Gender stereotypes… nothing’s changed!

Disclaimer 1: Feminism sits uncomfortably with me.
Disclaimer 2: May offend/upset some colleagues.

At a recent event organised by one of my magazines, I sat down with 16 women from different countries and of varying ages.

One of them, from down under, seemed to be taken aback that we were talking about ‘feminism’ issues in this day and age.

But why? Even in the most developed of nations (barring the Scandinavian countries?), women are still fighting stereotypes. There is still a struggle between staying at home, going to work, being independent, being the perfect wife… So why was she surprised that a bunch of mainly Caucasian women, living/working in Qatar, were discussing women’s issues?

I am going to discuss two separate things here.

One is the never-ending, ever-annoying debate on working mum vs stay-at-home-mums.

For me it’s a matter of choice (when it’s not need-based). I’ve seen really indifferent SAHM and fantastic hands-on working mothers (and the opposite, too).

And when I looked around, and consciously compare myself to some SAHM mums, I feel even better about the choice I’ve made.

The pressure on women to be the perfect mother, wife and whatever else is just too overwhelming. There is nothing wrong with being mediocre every now and then.

Also check out this interesting post, and the comments.

Here is the second, where I have more to say.

The role of women in workplaces. It’s so fraught with confusion, insecurity and judgement.

I am 36. I started working fulltime when I was 21. My first boss was a woman. I was the only other female in the department of 13. I was given hell by my boss. I had people tell me that it was because she was a woman. I disagree — her being a woman did not colour her attitude, it only coloured the perceptions of those judging her.

She did what a boss was supposed to do with an intern – extract as much work out the person as possible, put them through the ringer, rip their work apart, make them redo their work a dozen times over… if either she or I had been a man, it would have only been considered good training.

Now, 15 years down the line, I am the ‘b-lady’, and not much has changed in terms of perceptions. I will come back to that shortly.

At this coffee morning event, one of the ladies stated she didn’t believe in equality, that men and women were different, and had to be treated as such. She said it was unfair to women to be treated as equals, because the roles they juggled were so different and that has to be taken into consideration.

I couldn’t agree more with her. But what I didn’t agree with is what she said next.

Women need to bond more and compete less with each other.

Why? Why are these two mutually exclusive? Why can’t we bond AND be competitive? Why can’t we draw those lines between the personal and professional?

I studied in an all-girls school and all-girls college. I have three sisters and no brothers. My closest friends are mostly women. I can be the poster-girl for female-bonding.

However, at the workplace, it can’t be about bonding alone.

Barring the first 2 years of my working life, and another 2 here in Doha, there have always been a good number of women where I work.

I do bond with women at work (it comes naturally, so it doesn’t affect my work), but that’s not my primary goal and it shouldn’t be.

As I mentioned earlier, I am the ‘b-lady’ now. My boss is male, most of my colleagues are male, but my immediate team is mainly female. It was not planned, it’s just the way recruitments worked out.

Each of these women try doubly hard to prove a point. And they multi-task with such ease, that at times their effort goes unrecognised. Most of them have bonded with each other, as well. They are there for the PMS-attacks, troublesome teen kid issues, pregnancies, and some just good old gupshuping.

BUT… and this is a HUGE BUT… I do think women find it more difficult to draw the line between the professional and the personal. I find them being more sexist than the guys.

Such an irony – it’s with my women colleagues (yep, I know some of you are reading this – sorry gals! There is more below…) that my gender begins to gnaw at me, and them.

I wouldn’t receive the reactions I do, if I had been male.

I’ve noticed through the last 15 years, despite working in a sector that is considered liberated, gender issues haven’t gone away.

Even if we don’t fall in one of these extremes — disregarding or dissociating oneself from their gender and quick-to-take-offence feminists – we seldom forget our gender.

Like I was told that I treated some members of my teams like daughters-in-law! How sexist is that!

If I had been male, I would have merely been described as partial – my gender would not have played a role in my meanness.

Or a comment sometime ago that one of the female colleagues was more driven because she was single, and would have nothing else to do or think about when she leaves office.

These are the kind of damaging remarks that enforce stereotypes.

We have to plan our day, live our life, in a way that best suits our needs, our environment. We can’t download a template for working mums, or working women.

I don’t switch off from my work the minute I step out of the office. Just as I don’t forget my home when I enter the office.

I do call home ever-so-often, I check my personal mails at office, but I also take official calls at home, and catch up on work after the kids have gone to sleep. That’s the balance that suits me best, makes my life more seamless, and I don’t have to think too hard about balance. I do what I want to, and what’s important, when required. Sometimes, one or the other does get adversely affected — hey, but that’s life!

