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.
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?