The feminism behind gender bias

Published: July 19, 2012

Gender is a socially constructed dogma, that is deeply rooted in most cultures and societies around the world.

Regardless of whether you believe in the word ‘feminism’ or not, it is important to understand the context of it. Feminism has been associated with highly negative connotations such as ‘a career-obsessed women’, an ‘un-Islamic’ woman and the woman who loathes men.

Gender is a socially constructed dogma, that is deeply rooted in most cultures and societies around the world; it has the power of shaping our identities from cradle to grave.

Sady Doyle noted in her article “Don’t worry, be unhappy” that,

“The basic point of the movement has always been that women and men are more similar than they are different, and that it is unjustified to assign limited roles in terms of family systems, social power and status based on something as biased as gender, rather than talent or intelligence or work ethic”.

In reality, it is as simple as telling a baby boy that ‘boys don’t play with dolls’ or telling a man, ‘don’t cry like women’; this makes it clear that it is not that girls know by birth that dolls are for girls – it is how they are conditioned to believe.

Likewise, when men want to cry in their times of loss and despair, they  are forced to control their tears through aggression, because from birth they have been told that crying is a girl’s prerogative.

Undoubtedly, the social conditioning gives birth to conscious and unconscious biases which become our second nature and we start practising it in our daily lives without second guessing our actions or thoughts.

However, by this argument, I do not mean to say we should ask boys to play with dolls or girls to play with cars, but we should allow them to explore their likes and dislikes along with basic ethics and respect for individual differences.  Since the idea behind this critical thinking is to address the need for changing the gender-bias patterns, regardless of how long it takes, only then women and men will be better able to reach their full potential as an equally contributing member of society.

In lieu of the above discourse, my understanding of feminism is about women’s roles in public life and society, free of religious and cultural rhetoric.

This understanding can become a functional philosophy if Pakistani men and women willingly work together to keep socio-economic issues from turning into religiously justified limits on women’s rights. But before creating any revolutionary thinking, we as women need to realise that the age-old restrictions have lessened, but have not gone away entirely.

Women are constantly being slathered with contradictory expectations such as,

“Be as good at your job as any man, but never lose that special feminine side.”

“Be pretty and sexy, but not so pretty and sexy that people can’t take you beyond having sex.”

“Get an education, work hard, be ambitious and stay married, remember divorced women have no future but divorced men do have one!”

“Don’t be so career-obsessed that you can’t manage your man or your babies”.

Speaking of babies, one should not forget that there life will become a misery without the babies! As for a successful career, you should have some glory but not too much of it, that you end up scaring the men off by getting more attention than they do. Lest we also forget that a working women may decrease her chances of finding a husband all together because she is supposedly cunning, street smart, maybe promiscuous and flirtatious even, after all landing a successful job can’t be due to her intellect, right?

The answer lies in pushing these parameters set by our society, since time immemorial. Women who shy away from saying “No” and willingly volunteer to become doormats in the hands of patriarchal society end up with all sorts of physical and emotional ailments.

In the analysis of most talked about Anne-Marie Slaughter’s Atlantic cover story, “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All”, Victoria Bekiempis emphasized that, women are expected to  come home from work and then manage a second job as a domestic employee.

The Economist reports that women invest an hour a day toward housework, while men may only spend 20 minutes. Then, as soon as they get pregnant, a group of friends and family members find a reason to celebrate the birth and rave about their long-lived career with the following  piece of advice,

“Now, that you have a baby, stop worrying about losing job, because your baby needs your undivided attention”.

Because, anyway, only a few employers would justly accommodate working moms’ needs, from breastfeeding to scheduling babysitters.

According to Slaughter’s article, the impractical solutions often thrown at working women are,

“It’s possible to have work-family balance with the right partner”.

“If it’s not working, you’re not trying hard enough”.

Such advice and reviews have made the language of women empowerment a bit insensitive towards the over-burdened women of an unjust system, as rightly pointed Bekiempis. Or sadly enough, the language would shift from being insensitive to bitter in cultures like India and Pakistan where people are used to the idea of women looking after babies. They will frequently say to the men folks,

“Work-family imbalance is the result of giving too much freedom to your daughters, wives, or mothers”.

Realising the tide of intricacy of assigned and expected gender roles, I am confident that, even today, if we do not set our own boundaries then we should quit whining about others taking advantage of us.

