It was March 8th, 2013 and I was working a desk job at a giant corporation writing computer programs to sift through, analyze and make sense of customer data. I wish I could say it was strictly 9-5, or that I was happy doing what I did, but it paid the bills and empowered me, and for that I endured the banality of the task and the unpaid overtimes that were the norm. It also gave me a chance to be part of a young and vibrant workforce, meet and interact with people from a very diverse pool and that, was an education unto itself.
It was Women’s day and part of the festivities organized by the human resources department was a blood drive. I was always anemic and could never pass the initial tests for blood donation – I’ve been shooed away from blood camps and asked to eat more healthy. One time, after poking me mercilessly like a needle pillow, the nurse claimed she couldn’t find my vein and sent me away. Of all the humiliating things that has ever happened to me, this has always been a bit of a sore point, since my mother is an on-call blood donor and donating blood has been on the top of my ‘becoming-an-adult’ list since I was a child.
A young woman from my team (she was barely 22) donated blood during lunch and came back proudly with a band-aid, a mini pack of cookies and a bottle of electrolytes. We were chatting about her experience (I always listen with such yearning!) when a male co-worker walked up to us and started a rather lengthy and sexist monologue about how women shouldn’t donate blood, because we need it to fulfill our ‘womanly’ child-bearing duties. To be fair, he was genuinely concerned for our well-being and not at all being snide, crass or rude, but it was offensive nonetheless.
I wish I could say it was the only sexist thing I had encountered in the workplace, or that he was the least intelligent person I’ve had to argue with about gender equality. This man had a Master’s degree in something, but I’ve long known that education isn’t all encompassing, and knowledge and wisdom are two very different things. Just a few hours after this incident, all the men in the office joined together and demanded that all the women ‘treat’ them to coffee and snacks at 4:00 p.m. to celebrate women’s day. Naturally, I stood up and tried to educate everyone about the history and significance of Women’s day, but it fell upon deaf ears and led to them ganging up against me, calling me petty and cheap for not wanting to pay for coffee. So I was left alone in my desk while everyone else went out to celebrate women’s day, incorrectly, in my opinion, but I was the only one who cared.
This world subconsciously classifies women as a different species – because of our natural reproductive capabilities or innate nurturing tendencies, there’s an unspoken misunderstanding that our tenderness cannot be trusted upon to make clear and intelligent decisions that affect the masses. It’s a way that this world, primitive yet in many ways, attempts at understanding something they don’t really understand; a way it finds a balance between the genders, but I believe that it’s time that this balance is re-defined.
The theme for International Women’s day 2019 is #BalanceForBetter and it calls focus towards a gender-balanced world where everyone has a part to play irrespective of prejudices. Yes, women work and have financial independence today, something our predecessors fought for decades to accomplish, but how many women are in positions of true power? Less than 5% of Fortune500 CEOs are women- that’s 24 women vs. 476 men. For every dollar a man earns, a woman makes just 80 cents. When a woman starts a business, the initial investment averages $935K whereas men receive $2.1 million, even though women generate 78 cents for every dollar invested, while men bring in just around 31 cents [source]. According to the world bank, 11% of Parliamentary seats in India are held by women. And that figure is 19.8% in the United States. Considering the disparity of social progression among these two countries, you’d expect that number gap to be higher, but looks like when it comes to gender equality, East or West, we’re all treated the same.
Balance is something women struggle with more than men do on a daily basis because we are held to higher standards yet compensated unequally on all accounts. The balance we are striving for – the balance at the workplace, the balance of power, the balance of equality – that balance, like any change, begins at home. It begins with yourself.
Allow yourself downtime. Allow yourself failures. Allow yourself importance over others. When someone says sexist stuff and tries to pass it off as a joke, do not laugh to ease the tension. If you have a spouse/partner, share chores equally and unapologetically. Never let anyone make you feel any less of a woman for any reason because women come in all kinds of packaging and it’s time the world knows it. Appreciate and support other women because sisters before misters! Speak your truth without fear. Say ‘No’. Smile because you want to, not because society would deem you unattractive otherwise. Be and live the change you want to see in this world. But most of all, teach your children about equality so that the future generation may have what we may not accomplish in this lifetime. If we aren’t perpetually evolving into a better species, then we are doing this life-thing wrong.
Happy International Women’s Day!