this differentiation, that there was a strong possibility of its presence in their organisation context and that it was probable that they themselves would be blind to their own biases and prejudices.  The data that they presented in the context of the workshop, however, pointed towards a generally held psychological bias more towards masculine attributes and qualities as more desirable as compared to feminine attributes and qualities.  The argument presented to them was that since both men and women would possess both masculine and feminine attributes in themselves, whether it was worthwhile for them to explore whether such a bias existed in the group and the repercussion of it in their work context.  

This has been my experience in not only this organisation but in working with groups both within a work context or outside, that while most  people  condemn the overtly displayed patriarchal norms of unjust and  inhibiting practices, they often remain blind to their own biases and prejudices.  Most do not take into account that most of us in the world today are products of the patriarchal culture, values and norms and that our belief system, biases, assumptions and practices would be highly impacted by the super structure of the context.  Hence injustice towards  anyone who is weak in the eyes of the powers that be in any context when happening somewhere else, is easier to condemn but when it is happening within me or in my personal context by me towards others, or vice versa or towards others, we are often blind to it. 

If I were to talk about myself, I became painfully aware of my own biases towards femininity when I was looking at strong biases held by people and by me shortly after the 26/11 incident in India.  It is in my blog post called “Communalism Revisited” (http://sharbori21.blogspot.com/2008_12_01_archive.html).   

I believe that today being female is not just about having a strong voice, opinion, capabilities, competence, financial power, status and power, but also about being self reflective, being sensitive to the larger context and towards oneself, having a sense of respect towards self as well as towards others irrespective of their social class or milieu and above all, living with a sense of conviction, commitment and responsibility towards oneself and towards the context, and living with this question: How do I wish to live? What is the quality of life that I wish to build around myself and around others, what responsibility do I have towards the larger context and finally what am I owing up and what am I disowning?

And needless to say the same argument holds true for men as well but I believe women of today need to be more aware of what is happening within as much as they need to be aware of what is happening outside.  

What has been your experience?  I would be interested to know and be happy if you share.  🙂

woman, mother, thinker, citizen of the world, curious and hopeful about the world, generous, opinionated, argumentative, insightful, intuitive, psychotherapist, executive coach and organisation consultant

10 thoughts on “>Being Female!

  1. >my experience has been something along the lines of damned if you be, and damned if you don't. the social and perhaps even instinctive feminine attributes which include a certain sense of empathy, softness, nurturance etc. while being valued in family, home and interpersonal relationships; are never taken seriously in other contexts like competitive work places.as an example, there is a relationship manager in a certain bank who i have casually met for some work few times. most of the time he explains things to me in a manner which suggests that as i am a young female my experience of banking would be limited. once i went to the bank dressed in slacks, formal shirt, wearing glasses and carrying a folder of documents. while my knowledge of banking matters was pretty much the same, the attitude of the manager shifted slightly. aside from the snide comment that 'now you look like a proper executive'; i could sense that he took my queries seriously. my sensing has been that most women who work in such situations need to split their selves in two sides for both contexts. one, where they need to appear firm, opinionated, decisive and self-sufficient to be taken seriously by colleagues and bosses and other where they need to appear tender, soft, adjusting, tolerating and nurturing for families and relationships. neither one side in it's particular context is appreciated in the other context. as a result a slack wearing, bossy looking woman is generally not appreciated or desired for home environments. it's also that we as women tend to equally look at this the same way. i would take a self-assured, firm and competent looking woman a lot more seriously than a soft-spoken one. it is perhaps like an inbuilt bias. the need for self-awareness, responsibility, respect is a necessary and difficult path for women; perhaps because in our society women are conditioned to first think of others and then think for themselves. even today i come across women who feel shame in putting their own needs first instead of their families'. i also feel that respect is something that we constantly seek from others rather than look internally for it. this is a very insightful post 🙂

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  2. >Thank you, Sharbori and Antara for your sharing your experiences and reflections. I think demonising the 'other' is easier than having to accept the demons within ourselves, sexism – as a counter to patriarchy – is easier than owning up to the genderisation we have been through as men and men, as achievers and failures by the paradigm.I think disciplines and spaces that nurture self reflection are expensive and therefore little invested upon. Governments and civil society look for ways of dealing with the demons, and therefore try to identify faces of these demons, persons that are the faces of such demons, vilify them, chastise and stigmatise them. I am not sure whether this will change. I suppose we are, as a society, in a transitionary phase. I find it exciting to belong to these times where in the midst of hopelessness, there are strands of courage and vigour which people are evoked by, and respond to. And technology today makes it possible for people scattered geographically to connect, resonate, reflect and align – and make choices more decisively for themselves. That's what brings hope.

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  3. >@Roop- Thank you. I share your hopefulness about hope! That's the only thing we have toay.on your comment about "disciplines and spaces that nurture self reflection are expensive and therefore little invested upon" i have to say that self reflexivity while is a practice and can be learnt at spaces which help you to do so, it is not all that absent in our daily mundane everyday life. It is the idea of "self reflexivity" as alien to our process of looking at self that we need to battle with, not so much about learning it. to give you an easy example, i learnt not to take the print news as the "ultimate truth" by listening to other people and their experiences of daily, mundane day to day living experience. My point is more about people preferring to "a wish to believe" rather than we can actually "see". and while we do so, whether we really "see" for itself?

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  4. >Sharbori – you put this across so beautifully . Working in a male dominant organisation I have during the years been very successful in repressing the feminine side of me in an attempt to be one of the guys, which I am . However somewhere down the way I seem o have lost out on a softer side at work . I find myself being very aggressive with people in my worksphere and in other places like banks where I have noticed that men have a habit of talking down unless you put them very firmly in their place . This aspect is very disheartening given the numbers of women who work in banks and it is the younger ones who have this tendency.As for myself I would prefer interacting with women who are confident and self assured as persons and not overtly aware that they have to be women first and persons later .

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  5. >@eve's lungs- Thank you and nice to hear from you after a while. If you look at the situation that you have described then you will notice that work place almost never ever threw up a feminine model of management the world over and hence both men and women at work place adopted the masculinity dominated behavioural model; and you were no exception.today, the overt masculinity has given space to subtle supposedly "intellect" oriented masculinity where any emotionality is looked down as a burden. Actually emotionality is often confused with sentimentality.As a result organisations then have to invest for "emotional intelligence" and that is the irony.

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  6. >You're so right – but I find that emotions play a big role – one cannot work without being emotionality and as you rightly say it is confused in a very wrong manner with sentimentality . Anger is a very potent emotion as is dislike and both impact professionals in the worksphere .

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  7. >@eve's lungs – 🙂 actually unless emotions are owned, our intellect remains a dry analytical process, on the other hand, without a tampering of intellect and rationality, emotionality can degenerate into downright discharge and sentimentality.you are right about anger – it is a very potent emotion and how we use it is the key and to not discharge it like wasted electricity. 🙂

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  8. >Sharbori, a very poignant post. a very thought provoking one. I am writing a series of posts on women issues these days on my blog. And sometimes, I am made to understand that the biases I am talking about do not exist. Or it is more of a story than truth. I felt that. I think sometimes, even women donot understand what they are being subject to.

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  9. >@restless: i think one of the mistakes that we often make is that we believe it is only men who operate out of the patriarchal norms and values and women are either protesting or are hapless victimes. In my experience both men and women are all of these plus both are also perpetrators of the same cruelty and insensitivity towards others as well as what I call as "sleeping beauty" – where ignorance or being blind is "bliss".

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