The Gender Bias

Yesterday evening, I was having a long awaited dinner with an old girlfriend I hadn't met for months. I was looking forward to it very much. This is a lady I greatly admire - she is much older than I am and I have learnt a lot from her experiences. She has worked hard all her life, lived through incredibly hard life events with tremendous courage and pride: always independent, always providing and rarely seeking.

At some point of our conversation, the presidential election came up leading into the first debate. I do not have voting rights in the US, but I am informed and tremendously interested like many in similar positions. I expressed my disappointment in the current scenario of attempted 'impartial' coverage by the media attempting to level the playing field which I feel might have devastating consequences, even if the whole unbelievably unfair aspect of it is left aside.

I believe that every politician has gaffes, history, and shortcomings. But in no way are the two candidates and what they bring to the table in this election 'equally bad'. I wondered out loud therefore if fears rising from 'the unconscious biases' - the ones we as individuals and as a society have but don't know and will therefore never admit to - are playing a role in this 'leveling of the playing field' along with the aforementioned attempted impartial political coverage. And then my friend said this:

'I am a believer and supporter of women's rights and you know that. You know my mother fought for the women - so that they have right to work. But I don't believe that we women - any of us - are ready to be the commander in chief of this country.' As I listened in shock, she continued on to explain. 'We think with our hearts you see. It is just too ugly out there for that.'

I couldn't put together any response. There was so much that I wanted to say - so many reasons, so many examples, so many memories, so many struggles, counter arguments - that I couldn't process and order how to start saying any of it. The rest of the dinner ended with absent minded, casual conversation about life and the slowly improving weather of Arizona.

'They will tell you that you can't show emotions, Tanu. They will say you are done - finished - if your eyes well up.' I remembered a long time female mentor advising me on corporate management culture. 'Understand this though,' she had said, 'it is because they have been the majority for so long - the big boys - that we know only their way. We think that's the norm. We think that's how it should be. BUT remember this -that doesn't mean that it is the ONLY WAY. Nor has it been proved that it is the RIGHT WAY. We first need to reverse the numbers, then we can see if it is the ONLY WAY THAT WORKS!'

I drove back home processing and re-processing conversations, thoughts, and beliefs in my mind. And now that I have done that again and again and ordered my thoughts as much as possible, here are my counters.

1. Men and women are biologically different and generally have different ways and approaches. Studies overwhelmingly support this. But we are so consumed in accepting and celebrating this as the norm that we have forgotten that there can be, and always are, exceptions. NOT ALL WOMEN ALWAYS THINK WITH THEIR HEARTS. JUST LIKE NOT ALL MEN ALWAYS THINK WITH THEIR HEADS.

2. We women, and men, have confused 'different' with better or worse. I am guilty of this too very much. With all my activism for equality and her rights, I have been in a room, presenting projects to audiences with confidence, while palpitating in nervousness within. 'They can hear my emotion in my voice. They will think I am crazy and hormonal. And not as strong as them' - I have thought to myself. My emotions - which are there because of my conviction and passion for the projects - could very well be my tools for success, have been many times my differentiating edge, but still I, myself, have fallen back to seeing them as shortcomings at every possible occasion,

3. There is no data that I am aware of that 'Women's ways', whenever there is such a thing, doesn't work. If anything, I have seen plenty of studies proving the contrary. Solutions, like most things, are situational.

In a brilliant ted talk I once heard, the esteemed speaker said this in essence: 'The term manipulative is used for women often in a derogatory sense - but it is not. Women tend to find more effective and peaceful solutions and are better at diplomacy owing to their tendency in general of avoiding direct conflicts.'
As my mentor had said - we know 'THE WAY' because that is what we have majorly seen. But we forget to ask if 'THE WAY' has ever been proven as the 'THE ONLY WAY' or 'THE RIGHT WAY'. If yes, why? If no, why not?

4. Gender bias exists in more forms than we understand. It is independent of who we are - of economic, social, and national status.
We women have it as much as men do. We believe in what we have been groomed to believe. We believe in what could be perceived as shortcomings to be real detriments. We trust in the narratives without questioning. We take the easy way out of accepting the prevalent experience we have of things instead of putting in the hard work of seeking and testing the alternatives. And it is equivalent to all other similar biases - we are unconscious of having and try to rationalize and justify in despair. WE WOMEN, NEED TO GET OUT OF OUR OWN WAYS. We need to do more to believe more in ourselves.

The point of this post was not intended to be political. But when we start doubting a candidate running against a blatantly manipulative, opportunist, misinformed alternative because we feel the former has poorer health, lesser charisma, and might think with her heart in lieu of being a woman - we have a problem. We have a problem of GENDER BIAS unconsciously holding the brush painting a political decision of tremendous importance. We are not acting rational at that point. We are not comparing facts, thinking about policies presented, and remembering the 'not so distant past yet' primaries and conventions. We are just being afraid of the 'unfamiliar' because we have no experience to visualize what it would be like.

I am not registered left or right and I don't need to be, but I can see what will be better for any nation between the two alternatives. I believe every rational being can if they remove the biased glasses. A mostly unified front on one side coming up with civil and thought out policies vs. a candidate who was opposed and desperately despised by his own party and a party that is mostly in shambles and at a loss on what to do next. So in this case, even if I believe my friend's statement about women, I would rather take a woman thinking with her heart for this nation, than a man thinking with his head about only what is good for him.

Women are as ready for any role, as men are. They have been. Forever.

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