It is difficult to run a household and manage work full time; a role set by us ‘women’ to please our husbands and in-laws and more often to earn the status of a superwoman in family circles.

Why is it so difficult for us to admit that men are certainly capable of taking care of the kids, shop for food and prepare it, and manage the house after work just like women? Why moms can’t stop conditioning their sons to be princes, bread earners, caretakers, and have a sense of superiority over the opposite sex? Why can’t they stop encouraging their daughters that their ultimate goal is to raise a happy family with a bunch of children and always be fulfilling to their husband’s needs who are supposedly ‘their real caretakers’?

Having said that, it is not about being selfish but it is considerably an appropriate way to cleanse our young ones from being gender-biased.

The efforts towards balancing work and family would always be an uphill task for most of the working women  and until we start believing in what Albert Einstein once said,

“The world we have created is a product of our thinking; it cannot be changed without changing our thinking”.

My request to everyone, men or women, is to show some dignity towards collective human welfare instead of worshiping gender binary.

Read more by Tasneem here. 

Tasneem Z Faridi

Tasneem Z Faridi

The author is an M.A. graduate in Corporate and Public Communication from the USA, who aspires to teach Gender/Women Studies in the the coming years.

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Raheel

    I don’t think that author herself has showed any dignity towards collective human welfare. Recommend

  • Hammad

    Feminists secretly want men to get pregnant instead of women. I’m just saying, nobody should have any right to tell a woman what to do and what not to do, but there are something we can’t really change, such as the nurturing and care nature of a female which compels her to make the decision that she does, like prioritizing her children over her career.Recommend

  • Sarah B. Haider

    That was a good write-up Tasneem! I agree with you. As for our society, it is women themselves who have helped men strengthen the divide. I am sure that most men would consider your article to be westoxicated, simply because people cannot digest anything which is deviant from their own viewpoints. These days, so many girls are doing everything that was once thought to be a man’s duty. For instance, there are many households wherein girls are the wage earners, and if they happen to be falling above the age of 25 and are not married, they are stigmatized by the society for no reason. I remember that once a male colleague of mine, who has graduated from an ivy-league university said one “I don’t like working women. They can never be good wives or mothers; generally they are not worth respecting.” I rebuked his statement and asked what would his opinion be if his sisters had to earn at any given point of time? He replied “Meri behnain AISI nahi hain”.Recommend

  • Hala

    @Hammad:
    i don’t think any feminist ever has said that
    they just think that a woman is more than a baby making machine
    how much more and more in what way is upto the womanRecommend

  • http://blogs.tribune.com.pk/author/430/faraz-talat/ Faraz Talat

    Anne-Marie Slaughter rightly points out the flaw in the feminist culture, where successful women look to all those behind them and say, “What’s wrong with you?”.

    Being able to juggle work and home requires a certain kind of an environment that all women do not have. Even with an understanding husband, there are family matters that ineluctably require mom’s presence at home. Much more than they require the father’s availability.

    Having a working mother myself, I can understand what Slaughter’s trying to say..Recommend

  • Parvez

    I read three quarters of the way and then got tired but I said ‘hey don’t give up’ so I soldiered on ………… but now I’m tired.Recommend

  • ovais khan

    http://battleland.blogs.time.com/2012/07/10/the-nitty-gritty-of-women-at-war/ author read this which may describe to some extant why always cant be equal to men at workplace thats behvioural problem the genetics too Recommend

  • Modazul

    A caring and peaceful and happy environment which can be given by a woman can nit be given by a man. A woman’s smile and appreciation does much more wonders than a man’s. Men just don’t that much ability to provide unmaterialistic comfort as a woman can. Why don’t people understand and accept that? They all know it deep down but still ignore it. Women have different qualities than men do. Men are good at something at the same time women have their own unique qualities as well. Both their roles are important and effective for society. Recommend

  • Clarus

    Its the women themselves who are inculcating that female is a weaker gender and this goes to be passed on to generations. I hardly came across any men objecting why a girl is career oriented where as have came across scores of women in the same social strata saying all wrong about working women. Not sure if everyone but a lot of Fathers are now ensuring that their daughters get the best education,support them in every decision and are very proud of their brave daughters, whereas a lot of mothers would oppose the idea that their daughters opts for a career or goes abroad for studies.
    So
    Its a mother(female) who imposes that her daughter is weak.
    Its also a mother (female) who makes their sons believe that women are weak.
    Its also a mother (female) who ensures that her son does not marry a working women.
    Its also a women (female) who believes that she herself is weak.Recommend

  • Moderate feminist

    Really good write up! Society needs to stop viewing feminism as extremist bra-burning looneys. As the writer said feminism is more about highlighting the similarities between the two genders rather than playing on the differences. I agree that men and women naturally have different qualities but that should not allow negative stereotyping.

