Good morning everyone.
I am going to cheat a bit. It is an Entrepreneur Talk. But I am not going to talk about entrepreneurship. I am going to talk about women, which thankfully is not at odds with the theme of this event.
I grew up in small towns of Bihar, never staying in a joint family, technically, but living a life where the circle of extended family and relatives was quite close-knit. There were usual family spats once in a while, but overall the family members looked out for each other. They provided board to a young man, a son of a second cousin, who had come to their town for studies or for the first job, and they kept their eyes and ears open to find out how their nieces could get married well within the budget their parents had. The better off ones would also take up the responsibility for more kanyadaan ceremonies than the number of daughters they had given birth to so that the lesser off relatives were relieved of the responsibility of paying for the mandatory gold gift of kanyadaan.
These people didn’t hate their daughters. They kept having daughters until they had at least one son, but they mostly didn’t indulge in female foeticide. Daughters’ weddings would bring entire extended family together. Quite in the style of Rajshri productions’ movies, even though the homes were usually less glamorous than those in the films. At every family function one would be reminded how only daughters can bring real joy in these functions and how everything would be so dull without the daughters.
They were not even indifferent to their daughters. They wanted to raise them right, just like they wanted to raise their sons right. So… they wanted their sons to study Science and daughters to study Home Science. They wanted their sons to be smart and their daughters to be gentle.
Cut to present day!
There was a discussion going on among some of the IIT alumni, many of them senior, accomplished people, about this event meant for woman professionals. The possible names and taglines were being discussed. A very senior, soft-spoken, well-meaning IITian suggested and strongly defended a particular tagline, because it was humble and sober. I reminded him that the idea of the event was empowerment of women. Why should the tagline be humble and sober? The tagline should portray strength, confidence, shouldn’t it? I was told that humility along with confidence goes a long way. So then I did a quick poll on my facebook account asking my mostly men friends from IITs how often they have wanted their event names and taglines be convey humility and soberness. You can guess the result. The person suggesting the humble and sober tagline didn’t mean any harm. It was, in fact, he who had originally proposed the idea of this event.
Any Harry Potter Fans here?
Do you remember the wise Dumbledore?
It takes a great deal of bravery to stand up to our enemies, but just as much to stand up to our friends.
Most of the women sitting here would not have faced the obvious, brutish discrimination. They wouldn’t have been underfed so that men of the family could have their bellies full, they would not have had to give up their studies so that their brothers could study, they would have gone to the best schools, in fact. They wouldn’t have been neglected or beaten up by their families or husbands. They wouldn’t have any villains in their lives.
And yet! Yet, you feel the need to have a separate event for professional women. Despite there being no villain in their lives, they feel like they are falling behind, they are not achieving their potential, they are compromising.
Because impediments do not always come in the form of a villain with evil laughter ready to slay you at the first chance.
Impediments come in the form of well-meaning people.
Impediment comes in the form of that loving, proud father of an IIT girl, who told her that she should go for a Ph. D. after B. Tech. Why? Not because it was suitable for her temperament or aptitude, but because academia is a better place for women to be in. After all they have to shoulder family responsibilities later. Corporate life will make it difficult to handle.
This is a true story.
Do men not have families?
Impediment comes in the form of those nice friends, not only men, but women too, who post pseudo-empowering messages on facebook like “Women weren’t created to do everything a man can do. Women were created to do everything a man can’t do.”
Ummm, excuse me? Apart from getting pregnant and giving birth, what is that? Oh wait! Taking care of the family, kids, cooking, cleaning, washing, is it? Men can’t do it? Right! That’s why women should run homes, and men should run the world.
Hope you see the problem. Sorry! Messages of those kind do not empower or inspire women. They just try to make them happy and satisfied with wherever they are. So that the world can maintain its status quo and not ask uncomfortable questions.
Impediment comes in the form of their “natural” urge to be caregivers, which is “respected” and “encouraged” by everyone around them?
What is this natural urge? Look around yourself. Even with the constant social conditioning trying to make them otherwise, don’t you come across women who don’t feel maternal urges and men who are great with kids, babies included. If there wasn’t this incessant social conditioning about what you are supposed to feel, what would the situation look like? My guess? Not the opposite, but very different.
Impediment comes in the form of the “myth” of “choice”. Who am I to question if a woman chooses to put her kids and family above her career? I am no one to interfere with what she does. But I have a right to wonder if the choice is real for most people. Was the choice between whether the father will stay at home or the mother? Unlikely. The choice was between whether nobody will stay at home versus whether the mother will stay at home. When only one person has a choice, that is not much of a choice.
Impediment comes in the form of outraged question “Are you saying making money is the only worthwhile use of people’s time? Aren’t family and home as important? What will you do with all the money if your family is not happy?” Good question. So long as it is not directed solely at women.
Impediment comes in the form of internalized assumptions about your role. It comes in the form a women working to empower other women starting her case with “We are women. We have to take care of our families before everything else.”
It comes in the form of harmless jokes that imply men can’t cook and women can’t read maps or that women irrationally have upper hand in the relationships.
Impediment comes in the form of the argument that if there are women who support practices that work against women’s professional advances, there cannot be anything wrong with those practices. No. Just because a woman perpetuates it, a discriminatory practice doesn’t become right.
Impediment comes in the form of all the people you love and who love you, including your family, husband and kids.
What do women need today? More maternity leave? Or more paternity leave? Do they need more time to take care of kids? Or do they need their partners to share the responsibility? Do they need to be deified and installed in well-decorated temples? Or do they need to be treated like real persons who may have the similar career aspirations and similar love for their families as men.
I might already have ruffled some feathers here. Still I will end with a blasphemy. I can forgive Shah Rukh Khan and Kajol for Dilwale. I cannot forgive them for Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge. The movie that made lots of money while promoting and elevating the patriarchal custom of Karwa Chauth by giving it a romantic twist. There is nothing romantic about it.
I know that I have only raised questions and not given answers. But that’s all I intended to do. There aren’t any quick answers. There are no 5 steps to liberation. We have a tough fight. With people who matter the most to us.
That’s all. Thank you. I am not sure what questions I can answer. But if there are any, please feel free to shoot.