I remember Nirmala Sitharaman as a very strict woman; pursed lips, fixed eyes, fixed ideas, flared nostrils. She appears as a very strong willed woman. Will her stance help her in Defence policies is yet to be seen. But I am amazed at her comments about her selection. Two things in her interviews stand out for me.
- A) Her acceptance is laced with thanking her party bosses for considering her for the post of Defence Minister; As if her selection was not based on her own merit but a magnanimous gesture of her boss.B) The constant emphasis how she has taken up a job traditionally held by men.
There is always a first time for everything. When a man achieves something for the first time in his particular profession, we easily accept it as a great personal ‘Human’ achievement. But when a woman achieves something in her profession, it is never taken in the human professional context. It is almost always taken in gendered context to highlight how she has taken a job or a position which was ‘Mostly held by Men’.
For eg. A plumber leaves his tools and takes up brushes and starts to paint and gets his first exhibition. We would never say “Plumber has broken the glass ceiling or the plumber has broken into the Artists’ bastion to have his first personal exhibition.” Sounds funny isn’t it.
We accept plumbing and painting as professions and we easily assume that a man can achieve anything in either. But what if a woman artist took up plumbing? Can you imagine the views or headlines on that? Whenever a woman decides to take up a position or a profession where there were lesser or no women, we quickly jump to give credence to the false belief that she has broken into a “Male Bastion.” Thereby putting more emphasis that there is something called a Male Bastion or a profession suitable or held or should be held or done by men; Giving the said profession a gendered identity.
It is true that there are some professions where there are more men and there are some professions where there are more women. Traditionally if Men were hunters, women were farmers & weavers but in present time men are farmers or weavers or both. We never felt that in such professions there was any male / female bastions or Glass Ceilings. Men and women floated easily between professions because they never saw those as bastions held by any one gender.
There is nothing called a ‘Glass Ceiling’. It’s all in the mind. Nirmala Sitharaman is highly educated, perhaps even more than some of her party compatriots, is experienced in politics, yet, she feels overwhelmed. There! You have it… THAT is the glass ceiling. Many women do not feel that Defence is something that a woman could handle. Since it has been held by men, so it must be a ‘Male Bastion’(sic). We never talk about the men breaking female bastions as breaking Glass Ceilings, for eg, a Male nurse.
They further reinforce the stereotype by thanking the male peers and seniors and they think it is a great thing that a woman could be considered for that post. They praise and thank the male peers and bosses of the same profession for leaving a little space for the woman to fit in. Compare it to a man’s statement after getting a similar post. Either the women didn’t have enough faith in them or they are too confused about what deep seated patriarchy is and what empowerment is.
The more we assign the term ‘Male Bastion’ to any profession or position; we kind of add concrete to a concept which is not there in the first place. Agreed that women, due to lack of opportunity, education and training have arrived late in some positions, but they are getting there. And they will get there, by sheer mettle, virtue and talent. Not because they are women; but because they are the best suitable for that position.
Think of all the professions where we mostly saw men and now we see women and vice-versa and note down what it is that you feel when you see a woman in a profession where you expected a man and vice versa.
Constantly seeking passive approval of male peers and bosses to assess the capability of a woman is the biggest trap that women create for themselves, which hampers their growth in any organization, prospect and job opportunities, hampers their demand for equal pay, responsibilities and rights as an individual worker.
There is no Glass Ceiling. Do away with this term. The more you acknowledge it the more
it will be visible. You cannot be constantly fighting an invisible demon in the head.
By Sangeeta Das