Label Jars,
Not Her

Bossy, Aggressive, Bitch, Difficult

by Swati Jena

Label Jars Not Her

This incident happened a short while ago when attending conferences and firm handshakes were a daily routine. I remember being an intern, walking into this huge conference room, excited to start my first day. However, my first day left me with a big surprise, when I saw a huge registry with two columns separating the workforce based on gender.

You heard me right. They had separate columns with individual headings, which read “female interns” and “interns”. What?
Why do women have “female” or “woman” as a prefix to their role? We often hear people saying “women leaders” or “women directors” or “women presidents”, or “ women’s cricket team”. Why is there no prefix for the same role played by men?

8th March — international women’s day — is a tribute to women around the world. But many are unaware of another important day celebrated before women’s day- 1st March, known as Zero Discrimination Day. This day aims to prevent discrimination from standing in the way of achieving ambitions, goals, and dreams of individuals.

Our country’s constitution was written keeping in mind the rights of the citizens, without any discrimination. It speaks about human rights. It explains the right to equality, right to education, right to speak, right against gender discrimination — why do we still witness inequality prevailing in our society? Being a woman in theory and being a woman in practicality is an entirely different concept. Discrimination begins at our homes, with a majority of women being taught to always prioritize their household chores over their professional responsibilities. It is due to this mentality that women keep doubting themselves. They start thinking of different ways others perceive them. This little office regime of tagging or labelling, where women get tagged with multiple labels, starting with bossy, bitchy, difficult, aggressive, slutty, and whatnot, demoralizes an individual and empowers others’ perspective over their own. Labelling is associated with the concepts of self-fulfilling prophecy and stereotyping which leaves an imprint in the minds of the individuals who are being labeled. According to a Harvard research about labelling individuals, there was no gender difference in the number of positive attributable tags assigned, but when it came to negative attributable tags, women were assigned more such labels than men.

I recall watching Indra Nooyi’s interview where she mentions that her mother casually told her to go and fetch milk from the milk booth soon after she broke the news of her becoming CEO of PepsiCo. To her mother, her achievement was no big deal. What mattered more was that Indra did her daily duties. Her mother’s words were loud and clear that “ She might be the president of PepsiCo. She might be on the board of directors. But when she enters the house, she is a wife, she is a daughter, she is a daughter-in-law, she is a mother and she shouldn’t forget that”. Now, this is exactly where the issue lies. We have gotten comfortable with the demands made to us by a gender-stereotyped society.

This is precisely the reason for poor representation of women in politics, sports, the army, and all those supposedly male-dominated career options. They are paid less than their male counterparts despite their work experience and efficiency. Nevertheless, women keep marching forward amid all their struggles. This everyday struggle of women has been supported by Indian law enforcement and acts that help us fight inequality, such as;  

The Company Act, 2013 Under section 149 of the Company Act 2013; the provision talks about “the mandatory appointment of women directors.”

In the past, qualified women employees have often been prevented from advancing to management positions in companies because of their gender. This invisible yet discernible barrier, called the glass ceiling, prevents women and minorities from rising beyond a certain level of the hierarchy within an organization. To put it plainly, the glass ceiling keeps the top jobs for the big players, which are supposedly men.

This provision has been amended in the year 2018 to meet the increase in demand for women as Board members. This increased women in top positions. In the current scenario, this has helped many deserving women with strong aspiration to rise up the ladder with little support.

A woman with dreams and ambition is enough to revolutionize the societal outlook, but it’s a time-consuming process. This can be achieved only with patience and dedication portrayed by ambitious women who demand equal status irrespective of any support systems.

Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013 The Indian legal landscape changed dramatically in 2013. Corporate governance received a boost from the re-vamped legislation in the form of the Companies Act 2013, which superseded the Companies Act 1956, bringing about the groundbreaking law on a much-needed and burning issue, the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013.

This act ensures women’s safety at workplace; this Act seeks to protect them from sexual harassment at their place of work. This act along with all its rules together is most commonly called the POSH act. It aims to foster a safe and secure environment for women by preventing, prohibiting, and redressing instances of sexual harassment at workplaces in India.

Maternity Benefit Act, 1961 

This act regulates the employment of women and maternity benefits mandated by law. It states that a woman employee who has worked in an organization for at least 80 days during the 12 months preceding the date of her expected delivery is entitled to receive maternity benefits, which includes maternity leave, nursing breaks, medical allowance, etc.

National Commission for Women Act, 1990

The NCW represents the rights of women in India and provides a voice for their issues and concerns. The National Commission for Women Act aims to improve the status of women and work for their economic empowerment.

Equal Remuneration Act, 1976

This Act prevents discrimination in terms of remuneration. It provides for payment of equal recompense to men and women workers.
With time people’s mindsets and actions have changed. Women are demanding equal pay, equal recognition, and equal rights. We want to be recognized in the workplace for our abilities and caliber and to achieve this, it is necessary to know our rights and the law that governs us. These acts are the stepping stones that will help us voice our strong opinions and adhere to our rights.

Over the years, I realized that I need to stand up for myself because no one else would and no one else can. Our ambitions, our dreams, our aspirations, and our will can only help us break through these stereotypes created in our patriarchal society. We need our society to see us play multiple roles with dignity; that with great home-makers, we are also ambitious careerists. Along with the title of ‘Mrs’ we can also proudly uphold the title of a ‘Dr’ too. That our motherhood shouldn’t be a barrier. That one day women will be called “leaders” or “presidents” or “directors” or in my case, just “an intern” without “women” or “female” being used as a prefix. Women would be recognized for their abilities and their personalities, for their opinions and discoveries.
So the next time they label you, showcase your labels proudly. And when they call you:

“Bossy”, keep leading.
“Aggressive”, keep being assertive.
“Difficult”, keep telling the truth.
Because gender bias is real and the words we use matter.

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