28 December, 2013

A Decade in Software Testing – Perception About Women (Part II)

Part II of my blog post "Perception About Women" continues below. If you missed Part 1, you can find it HERE.

Thou Art The Heir
The other day, I was speaking to a yoga trainee who looked very depressed. With a slight push, she opened up. She has a ten year old son and a five year old daughter.  She said how she struggles very hard to raise both her kids by giving equal and fair treatment, which is spoilt very often by her husband and in-laws who treat their boy as God and downplay the achievements of the little girl. The problem has gone so much into the boy’s head that he has started to speak the same language, “I am a man and this is how I must behave. You are a girl, you don’t know anything. You keep quiet.” We fail to recognize that these biases form as early as in childhood. Being part of an ecosystem, it becomes almost impossible to change the mindsets of children in their growing up years.

Boys Are Heroes and Girls Are Zeroes
I drop my girl to school every day. As part of regular routine, we take a route through one of her best friend Abhi’s house. One morning, I met Abhi and his mom, greeted them and started to walk towards school. In the meantime, my girl and Abhi were speaking about some game. He suddenly shouted, “Boys are heroes and Girls are zeroes”. I was shocked! I didn’t know how to respond while his mom took pride in what he said. This is a challenge. My girl also told me how boys and girls form separate groups at school and constantly compare themselves in sports and studies. Many studies have revealed that boys are good at sports and girls are good at studies in general. This doesn’t mean the other way round – girls are pathetic in sports and boys are hopeless in studies. We, as parents get it all wrong while raising little kids, most of the time!

The Beauty about Back Benchers
Here is another story. This is about two 35 year old boys who met at an international airport after 5 long years. They started to talk about their school. The first topic that they discuss about is how they enjoyed life as back benchers. The immediate next topic is about that girl who topped the class – “She was an encyclopedia. God knows what she is doing right now” and the conversation about this class topper continues for next 20 minutes. I was surprised that these two grown up adults (both in well respected professions) didn’t have anything meaningful in life to talk about other than that girl who topped the class. Is it their failure of not topping the class that bugged them for years or that they thought they are more successful as back benchers? Whatever the answer, who cares?

Early Impressions & Growing Up Years
During one of my vacations, I stayed in my aunt’s house in their neighbourhood where there lived a family with two kids. Ramesh is a 15 year old teenager and his sister Radha is 9 years old. I saw Radha carrying a big pot of water to her home while her mom yelled at Ramesh, “Why don’t you help the little girl carry that pot to the kitchen?” to which he replied, “Haha, what are you talking? It’s her job, not mine”. It left me wondering. Forget about gender bias, what has happened to even niceties like compassion, kindness and empathy, I wondered.

Two things strike about Ramesh:
1.      Ramesh was born to a father Ram who is heavily dominant with his wife Sita, so much that if his dad sat in the balcony and asked for a glass of water, his wife has to bring it in a matter of seconds. Sita is running most of the times when her husband is home. Ramesh has grown up constantly watching this relationship and thinks this is the right way to treat woman.
2.     Ramesh is surrounded by an eco -system where he is given more freedom compared to Radha. He gets to play cricket every day, can come late, go on trips with his friends, sent to an english medium school and even got to drive a bike with his name embossed on it. Radha has to struggle to ask for clothes for her birthday even. She gets reprimanded and is ordered to wear old clothes – just because she doesn’t move around a lot outside of her home.

Gender Stereotypes
The system in which these kids live has an influence on them. This influence is inclined more towards facilitating males and exploiting females. No wonder why Ramesh is the way he is.

If you look at how boys and girls are brought up, the upbringing of a boy is mostly with the dad who takes him to different places, shows cool stuff, made him meet people, allows him to help at work and sow seeds for great dreams.

On the contrary, girl’s upbringing surrounds around her mother’s life. She goes around, plays girlie games, helps her mom in household work while her mom  lectures to her about humanity, kindness, compassion, love, patience and tolerance. The moment she hits puberty, things change. She is restricted from going alone or in the dark, she is excluded from playing a few games or doing a few things, she is no longer a child, she is a young woman and she has to behave like a woman – a well behaved woman at that! Sometimes, this is attributed to protectiveness.

Image Credits : Google
People need to be treated fairly irrespective of what’s between their legs.  Every time someone makes noise about women being unequal, I told myself, “Oh No, Not Again”. Maura Pennington sums it up well in this Forbes article, “Women need the support of other women in the way that all humans need the support of peers.  What they do not need is condescension.  Obsessing over inequality eventually convinces both sides that we are somehow unequal.  It opens up discussion of all the ways we are different, all the ways women cannot be like men and vice versa.  The end result of such talk of segregation is that women are made to look weaker.  We are made to seem in need of assistance, that we cannot survive without federal laws or university regulations mandating our parity with men.

Victoria Pynchon, once received an email in response to one of her articles on Gender Bias which read, “I have never seen a dead woman on a battlefield”. To this, she responds, “Quite correct. When we frame the war dead and wounded as only those engaged in armed conflict on the battlefield, women and children are eliminated entirely, not only from the photographs and news reporting, but also from history and, more importantly, from peace conferences. The frame erases the experience of the people who aren’t seen by the reporters because they’ve framed “war” as an activity in which only soldiers fight and are injured.”
Framing about women without quoting the exact context has played another key role in downplaying women’s contributions for ages. Additionally, the humility and shyness of those umpteen women who hide their successes behind their male family members ensure that many women don’t see the light of the day.

Hardwired Perception
I was sitting in Linda Rising’s workshop last year where she took me through a journey of emotions with respect to how women and men perceive people around them. With tears rolling down my eyes, I asked her, “Why is it this way? Why should people of different gender or even same gender be treated differently for similar accomplishments or failures?” She looked at me with ultimate brutality which is very unusual for her age (she is 71), “People’s minds have been hard-wired this way for generations. It’s hard to change it at one go.” She shrugged her shoulders, “This is how the world is. You need to accept it.”

If the ecosystem [culture, familial backgrounds and upbringing] we live in doesn’t help us with changing wrong perceptions and become conscious of our biases, we’ll end up becoming the animals our ancestors once were!


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