Ratify the Resilient Women

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Dr Rakhshinda Perveen

Every day, many videos on different topics go viral on different digital forums. Recently, I came across an interesting viral video where Karen Jacobson-the voice behind Google maps-talked about herself as the one who is known as the only woman men would take directions from. Besides reflecting good-humoured script delivered in an easy pleasant style, this succinct sentence embeds overall global centuries-old patriarchy and misogynistic mindsets. Difficulty in accepting a woman’s command, choices, or even simple conversation has been a dispute.
Usually, a vast majority of men are the ones who are seen as experiencing this challenge. What is lesser seen or admitted is the reality that even many women do not support other women on several occasions and through a variety of mechanisms. Unequal power relations do not only exist between men and women but there also remain unequal inequalities among women. This, however, should not be surprising as women by all means are not homogenous entities and they have all those human attributes that may fall under hegemonic or toxic masculinities. Although axioms like empowered women empower other women or women should stand up for other women are widely cited, there is no deficit of increase in the number of women who do not miss any opportunity to demolish other women.
Realities in the spheres of public life and professional spheres of engagement are quite different if not in complete contradiction with what is celebrated in cinema, academic papers, and activism under the broad terms of feminism and gender equality. While posting quotes from celebrities from different disciplines like Emma Watson, Julia Roberts, Maya Angelo, Gloria Steinem, Bell Hooks, Tian Fey, Meridith Fuller, or Roxane Gay from the west or reciting “we the sinful women” ( almost the national anthem of women’s movement in Pakistan) by our very own legendary feminist writer Kishwar Naheed do earn many of us some greater degrees of attention on digital platforms or curated panel discussions. However, what needs to be identified and communicated loud and clear is that the same perspectives and opinions when expressed in a dedicated environment where hierarchical, situational, and structural biases and imbalances are prevailing, implicitly and explicitly can take a twisted turn and backlash.
With the growing attention on equality and rights-based approaches for miscellaneous groups of vulnerable people in general and women in particular it remains relevant to be cognizant of certain callous specifics. The world today due to game-changer technology is showing us more reported cases of phobias, discrimination, and hate crimes of different origins. Beyond the clatter and clamour of equality discourse on women’s rights exists paramount gaps in the intent and actions. Therefore, it should not be surprising to find shocking reports on the state of women in the workforce including women in authority positions. Experiencing belittling microaggressions, such as having women’s judgment questioned or being mistaken for someone more junior is a too common occurrence as reported by McKinsey.
Actions to protect whistleblowers, prevent or prosecute harassment at workplaces, and place creative solutions for bullying are almost negligible. The world is still dominated by an absence of a critical mass of women in leadership posts leading to gender pay gaps and the normalization of sexist jokes and many gender stereotypes. Therefore, it becomes almost an obligation for all women who are in responsible roles at any level in any industry to protect their fellow women colleagues and promote their visibility. This means women who are in stable employment or leading positions have to overcome their insecurities and offer candid support and mentoring to younger women and to even ageing women in junior positions or ad-hoc contracts. There is no trouble-free path to achieve all this. Yet this calls to be done not only for monetary benefits but for the maintenance of our individual and collective mental health as well. Perhaps, the time has arrived even in our country to question with civility that if you are not a feminist and if the workplace is not feminist that what is it? How many more centuries should a vast majority of women who are not fitting into conventional yardsticks of “good women” denoting women who could bear abusive relationships, nasty organizations, maintain slimmer, trimmer, and younger appearances, etc. would continue to be punished in one way or the other both in the bedroom and in the boardroom. The commitments of countries, states, and governments do not end by merely signing conventions, treaties, and protocols about safeguarding women against biases, discrimination, etc. Their obligations also include ensuring that all such women get their space to live and thrive in the ways that they choose. The time has arrived to honour the uniqueness of these “disobedient,” “difficult,” “getting emotional,” “sounding hysterical,” “divorced” or “dumped” due to their shortcomings in terms of demands for their rightful share in life, “not being able to demonstrate diplomatic skills” etc women as equal and normal as men could be. That tiny portion of affluent women, in the legislature and high-profile government jobs, and have clout in the development sector should step forward and officially announce the ratification of their resilience.