Men and Women are NOT Equal. Period.
First published in The CSR Journal
“Chums”, “that time of the month”, “monthly” (!), aunty-ji, “unwell” – the list is unending! Almost every school, every city and every family has a code name for periods. While the colours of blue and pink are attributed to the two genders at the baby shower parties even before they are born, the actual act of denial of the differences starts from puberty. While everyone knows about the menstrual cycle, no one is supposed to talk about it. It is like an ostrich hiding its head in a hole to hide.
Since early childhood, a girl grows up hiding her sanitary pad on her way to the washroom, even from her father and brother. Boys are told absurd stories to explain what happened in that special “girls only” session at schools. Anything but the fact seems easier to explain.
On the other hand, the male counterparts have to play their part and pretend that they don’t know about this phenomenon, even if they have managed to educate themselves on their own before the biology lessons could catch up.
Why is it important to discuss this topic or rather is it important to discuss these things?
Well since a long time now a lot of efforts have been put in to bring about gender equality but things are changing at a snail’s pace. The world economic forum predicts that it will take the USA more than 200 years to actually achieve this “equality”. This to me is unacceptable, after all, we are the most intelligent species (that we know of) in the galaxy.
The fact is that the two genders are not actually equal. They are biologically very different which is by design and good. But denying this fact creates an artificial and tiring race. Thus acknowledging the differences and then creating a neutral playing field for both the genders to deliver to their best potential is the need of the hour.
In my opinion, the following three steps can help to usher in gender-neutral workplaces –
Accept – Accept that we are different. No one is better or worse, we are just different. There is no shame in accepting natural facts.
Acknowledge – Acknowledge these differences openly. This is critical since some obvious differences like periods are shoved under the rug while some are artificially created like “nurturing” children being natural for women. Delivering and breastfeeding is definitely biologically impossible for men but nothing beyond that. Age of cameo fathers is finally fading.
It is necessary to sift out and acknowledge the factual differences from the artificial (or dated) ones.
Act – Once we do accept and acknowledge, we need to act. This act can be practising mindful interaction with all the genders or formulating policies that address the root cause rather than those that apply cosmetic bandages. Remembering that gender biases are actually gender unbiased in nature and that gender neutrality is as much about men as it is about women helps to act in this direction.
The forum We-Men@Work on LinkedIn is one such place to discuss and (un)learn deep-seated gender biases at workplaces to practice mindful behavior.
Coming back to periods. The unnecessary pressure of being equal, makes her hide the fact of this biological cycle in her growing up years, then how can she suddenly become open enough to talk about it in her mid-twenties with almost strangers at her office? The social and workplace ecosystem cannot exist in silos.
Accept that periods are a reality of life for females. Having said that I am yet to meet any working woman who takes those 4-5 days easy. Both organizations and employees, cannot afford to do so.
Acknowledge that the cramp pains and mood swings are real, it cannot be an “equal” enabler for a woman to perform at par with her own potential as on other days. Equal as a word fails here even in the context of self-comparison.
A lot of Actions can stem from accepting and acknowledging what periods are and what they are not. Sending mailers focusing on periods and educating the facts associated with it as religiously as secret Santa participation reminders might help to make it a non-taboo topic to discuss at the workplace. Restraining the mailer list to women employees will obviously serve no purpose. I am stating the obvious since I know of more than one corporate that works mostly with the women under their Diversity agenda.
Having said that discussing any topic is a personal choice but removing artificial social barriers from discussing it is in our hands. One can sail through a mild headache at work or just has to talk about throbbing migraine pain. Similarly, periods have a different level of effect on different people and vary from month to month too. I do not expect females to send out announcement mailers when they have their periods but making it a normal phenomenon just helps to mention it like one would mention any other physical constraint (if required) rather than focusing energies on concealing it from the world.
A lot of differences stem out of periods as the life phase changes but for every such difference, we need to differentiate fact from fabricated stories before acting on them. We also need to consciously remember that the context of our society changes every few years hence with the facts remaining the same, the action points will alter.
Few seats reserved in a bus for women might be justified since several ounces of blood draining out from body while travelling might be easier while sitting than standing but seats reserved for office promotions basis gender compromises on the tenacity of merit and push back the agenda of equal opportunities by several miles.