Tuesday, May 25, 2021

A future blocked by a ceiling...

Every time I listen to a panel discussion about 'Breaking the glass ceiling,' I get miffed by the stories that are told. Not because they are glorified, but more per-say, as they convey only a partial narrative of the privileged minority of the population.

And while it is okay that this makes my blood boil, it is time things need to be said exactly as the way they should be. So, here I am, ruffling the hornet's nest and opening the pandora's box. But before you start looking for me – to punch me in my face, hear me out.

Yes, I agree, acknowledge, and applaud all modern educated quintessential women within and outside the corporate world. And that is indeed a remarkable feat, considering our history of generations laden with patriarchy.

The premise of my disagreement begins here. All these women, whose remarkable achievement we are in awe about – were highly educated, acted on their own will, and powered by their own confidence and determination ventured into a world dominated by men to achieve something which we did not expect them to. At least that what we are happy to believe – 'That they were not capable of achieving it.' Though this belief is nothing but shameful,

I would still say, "To some extent, such a belief is fine, since it reflects centuries of 'stinking upbringing' – telling us men that we are born superior."

I am sure, by now, either you are raging with anger or are confused, as I have not hit home yet. So before either one of you hits the snooze button, let me hit the nail hard, and put things where they belong.

So, here is my first question. Are we looking at the complete picture? I would say, "No". That is not even one pixel. Forget being a portion of the image. Because no one is talking about the barely educated or probably the un-educated woman on the street, who might be working as a housemaid, unskilled laborer, or some other odd job.

Most of these women face all sorts of resistance, domestic violence, social rebuke and discrimination, and a lot of other unmentionable things – from all directions.

Trust me when I say this, "99% of these unprivileged women don't even know that in some corner of the city that they live, has a talk-show going on, were some 3 or 4 significantly well to do and educated ladies are narrating some story about their life, which goes like – "I had to convince my dad for a week to let me study marine engineering at IIT."

To that, my fuming response would be, "WTF. Grow up and clean the wax out of your ears. Be happy that you had a father who understood what IIT and an Engineering Degree from there means. Think about the one whose father comes home drunk every day, beats his wife and daughter black and blue. And probably even does things that no sane person would ever think of."

Alright, before I start pointing fingers, lets me present some realistic data which explains the educational and social background of a few of our role models who have 'broken the glass ceiling.'
  1. The top boss of a global beverage company has two Masters' Degree in Management. One from the Indian Institute of Management and another from YALE University.
  2. The CEO of a global digital learning organization has a Bachelors' Degree in Engineering from IIT and a Master's Degree in Management from IIT.
  3. A renowned TEDx speaker and published author whom a popular social media website ranked as Top Voice for a recent year have done her college education from Harvard.
  4. Another one with a similar resume went to study at the London School of Economics. Yes, the same one where one of the country's past Prime ministers and a well-published economist studied.
I hope you get the logic I am trying to put here. However righteous or ridiculous it might sound, it is equally important to point out that all these educational institutes where our role models studied have an intake rate of less than 2.5% and probably an equally competitive graduation statistic. And yes, the education there is expensive, but it takes much more than sheer good luck to be able to have studied there.

Let me dive a little deeper, here I am referring to the section of women in the society who do not even know that phrases like – Equal Pay Parity, Gender Diversity, Martial R* is really a crime, and 'Saying no' is an option, etc. exist. Being submissive, keeping a low profile, remaining silent about any sort of abuse is all these women know and understand. All of which is unacceptable. The real effort of abolishing the disparity must begin here itself.

I have seen many people going gaga about many achievers calling them icons of 'breaking the glass ceiling'.

These are the people who have spoken at world podiums, written books, led teams, climbed mountain peaks, or even ruled nations. Life in its true sense is not just about a handful of people. There are a majority of women whose entire life can be summarized in 3 words – Struggle for existence.

However, I am not here to belittle anyone's achievements. Like I said initially, "I agree, all the women CEOs and Start-up Wizards have worked hard to get wherever they are. And, obviously, their success stories must be known, shared, celebrated, and followed as role models. But let us divert our attention on those, who have a similar story, but probably their narrative does not involve words like – College Degree, MBA, Start-up, Boardroom, Awards etc."

In my humble and personal opinion, the 'REAL Glass Ceiling' issues can be summed up through either of the following narratives.

  • For an average girl, the 'glass ceiling' is nothing more than – "Not being ogled upon, when she walks barely 300 meters from her home to buy a packet of potato chips."
  • For the one traveling to her school or college in public transport, it ends at – "Returning home without having a man touch her or making an attempt to.
  • For some, it is achieved every morning, if on the night before she was not beaten, was not forced upon, or the husband or a grown-up son did not snatch or steal money from her to buy booze or gamble.
  • For another one waiting to be married, the same so-called ceiling comes crashing down – on the day, she does not have to don a saree, wear make-up, and do a shy walk, in front of a bunch of strangers, desperate to evaluate her and find fault in her; just so that some extra dowry can be bargained.
I could go on and on with a long list of stories of the kind for which a different definition of 'glass ceiling' needs to be coined, and that too pronto. But I alone taking a step forward in that direction will not suffice. I would need help.

Now, if you are thinking of saying, "a drop at a time fills the bucket,." I would say my thoughts above are not even the first drop. They are just an honest realization that an empty bucket exists, which should have been filled a long time back. As I write this piece, I am just trying to look for a place where this bucket can be kept to get filled. And this place is not marked on Google maps. We need to create it from scratch. Probably, if you too agree that the bucket needs to be filled, share your thoughts so that we all together can make this place.

- Candid Speaker

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