Long road to equity

Born eldest to my parents, I grew up ordering my siblings around at the house, dictating which games to play and when to play them, deciding what, where, and how to eat, correcting them and their grammars and pronunciations- sometimes more smugly that I like to remember. It is so ingrained in my brain that even today, I have this embarrassing tendency to correct pronunciations when people are speaking and give feedback even when no one has asked for one. It is hard for me to see someone doing something wrong and not intervene.

I never thought taking charge and being outspoken was a bad thing. In fact, I was taught to be a woman confident to speak every time she has something to say. Vested to be that person someday, girl, I have worked hard! Overly preparing for classes just so I can make a sensible comment, researching about random issues so I can sound (slightly) “smarter” during casual conversations….sometimes even faking it with a hope that I will eventually become it.

As I hop on this tumultuous ride to leadership fueled with dreams and aspirations, I am starting to realize this world has limited space for confident, outspoken, and overly ambitious people, especially if that person is a woman or a girl.

Where does it all begin?

As an ambitious young woman, I am often the victim of ‘double-bind bias’- mismatch between what is expected of me as a girl/woman and what is expected of me as a leader. Like it or not, this starts from the very place where our heart is- home. It did to me, at least.

The same resilient daughter, my parents, took pride in as she dreamed of setting her own rules, and conquering the world today is frowned upon every time she questions the norms. As they say, an ill-suited daughter doomed to suffer at the future in-laws place if continued to be as rebellious and vocal about her needs. Ironically, this comes from the same parents who invested their blood and sweat in ensuring I become the determined woman that I am today.

At home, daughters are often obligated to do chores over the weekend while sons are spared to play PubG on their phones. Working women are conditioned to transform into domestic goddesses at home so they can be at service for the working men in the family. From childhood to adulthood, the four walls of shared homes is where people learn to socialize into gender norms, values, and stereotypes.

At work settings, I constantly witness women in decision-making positions being boycotted and ill-fated just because they knew what they wanted and pushed hard enough to achieve them. I have heard people use unflattering and negative, catty connotations every time they talk about (who I think is) a strong female leader. On the contrary, a male, upon acting decisively and raising his voice, is often described as assertive and a strong leader.

When women take charge, they are viewed as competent leaders — but disliked. When women take care, they are liked — but viewed as less qualified leaders. “Opinionated”, “feminist in the room”, “too passionate” are some of the labels used to describe women and girls upon sharing their views on specific issues. Men and boys, on the other hand, are referred to as “thorough” “well-read” upon sharing similar opinions.

We have a role to play

For a fraction of second, let’s be honest. We have all been part of such conversations and will probably do it again, consciously or unconsciously. It is appalling how we, as a society, tend to forgive certain behaviors in sons/male bosses but are quick to judge daughters/female bosses for the same actions.

It is true, today, more organizations and teams than ever are striving every second to help women/girls find their voices. More parents are making conscious choices to unconfined their children within the blanket-generalizations of what they can and cannot do, based on gender. Many women and girls are shattering the glass ceiling and changing the imagery of what a leader looks like.

Despite these achievements, we still have a long way to go. On this journey, each of us has a role to play. We need to make conscious efforts to place social conditionings and ensure that women and girls’ voices are reciprocated with respect and not threat. Until then, the world will still have confined space for women and girls with strong voices.

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Sophiya Maharjan

Storyteller. Traveler. Explorer. Active Reader. Passive Writer. Walker. Talker. Dreamer. Doer.