In my recent trip to India, I had a pleasure of meeting quite a few young men and women – friends, people in the audience, and new connections. All of them are bright, educated professionals in their 20s or 30s.
Almost always our chats turned into thoughtful discussions over career, family, and life.
Once such discussion brought up some great points on gender equality among professionals.
Many of us have progressed beyond the basic inequality – such as not letting a woman have a career or men not helping at all at home. But still women and men don’t feel equal or seem to be treated as equals.
Professionals like us are now fortunate enough to be in a position to think beyond the basics, and ask ourselves, what our next goal is when it comes to achieving gender equality.
Here are my thoughts on this which I had shared only with my Facebook friends before.
First and foremost, I am not a person who thinks that gender equality means that all women should have a career and all men should cook, clean, and do the rest of the house work. On the contrary, I believe that such situation will be another type of gender inequality where women are favored. I am not up for such extremes.
My picture of practical and sustainable gender equality includes the following 2 types of equality.
1. Equality of choice is the first part of the gender equality – what SHOULD happen. This is the comfort that an individual feels in their own choices. This is the part that can be achieved individually.
2. Equality of perception is the other half of the gender equality – how we CAN make it happen. This is the respect that an individual gives to others’ choices based on cultural norms. This is the part that has to be achieved as a society or a culture. No individual can attain this on their own.
1.Equality of choice
This simply means that both men and women should feel comfortable in choosing either career or home or both. They should feel confident in the fact that no matter what they choose to do, it will add value to their family, and in turn, to the society.
In order for our society to run well we need people to innovate, build and create wealth but also the people who raise their children well, people who make the homes from the houses and people who make a family out of a bunch of people living together. Then does it really matter who does what as long as they do it well?
Right now, it is not unusual to advise a career oriented woman that she should curtail her ambitions if she wants a rewarding family life, and look at a stay-at-home dad as a failure and label him “incompetent”.
Most men and women do not value their own choices in the same way that they would of their counterparts.
Such different standards for men and women do not make it easy to choose what one truly wants to do. All men are almost forced to earn a living while it is optional for women to do so – in some cultures even prohibited. If you are a man who loves spending time with children do you have a freedom to choose to do that full time? If you are a woman who loves fixing stuff, do people encourage you to become an engineer?
The choice of a career and/or home should be based on your abilities, liking, and personal aspirations – not on your gender. There should be no shame, discomfort or helplessness in choosing the balance of career and home that works with you and your family. There should be true freedom in designing your work-home life to best fit your aspirations.
2.Equality of perception:
In order for individuals to feel comfortable in their choices, we need to create the environment that perceives the value as it exists in those choices.
First of all, we do not perceive a nurturer’s role (traditionally a woman’s responsibility) to be as important as a protector or provider’s role (traditionally a man’s responsibility). Take a deep look at the crimes. In most cases the root cause of the criminal behavior is a dysfunctional family. That is a constant reminder that nurturing makes an equally important portion of a healthy upbringing, if not more, as providing does.
If you are reading this, you are already ahead of the game, and probably agree that both the roles are equally important and time consuming. Then does it really matter who does what as long as they do it well? Why do we perceive the same roles differently based on whether a man does it or a woman?
Do we value a stay-at-home dad the same way we value a competent, professional man? Why do career oriented women are perceived as more headstrong, stern, and overly ambitious than their men counterparts?
When a woman sacrifices for her husband’s career those are considered welcome compromises for the growth of the family or sometimes even taken for granted. But if a man sacrifices for his wife’s career he is labeled a henpecked and unsuccessful husband.
As a culture, we do not perceive the same value in the same choices made by men and women.
If we want women to be able to choose what they WANT to do, we MUST first make it acceptable for men to choose what they CAN do. We should encourage a woman wanting a career, and respect and value a man wanting to stay at home to run the household.
The key to achieving gender equality is to have both the equality of choice and perception.
Gender Equality = Equality of Choice + Equality of Perception
In order to foster equality of choice, we must first create equality of perception. Perceptions will change only when more individuals make bold, nontraditional choices, and become successful in doing so. That will establish the credit of choosing what you really want to do – irrespective of your gender.
This is a big goal for us.
It involves the ability and willingness to choose the path of resistance.
It requires educating your sons that forget what your friends say, you should cook, clean and do the dishes in the kitchen.
It means buying toy trucks for your daughter along with the dolls, and let her pick what she wants to play with.
It means equally valuing the contributions of a CEO wife, and her stay-at-home-dad husband.
In many cases, it will look like a happy couple, both sharing the load of work at home to support their work outside of home.
Now it’s your turn:
What is one small action you are going to take to bring more equality of perception in your home?
No matter how small that action is, know that it is one step ahead on the right path. Such small actions from thinkers like you one day lead the change that we all want to see in this world.
Now go, and take that action!
Thanks to Unsplash at Pixabay for the featured image of the couple.