India has had a female prime minister, Indira Gandhi, and quite a few women politicians, but ask a kid to draw one and chances are it will be a portly man in dhoti-kurta and Gandhi topi. Unless they see examples from their own homes or neighbourhood, how can children avoid gender stereotyping?
There is an old riddle some of us must have come across some time in the past. A father and son have a car accident and are both badly hurt. They are taken to separate hospitals, where the father dies. When the boy is taken in for an operation, the surgeon says, “I cannot do the surgery because he is my son.” How is this possible?
People actually pondered over the answer, which is obvious now, the mother is the surgeon. A female doctor was obviously unheard of when the riddle was coined. Now women are in every area of the work force, so it was surprising and a bit distressing to read a report that when asked to picture a leader most people — men and women — drew a man.
A report by Heather Murphy in the New York Times quotes Dr Tina Kiefer, a professor of Organisational Behaviour at the University of Warwick in the United Kingdom, “Even when the drawings are gender neutral, the majority of groups present the drawing using language that indicates male (he) rather than neutral or female.”
Writes Murphy, “Several researchers in Organisational Psychology, who have had a similar experience with this exercise, decided to investigate further. How might holding unconscious assump-tions about gender affect people’s abilities to recognise emerging leadership? What they found, in a study posed by the Academy Of Management Journal, seems to confirm what many women have long suspected: getting noticed as a leader in the workplace is more difficult for women than for men. Even when a man and a woman were reading the same words off a script, only the man’s leadership potential was recognised.”
Some stereotype are so ingrained that when we say the word nurse, most would imagine a woman when there is a good number of male nurses. A professor would be a man, a teacher would a woman, because the latter is a relatively low-paid and low-power job; a pilot is portrayed a man and a cabin attendant a woman, though the plane is often piloted by a woman and the server of meals is a man. A banker would be a man in a suit and briefcase, when a woman in a sari could be — and is — the head of a bank. In people’s imagination, a shop assistant or domestic helper would probably be a woman, but hardly anyone would think of a female stockbroker, computer engineer, or for that matter peon or postal delivery person, when increasingly the roles are reversed. A secretary is invariably thought of as woman — and popular culture portrays the secretary as a young, sexy female with whom the male boss will probably have an affair, because she is ‘available’. Because, the general opinion is that, a female cannot be so high up in the hierarchy to get a secretary and only a man with no ambition would want to be a secretary. If he is, he will probably be called executive assistant.
India has had a female prime minister, Indira Gandhi, and quite a few women politicians, but ask a kid to draw one and chances are it will be a portly man in dhoti-kurta and Gandhi topi. Unless they see examples from their own homes or neighbourhood, how can children avoid gender stereotyping when text books depict women in the kitchen and men in the work place? Somebody pointed out in a social media post that in airport or hotel restrooms, the diaper changing tables are always in the ladies’ loo, when they must be at least a small percentage of men who do this routine parenting task.
Men just take a few things like for granted. Closing the pay gap is an ongoing battle. A few months back, there was a furore when it was found that for the reshoot of the film All The Money In The World, necessitated by the ouster of a tainted Kevin Spacey, the actress Michelle Williams was paid $1000 to Mark Wahlberg’s $1.5 million. Wahlberg had the grace to announce that he would donate the extra money to the Time’s Up Campaign.
Equally shocking was the news leak about the hit TV series, The Crown; Claire Foy, who played the lead role of Queen Elizabeth II, was paid less than Matt Smith, who played Prince Phillip. While the production company apologised, they also stated that it’s not the actor’s fault, since nobody knew one another’s salaries. However, Jared Harris, who portrayed King George VI in the series, was the first Crown cast member to speak about the pay gap. He is reported to have said to Digital Spy, “I think it’s an embarrassment for Left Bank Picture…I understand they made an apology but, you know, an apology and a check would be more welcome…send her a pay check and, in retrospect, bring her pay up to parity.”
The only explanation — even in 2018 — is that either women are not tough negotiators or they are so hard-wired to be non-combative that they do not speak up against injustice so as not to be perceived as trouble makers. It’s about time they made some noise though…because, well, the Time for silence is Up!
Deepa Gahlot is a Mumbai based columnist, critic and author.