The Identity

What daily biases do you unwittingly engage in?

by Tanvi Solapurkar

The Identity Conundrum

A father and his son are in a car crash. The father dies at the scene and his son is rushed to the hospital. At the hospital the surgeon looks at the boy and says “I can’t operate on this boy, he is my son”. How can this be?

My friend, who had a weird, slightly unhealthy obsession with riddles asked me this a few years ago. For those of you who are still confused, the surgeon was his mother! Lucky for me, my friend did eventually outgrow his “riddle phase”, but the reason this particular riddle still resonates with me is because of the amount of time it took for me to figure out the right answer. This is admittedly quite an old riddle now; most of you would have probably come across it and therefore wouldn’t have to waste many brain cells in figuring out the right answer (not that it should require much thinking even if you haven’t heard this riddle before!).

But 16 year old me was embarrassed. I couldn’t come to terms with the amount of time I took because I prided myself as someone who grew up in a progressive and equality driven household. So how could I hold such biases? How could I be so polarised in my thinking? Looking back at this now as a 20 year old, it’s evident how ubiquitous social conditioning is and how it quite literally moulds our perceptions. And I guess that’s why gender biases still persist.

Like most issues, gender bias isn’t just black and white. There are very few people in this world who are outright misogynists or misandrists; most of us fall into the grey area in between the spectrum of black and white. Despite being so aware and well educated about the lack of equality in our society, we can still be biased in our thinking, albeit unconsciously. Yet sometimes, the tenacity of our inherently biased perceptions exceedingly overpowers our education and knowledge of such biases.

Being educated has little to do with the preconceived notions that we have towards certain professions, much like the aforementioned riddle established. These notions consequently give rise to what are colloquially termed as “masculine” and “feminine” professions. Anyone who then fails to adhere to this stereotype almost always falls prey to negative judgement. This is quite superficially, the standard pattern of how things have been working. Beyond the discrimination between male and female gendered professions, the latter gender has been deemed as the inferior one, especially in the workforce*. The reason for this has generally been attributed to the fact that unlike the topic of men and their careers that is treated so mutually exclusively from their familial and social responsibilities, the dissociation of women from such responsibilities doesn’t happen as easily. Even the thought of a woman being the sole breadwinner of a family is still far from being normalised.

However, it is not just the difficulty in dissociation that perpetuates the gender biases we have. A harmful way in which it pervades quite suffocatingly is through the systemic behaviour of subtly teaching our women to often swallow such biases when they face it. I’ve watched reality shows where men refuse to marry women who earn more than them. I’ve heard stories of women being forced to quit their jobs and start a family “because their biological clock is ticking”. I’ve known parents who have justified casual sexism from others towards their own child’s career choice by explaining that such comments stem from care and concern. Each of these examples show how we nonchalantly base our thinking on the fundamental belief of a gender superiority. So it is this behaviour from educated people like us that covertly contributes to the immortality of gender biases because above all, it culminates in women preferring to stay silent. While silence as a response towards casual and unconsciously exhibited sexism in the workforce could possibly preserve a job, it concurrently and unequivocally carries the existing bias forward as well.

So here’s to our resilient women. Those who are facing such biases from others, and their own. The women who have had their career choices questioned and being looked down upon. Those women that have constantly had to prove themselves. And of course, those who retain their passion and persevere through it all.

If there’s anything you should take away from this ostensibly accusatory article, it’s that perhaps the question of overcoming gender biases doesn’t necessarily mean that we must always have to rectify our thinking that ever-so-often demonstrates biases — it’s unrealistic to strive to change something that happens so unconsciously. Perhaps the answer to abating such an issue is simply accepting that us, non-misogynists and non-misandrists are part of the problem too.

Acceptance is imperative, although it isn’t a direct solution to combating these biases. It’s imperative because it naturally brings about a feeling of wanting to change. A change that can hopefully allow women to reach the stage of self-actualisation more easily than ever before. More often than not, this feeling of acceptance is once again, an unconscious one. We do in some ways, become more wary and second guess our perceptions a little bit more than before once we accept our skewed thinking style. It’s as simple as not being able to unsee a flaw once you notice it. And while this is quite a utopian thought, one can only hope that the unconscious desire to change for the better ultimately counterbalances and possibly triumphs our unconscious thinking biases.

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