(This is one of those topics for which the disclaimer may be worth reading first.)
I found out last year from a colleague in China that the women there get half the day off on International Women’s Day. My first thought was envy, of course, because who doesn’t want to go home at 1pm? When I relayed this piece of information to my (nice, friendly, male) boss, he joked that the main reason for having such a day was that the remaining 364 days of the year (or even 365 in Leap years) belonged to the men. Oh well.
I had been completely unaware of any such thing as Women’s Day until last year. This year, once again, it was mentioned by colleagues in China, but also noted by a Google doodle. It’s not that I need Women’s day to remind me of women’s issues, but I do think that the day is worth marking. This is interesting because the younger me would just have scoffed at the whole notion.
In my undergraduate class of about 440, there were only about 20 women. This was not a fact that bothered me then, neither does it bother me now, largely because the admission criterion seemed to be fairly objective. (One can always argue that the examination questions were (mostly) created by men and the whole university system was (mostly) designed by men, and therefore there was a deep-rooted, inherent and invisible bias against women, but such assertions are very difficlut to prove, and I don’t see the need to walk down these paths anyway.) It was just how things were. Back then, my notion of female independence, such as it was, was quite restricted and, frankly, superficial. In fact, it probably only included two things — one was that women shouldn’t change their name after marriage and the other was that women should carry their luggage themselves, without relying on male help. (Yup, restricted and superficial.)
In the intervening years, even these ideas lost primacy. Especially in the luggage carrying department, I decided that it was okay for women to accept help if needed, and that this was too trivial an issue to fuss over. I still didn’t see the point of name-changing, but that too stopped being an issue. In many ways, I became completely blind to gender issues. This is perhaps the great thing about college years and the immediate years after. There is so much to take in that one just floats on the surface of the world, never really needing to examine anything. Or so it was for me, anyway.
But that phase passed, and the older (newer?) me now worked in a place where the proportion of women was higher than in college, but it was still pretty common to be the only woman in a meeting. While this situation continued not to bother me, I had realized along the way that women’s issues were at once more subtle and more profound than name-changing and luggage-carrying. And they were everywhere in the whole wide world — they were in Indian villages, they were in Western cities, they were present in sport, they were present in academia. And that it is good to be aware of them.
And so to mark International Women’s Day 2013, I will write about a few specific scenarios that I think are of interest. Of course, the spectrum of women’s issues is vast, and at the end of the day, there are millions of scenarios that are are of interest. But even though this is only a very tiny subset, it still provides a few points to ponder.