Tyranny of The Pigeon Hole

Of stereotypes, emancipation and a new normal

International Women’s Day is celebrated every year on March 8. It serves as a reminder of a movement for women’s rights and of several deeper malaises plaguing society today. One such malaise is stereotypes i.e. gender, personality etc.

The amazing thing is that passing judgment has become a world pastime. Many people are quick to pigeon hole other people into convenient stereotypes that usually stay within the predefined hole perhaps for a lifetime. The nerd, the jock, the jester, the oppressed women, the macho hero. These are convenient frameworks for organizing humanity into neat divisions not very different from a biological classification of species. However, it is universally acknowledged by “logical” people that scientific classification can evolve in the light of new evidence. Why the bias then, towards the most intelligent species — homo sapiens.

Consider the potential damage to the mindset of the individual labeled a nerd. While one can only empathize, no one can truly step into somebody’s world. The reality is that the quintessential Hollywood fodder of an underdog story does happen quite frequently in real life. Art does imitate life.

Besides, what constitutes “normal” differs. But, society conveniently labels people as abnormal. What, then, of diversity and the pursuit of happiness. The world is a richer place because of different choices. The simple truth is every human is entitled to be happy. Enabling happiness is where others come in.

As far as women’s rights are concerned Germany in 2015 passed a law reserving 30% of seats on the board of directors for women. Research by Catalyst highlighted below shows the percentage of women on boards in different countries. Although the research is dated, it highlights an important yardstick to measure women’s emancipation. Granted that most of the developed world has moved beyond thinking of women’s rights as issues. But, the data shows a different picture i.e. there is a tremendous scope for improvement. This proves that some part of the stereotypical woman as a lesser participant in the economy is true. Universally though, unlocking women’s potential to contribute to national GDP is beyond reproach.

Besides board membership, there are parts of the world which are devoid of basic human rights for women. The UNDP’s Human Development Reports include a Gender Inequality Index(GII) which can layout the differences in women’s development across 155 countries in the world.

(source : UNDP)

One of the United Nations Sustainable Development (Millennium) goals is gender equality or the eradication of all forms of discrimination against women — www.undp.org

The framework doesn’t need reinvention but out mindsets do. While feminism is a rightful pursuit, humanism and compassion for other life forms should be a universal pursuit.

There is a lot to be happy about. Most of the developed world provided women the right to vote by the 1920's. Ironically, it took a world war to change mindsets. Saudi Arabia allowed women to vote in municipal elections in 2015. Thus, there is as much a cause for celebration as for introspection and working towards women’s enablement and emancipation. Freedom of choice, education, elimination of all forms of violence towards women need to be every man’s goals. Darkness comes in many forms I.e. female infancticide, dowry, child marriage still exist and need to be treated on par with medical epidemics.

International Women’s Day may be utilized by talking about all the ways we can make a difference to the most disenfranchised women. Start by talking about the weakest links.

Overall,though, while failure is recognized as inevitable, there is a low tolerance towards failure. People’s perception change only after success. There is a need to reserve judgment, refrain from stereotyping and understand that people change. Materialistic pursuits still dominate human consciousness and understandably so. Unless basic desires are fulfilled, pursuit of spirituality will prove elusive. After all, nobody was born knowing the right path to salvation.

On a broader scale, there is a need to move beyond stereotypes and recognize that someone can be a nerd as well as a jock. Barring encouragement of anti-social behavior, a new normal is where “normal” is overrated but the pursuit of happiness occupies a central position.

Writer @ The Intersection of Finance, Tech & Humanity. Stories of a Global Language: “Money”. Contributor @ Startup Grind, HackerNoon, HBR. Twitter@akothari_mba

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