My first grader came home from school and confidently announced, “Girls cannot do construction jobs.”
“Why is that?” I queried, wondering how, at six years he was already demarcating professions by gender.
“Girls are not strong and tall. You need to be really strong for construction.” came the reply.
As parents, my husband and I had been careful to avoid stereotyping roles by gender. We both cooked and cleaned at home. We had never pointed out to the boys that they couldn’t buy pink toys or play with dolls. My son had simply been processing, and reacting to the information he saw around him. It was just a ‘fact of life’ that girls were not strong enough. In his world of toys, trucks and super heroes, this was not a problem that needed fixing.
This is indeed true. A TIME-commissioned survey of American men found that while a majority of men see some level of inequality between the genders, a full quarter of surveyed men say that the country doesn’t need to take any steps to fight gender inequality.
In another context, practices like child marriage, dowry and female infanticide have roots in male dominant societies. Patriarchal values are so deeply ingrained that behavior is driven by the subconscious, and a fear of losing control. No wonder traditional feminist ideology has always taken a hardline stance against men and feminism is primarily considered a ‘women’s issue’.
As I thought about my son growing older and naturalizing more ‘truths’ about what girls can and cannot do, I realized that I was not providing him the right context. If girls became construction workers, he wouldn’t have to do jobs just because he was ‘big and strong’. He could paint, sing, dance or do anything he wanted to, without being bound by society’s expectations.
Men benefit as much from a more equitable world.
“During adolescence and young adulthood, there is a critical period of opportunity to engage boys and young men in understanding why gender equality is good for everyone and recognizing their role in promoting the empowerment of girls and young women. By using and sharing their power and privilege, boys and young men have the ability to shift the dominant norms and ideas about gender and masculinity, and challenge the patriarchal beliefs, practices, institutions and structures that drive inequality between men and women.” — UN Women
Acknowledging this is the first step towards creating a more equitable society. Next comes recognizing that a conversation about women empowerment cannot happen without including men.
According to the European Institute of Gender Quality report on Men and Gender Equality, men need to be part of the solution if gender equality is to be achieved. Men do not need to become feminists, but rather that they should support feminism. In this it is important that men are not seen as ‘taking over the equality agenda’ but rather that they, and male-oriented equality policies, should complement the agenda.
To explore this further, I spoke to three young men who are working towards their own dreams. We discussed expectations, dreams and how they see their lives evolving in context to the women in their lives.
Sanket Mhatre, voice artiste.
Over the years, Sanket has carved a niche for himself in the voice-over industry. Listening to him talk, I have no trouble imagining him as Will Smith’s voice in the Hindi version of Bad Boys for Life or Hawkeye in Avengers Endgame.
Sanket brings up the issue of sexism in media and its trickle-down effect to careers in his industry. He points out that career growth is directly proportional to the airtime a professional gets.
“Historically, men have always gotten meatier roles and women are eye candy. There is a lot more money that is offered, simply because their screen time is more.”
The Geena Davis Institute analysed 120 theatrical releases between 2010 and 2013 in 10 countries — and found that of the 5,799 speaking or named characters, less than a third (30.9%) were female and more than a third (69.1%) were male.
What can be done to level the playing field in the voice-over industry?
Sanket points out some encouraging trends. Netflix’s Orange is the New Black has been leading the way in portraying the female lead as a strong character. Women have always outshined men in animation. In corporate AV’s the conventional male baritone voice is going out and giving way to a more casual approach. Audiobooks and podcasts are areas where both men and women can command an equal fee. Industry associations are slowly beginning to set minimum fees to prevent gender-based discrimination.
“These subtle changes will definitely level the playing field for women down the line.” signs off Sanket.
Anuj Nadadur, lawyer.
Anuj majored in public policy from Princeton University. After pursuing human rights studies in graduate school, he went to law school and now works in the federal public defender’s office.
Anuj talks about how law firms are disproportionately dominated by men. There has been some advocacy but it’s been a slow process. Things like raising a family can hinder career development for a woman, which men don’t think about as much. Work places, especially in law, typically encourage men-like behavior, and putting in face-time. If a woman lawyer needs to put her child to sleep and work from home, that should be OK. That should not be looked down upon or impact their promotion.
“One of the first things we need to do, as men, is recognize and acknowledge the existence of these decisions. It takes a conscious effort to start thinking and talking about these things.”
What is the one thing policy can do to help women grow in their careers?
Mandated and paid paternity and maternity leave. One, it mandates that men be more involved in care giving. Two, it mandates equality. Society rewards productivity and cultural norms have long dictated that men be able to get back to work sooner. This means they are able to be more productive and get more opportunities to be promoted and this feeds back into the system. If men and women take equal time off, they get access to, and lose out on the same opportunities. This is hard to achieve but definitely paves the way for more equal work places.
Nish Kamble, doctoral student.
Nish is a thinker, with a background in public health and public administration. Economic development and social inclusion are his focus areas.
Nish thinks it is important to look at the big picture when planning life, and particularly careers. Men and women face obstacles but different kinds. It is important to consider these and be aware of them. Mentors are important early on. As a researcher and future educator, he feels education has an important role to play in helping deconstruct socio-cultural biases and break down silos. Asking tough questions and challenging beliefs and attitudes is a starting point.
“As someone closely attached to academia, I strongly believe that my job is to help people understand reality and question things around them.”
What are some obstacles that women face in work places?
Imposter syndrome — the feeling that someone else, usually a man is more qualified and more deserving. Women may do a lot more in a day but will still feel that they have not done enough. The second thing, which is more systemic, are the socio-cultural expectations women face.
“Achieving gender equity is a long journey but we have to begin somewhere. It may make some people uncomfortable but we need to keep talking about it. We need to take small steps, keep working at it and be patient.” Nish adds.