To Quill the Mocking World
By Samarth Bharani
Girls as young as six believe that brilliance and intelligence is a masculine trait. I write about how we need them to change their minds if we as a society are expected to grow.
The other day, I was talking to a colleague of mine who works in HR at my company. We were talking about college days and how we were pressured by our parents to get into fields we did not really want to study. While my parents pressured me into opting for Electronics and Communication Engineering (because at the time, it was the field most likely to result in getting the best jobs) her parents pressured her into opting for an MBA in HR, because that was the field “most suitable for women”. Now, I’m not sure what exactly that means.
I’ve only ever worked at one job in my life, but I’ve spent enough time talking to friends and family to know that there is no easy job, or a job that’s expressly suitable for any gender. I know HR has just as much of a hard time as developers, managers, sales executives and technical support staff, because I work with all of them on a daily basis. I’ve realized what people mean when they say “Most suitable for women” is something inherently non-technical, usually something which does not involve math or complex calculations. And I honestly don’t understand it.
When I was in college –and any number of my friends can attest to this-, I wasn’t a particularly bright or hard working student. The girls always outscored me in class, in most subjects. I never really worried about it, figuring that I was just lazy and the girls were just reaping the rewards of their hard work. Not once did I feel inferior because of my marks. Through conversations with them, where they helped me study, gave me notes during exams and helped me prepare for practicals, some of them told me the reason they studied so hard was because they wanted their parents to acknowledge that they could do well in the field of engineering and could get a good job at a great company. This didn’t make sense to me either.
After a little more probing, I realized that this was something that had been ingrained into their minds, at an early age. While boys were praised for any number of accomplishments, such as solving math problems at an early age, young girls were praised mainly for their art, their singing or their dance performances. Children as young as six believe that intelligence is a male trait even when there is no evidence to support it. So, at an age when I believed that I could do anything and conquer the world, girls my age were being told that certain fields were off-limits to them and there were certain fields that were “more suitable for women”.
Over time, they believed that they had to put in more effort (at the same job as a man) to stand out, because otherwise, society would just tell them again that the reason they’re not doing well in that job is because it isn’t something suitable for women. I’ve seen women ask me to help them formulate their ideas for new startups. And once we’re done, they always ask me if I could lead their venture or startup. Even though they’re significantly smarter, they believe that I’m more qualified to work under just because I’m a man.
Now this is something I really understand, because I’ve seen it happen right in front of me. Our society is still, unfortunately, male dominated, with most of the CEOs of large companies predominantly male. 96% of senior venture capitalists are men. Men also raise 42% more money through venture capitalists than women. The women believe a startup run by a man will have an easier time in the market because he will be viewed as more competent and intelligent, especially if the startup is related to the tech field.
I believe this problem isn’t related to ability or intelligence, but rather perception. You have to understand that when girls at a young age are told or led to believe that they aren’t as smart or intelligent as boys, they tend to stay away from male dominated fields, believing that they’re male dominated for a reason. That’s why there aren’t as many women in the fields of STEM, there aren’t as many women CEOs and women entrepreneurs make up only a third of the world’s entrepreneurs.
And this by itself is a vicious cycle. With fewer women CEOs in the world, fewer people can understand and invest in women entrepreneurs, who tend to have woman-centric businesses (businesses led by an all-female executive team or have a female-only workforce). With fewer women entrepreneurs being funded, it is less likely for the company to thrive and grow into a large company with an executive leadership team, with a woman as the CEO.
When I brought up this topic with my women friends as to whether they feel inferior to men in terms of intelligence or talent, I got mixed results. Several of them said that they’ve never once felt inferior to men while others said they’d felt they were inferior to men since as long as they could remember. Talking more with the latter group I understood that this conditioning was usually subtle, from parents, teachers, friends and even educational resources.
They remember specific instances where the parents pushed their brothers into specific fields, usually science or engineering, while making no such effort on the part of their daughters. They remember their brothers being pushed to excel in “masculine” fields such as sports and athletics, while they were steered towards more “feminine” fields such as arts and literature. Studies, while important, were never as important as they were for the boys, since girls are the fairer sex and were, in many cases, not expected to work after their marriage. Over time, their conditioning was so perfect that they didn’t believe that they were consciously being pushed into a certain field and it’s only later, after much reflection, did they realize that they were stuck in a field they didn’t like, believing it was the only field available to them.
While I think this is a very serious problem, I believe that the answer begins at home. At a young age, your words carry so much more weight than you realize to your children. And anything you may say will be generalized into other aspects of their life. So treat your sons and your daughters equally. Don’t lead one gender to believe they’re more fragile, less talented or intelligent than the other. Tell them that -despite what society says- they can do and achieve anything they want, as long as they put in the work. After all, the only limitation to achievement is backward thinking and ignorance.
Now, I’ve never felt that men and women are equal, but I believe they’re thoroughly different. They each have their own sets of problems and advantages as they go through their lives and their careers. And I believe they bring their own unique perspectives to any problem they may face. That being said, I do believe in equal opportunities for men and women. And while I believe that certain people may be better at certain jobs than others, they should not be dissuaded from following whichever path they may want to follow.
We are quickly reaching an age of development where societal and scientific achievements are viewed as incremental discoveries rather than breakthroughs. In such an age, if we don’t demand that both genders contribute to their full potential, we as a society will not be able to grow as quickly or efficiently as we truly can. And in such a society, we cannot truly label ourselves as progressive until all of us have access to the same opportunities. After all, denying opportunities to even the least of our members means we are losing the potential of yet another world-changing idea.
In his own words, “I’ve always imagined that the best way to get to know someone was to look at their art, to read their work or to listen intently to their music. Indeed, doing so is sort of peering at the artist’s very soul. There is very little I can tell you about myself that my work will not tell you anyway However, I do enjoy cooking, coding and writing.”
(Click here to read our first book “Mirrored Spaces” : A poetry and art anthology in English and Hindi with contributions from 22 artists)