Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Gender this world

It is increasingly apparent to me that we are no longer living in the so-called man's world. I have traditionally never ever believed in the existence of a man's world as I always thought that the world is composed of two main genders - male and female. More than anything else, my belief that both genders are equal has always been grounded in the fact that all of us enter this world with nothing and leave this world with nothing. Hence, none of us has any right to proclaim that it is a man's world or a woman's world. I still continue to maintain my theory that it is an equal world, in my humble opinion, at least!

However, a number of events that I have observed over the last few years has made me think again about this equality theory that I hold. I am beginning to see enough evidence that the world is far more vocal about atrocities to a woman, than it is to a man. I see cases reported in the news of manhandling of girls, rapes, divorces, and many other atrocities. Those are atrocities that even I would condemn, irrespective of which part of the world it happens.

But, the change in gender bias that I am referring to is more subtle. It is not direct. It appears beneath the surface, so to speak. One has to dig deep to see how people have begun to change their behaviour towards any semblance of nuisance caused to girls. For example, the latest outburst by Sania Mirza that she has been treated by the AITA as a commodity in the selection of teams for the London Olympics is a case in point. I have seen tennis players, sports journalists, television actresses & socialites (with no tennis credentials) and others appear on national television to determine whether what Sania said to the AITA was right or not. That too, in light of her move after she received confirmation of her wild card entry into the London Olympics 2012 next month. She was silent all these days, when the imbroglio between Mahesh Bhupathi and Leander Paes consumed prime time television.

I found the national debate on this Sania outburst, extremely biased. Why should we support her statement of being treated as a commodity, when nobody ever talked about any bias when Leander and Mahesh were slugging it out in public last week? Everyone talked about national pride & putting the country before everything else in the Lee & Hesh imbroglio. And now, when we see an outburst from Sania Mirza (in her words of being treated as a commodity), why are we not placing the same metrics in front of her i.e. national pride & representing India at the Olympics? Why do we have to talk about gender bias, feminism et al? Why can't the equality I referred to earlier, apply? Why gender? Talk tennis preferences, talk sporting favouritism, talk politicking, I will buy that. But, I certainly don't buy this sensationalism of gender in the entire equation. In my humble opinion, it is unwarranted.

The above case may be quite distant from the circle of influence in my life, in the context of this subtle gender bias. So, let me refer to things that I have seen, where I have observed this 'below the belt gender bias' that shifts gears, rather, flows with the tide. For example, when a guy dumps a girl, it has long been considered man's ego and the age-old way of men treating women. But, when the same treatment of being dumped is meted out to a guy (by a girl), I have observed that the support that the girl receives is potentially far greater than what the guy does. There are support systems that are created for the girl (when she dumps the guy). The guy is blamed, even if only figuratively, of not handling the situation. The guy is told that he was not good enough for the girl. The girl suddenly achieves cult status in terms of the clout she enjoys. Works in her favour. Boosts her ego. Not too many people necessarily even provide the guy with an opportunity to voice his viewpoint in the entire equation. In extreme cases, the guy is deserted and left to fend for himself (emotionally & socially). The girl moves on in her life & the same support system that was once available to both the guy & the girl, completely migrates to the girl's camp. It is never apparent in the first instance, but becomes gradually visible over time. Why does gender have to come in? Is the guy any less devastated than the girl (when she dumps him)? Or, is the girl any more devastated than him (when he dumps him)? Why bring in bias at all? Devastation is devastation. More so, if one is a victim, and the other is the originator of such pain (be it a guy or a girl). Why introduce subtle gender bias in the conundrum of devastation, which in itself is tough to handle?

Another example of this subtle gender bias - the recent election of Sheryl Sandberg as a Director in Facebook. I have nothing against her being elevated to a senior leadership position. But, my problem really is, why does one have to make references to her gender in her achievement? Why can't we keep it simple and say that there was a person who needed to be hired/elevated as a Director in a famous company...and that, this lady got it? Why does it have to be reduced to things like diversity on the Board of Directors? Why can't we just leave it to the merit of the candidate's capabilities to bag the job? Why do we have to bring in gender into this? She was good enough to get the job, period (at least, according to me).

There are even subtler things I have noticed. Guys stand in a queue for a long time to get a movie ticket or railway ticket (assume, no internet for a second). A girl happily walks in, beats the line, goes to the front of the line, pulls out money, smiles at the first 2 guys in the line and manages to get tickets from the counter. She doesn't ever have to wait in the queue? Isn't that bias? Why can't we recognise that both a man and a woman are there to get hold of a ticket and disallow such preferential behaviour?

Another example of such subtle bias that I see more of. Policemen treating traffic offenders. In the event that the offender is a guy, the policeman pretty much rubbishes the guy and harasses him no end. If the same traffic offence is committed by a girl, I never ever seen a policeman behave rudely, scream, swear of harass the girl. Why? Isn't a traffic offender, be it a guy or a girl, supposed to be an offender & hence be subjected to the same course of law that is applicable? Period.

I see other instances in the corporate world too. I mentioned about Sheryl Sandberg earlier. How about people like Chanda Kochar, Naina Lal Kidwai and other wonderful professionals who made it to the top of the financial services industry in India? Why does their gender have to come in the way of crediting them? Nobody ever says that Ratan Tata was the first MAN to buy companies abroad (Jaguar, Land Rover etc). But, almost everyone in the media says that Naina Lal Kidwai was the first WOMAN who went to Harvard Business School from India. So what? Why can't we just say that we are so proud that an Indian had the pedigree to make it to HBS all those years ago? Why introduce gender bias? N.L. Kidwai was a super achiever and good enough to go to HBS & got her due. Why bring in the woman angle? Imagine someone saying that Dr. Manmohan Singh was the first MAN to be economist/FM & Prime Minister. Nobody ever says that - people only say that he is the first Indian since Nehru to be elected as PM twice. His gender is never brought into the equation, right? Then, why do we do that with the other super achieving women in corporate India or other walks of life? Isn't that subtle bias?

I can go on & on about my observations of these subtleties in treating men and women & the changing nature of bias that we see in the world. It scares me. We want to build a world full of hope, full of equality and freedom. We need to teach our future generations that bias is one of the strongest retarding factors of growth and development. Human beings need to be given opportunities on the merit of their case. They need to be given their due for what they are and as they are. If they get something by the dint of their own hard work, diligence and commitment, given them the credit, irrespective of whether the person is a man or a woman. Let's build a planet with less, nay, no bias. I may be talking idealistic, but, I am eminently confident that while deliberate/apparent bias cannot be removed, the subtle bias that I talk of can certainly be removed!