I understand that this won’t work for some others. I am fine with that. At the end of the day, work entrusted to a person – be it male or female – should be achieved with best results, in whatever method or fashion that suits the individual.

The problem is when every professional/official dealing gets an X or Y chromosome tag.

Many women say that they are not ambitious and career-focussed, because they want to give priority to their family. Which is FINE! But keep in mind, not all men are ambitious and career-minded either — but their sex is not thrown in their face because of that, so don’t use your gender-defined roles as an excuse for not being ambitious.

I do believe that the most damaging comments about working women is made by other women – working or otherwise. Because it comes from the sisterhood, unfair criticisms receive undue validation.

What do you think?

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15 thoughts on “Gender stereotypes… nothing’s changed!

  1. Navina says:

    I agree that women are each other’s worst critics. I am sorry to say that the two worst bosses that I have had have both been women. I do not know the reason why but women compete nastily with each other – trying to prove they are more efficient, more beautiful, more lucky, more talented or more prosperous- I do not know why. It is the way it is.
    I do not know if I am a feminist. Some people think I am. But I believe that women and men differ in fundamental ways. Research has shown that our brains are wired differently. We also do not have enough evolutionary knowledge in working on the same plane as men. Women going out to work and doing the same thing as a man has happened only in the last 100 years. This is is all so knew to the species. We are still evolving and trying to figure things out.

    I do not think we can get away from the X and Y tag … ever. In the impulsive attitudes studies done , it shows that we are not even yet, able to get away from racial stereotypes . If we cannot even move away from the color of our skin, how can we move away from something that is even more fundamental than that?When a bunch of pre-schoolers are thrown together in a class, during circle time, all the Asian Indian preschoolers were sitting together and the caucasians were sitting together- Nobody taught these 3 year olds where to sit. They picked the spot that was more comfortable to them- By sitting next to a person who looks like them . It is what it is. By being aware of it, we could have a better attitude towards it, but … it is what it is. Maybe in another 200 years of evolution 🙂

  2. UmmON says:

    agree about women bringing down women, navina. but about women bosses all being bad, i’m not so sure.
    and about the kids’ eg. how do the parents behave? they must be learning it from them right? realise that parents socialise only with their own kind?

  3. Teesu says:

    Honestly, I feel there is NO stereotype for anything these days. Therefore any statement on this gender thing whether feminist or not, has exceptions and exceptions, and/or isn’t entirely true.

    • Jane England says:

      Hi Vani,
      As usual you make a lot of sense. One of my best bosses – if not the best – was a woman but I don’t think it was because she was a woman. She gave useful practical feedback and usually started and ended with the positives. She extended my skills with praise and criticism. She was bright, alert and family friendly and I had the freedom to write about high fasion or drug murders. I see you in the same light Vani. You are professional and in that you are encouraging, warm, clever, and you are not afraid to show the latter.
      I have worked with men where I’ve had my words echoed by one male to another and only then have my ideas been acknowledged (when they are mimicked by a male), I’ve had sexual harassment in the past, and now I find age and motherhood do seem to work against me in New Zealand. Taking time off work to deal with sick children is the big fear here, and women of 50 plus are considered to be expensive and draining. The recession has brought about a drop in salaries and in the media the people most likely to be employed are young women who know how to expose their tits and their bright white teeth as well as drinking themselves under the table. Perhaps I sound a bit nasty but I do notice this and there is also no doubt that my male colleagues have suffered far less in their careers than I have. My quals and experience usually stack higher that my male or female counterparts but I do find that the contracts I am required to sign would fit far more easily with a person who has nothing in life but business (a male workaholic or an attractive single female). Well-rounded well-aged women are sometimes better workers because they have the fiery enthusiasm to get away from the housework and the life skills that come with multi-tasking. Also, a simple thank you from a boss often sounds like huge grattitude compared to the response of a husband who expects their wife to fill every role possible (and perhaps that is the real problem in countries where maids are unaffordable).
      In any case, I’m still job-seeking.

  4. Indian Homemaker says:

    Stereotypes and generalisations have too many exceptions, (and too much social pressure and conditioning to confirm) to be taken seriously. I agree with you and also with your response above about how the children follow their parents’ example.

  5. Anu says:

    Hmm… the general trend seems to be that women bosses are real “b***y” – but I do know of one Manager very high up in the food chain who is a complete anti-thesis of this stereotype – but then again it’s just a one-off exception…

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