    South Asian society needs to step out of their archaic mentality of stigmatizing unmarried career women past 25. Recommend

  • Arslan

    This is a worth read article on gender equality which is in support of true spirit of islamic teachings. Gender equality ensures that women enjoy the same rights as men in the traditional social structure we are living in.Recommend

  • Author

    @Raheel:
    Can you explain me what is your idea of dignified collective human welfare. Because it is very easy to say, “I do not like this, but very difficult to justify your likes and dislikes.”Recommend

  • Big Rizvi

    While you women are constantly battling men for exaggerated reasons, can you please make me a sandwich? :pRecommend

  • Yasir

    O Men, come on, stop objecting to what the other say! Just relax and cool down for a while, ask your self, who is dominating in this article? Men, because it is men relative to whom they are judging themselves. And this one statement, i am dead sure would spark a series of counter arguments.Recommend

  • Future_of_Pak

    women need to chill out and go with the flow – there is no conspiracy against them in a majority of circles and the problem with these highly philosophized rhetorical analyses is that all it really achieves is trying to be a “western” woman … the realities I think are to understand society around you and not over-think thing so much … It is perfectly OK to work, share chores with your hubby/boyfriend/lover/toyboy/roomate/male-demon etc., appreciate and enjoy people around you and be pleasant positive happy humans and stop demonizing everything around you :P Recommend

  • Confused

    @Faraz Talat: Agreed.
    Plus, to the author, it doesn’t really sound like you’re showing any respect to a collective human welfare. You denounce current gender roles by telling men to work on housework more, and you’re also reproaching women who choose to nurture their own children themselves, only leaving some respect to a few similar feminist minds.
    I don’t think there would be any ‘collective’ human welfare in practicality. As long as you’re living in a dogma, following it’s biases would be the most efficient path out, and that’s how many people see it. You go against the dogma, you will still have communal problems to deal with.
    However, if you provide them with a better living environment, they would find it easier to develop their own ways to deal with their lives, their children and their society.
    No use commandeering them, makes you sound exactly like the patriarchy you seem to be against.
    TL;DR version: Provide a better social construct and conditions instead of complaining about people trying to live in those as best as they can, otherwise it’s just even more trouble.Recommend

  • Author

    @Confused:
    First of all no where in the article I said, “men to work on housework” I wrote they are certainly capable of doing it which is applicable on need basis not routine. Also, it is probably just your thinking that people are trying “to live in those social constructs as best as they can” because according to [World Economic Forum's Gender Gap Report of 2011 Pakistan ranks 133 out of 135 countries] [1]: http://www3.weforum.org/docs/WEFGenderGapReport_2011.pdf In which Pakistan is worst in case female socio-economic and political empowerment.
    So think, before you make your own conclusions. Recommend

  • Jules

    @Yasir:
    Lol thaaliyan, with guys like you it’s no surprise Pakistan is where it is. Try contributing something constructive to your kind and your counterparts as opposed to trolling, perhaps you’ll be useful to the world that way ;). Ciao. Recommend

  • http://thedabbabrigade.wordpress.com RiffyR

    This is actually one article that despite have the term “feminism” in the title actually talks about how gender bias has resulted in problems for men too. I don’t know why it’s still being construed as a pro-women write up. Gender equality, anyone?Recommend

  • Yasir

    @Jules:

    Man, instead of trying to comment on my person try to dig out what I said. My culture is my culture, I am not a xenocentric individual. Instead of borrowing concepts of cultures from west, why not make up your own? And If i am guilty of sticking to my culture, let me be guilty. Trying to ride the bandwagon, Pakistan is where is it because many have successful ride up the bandwagon. You have committed another mistake, the black and white thinking. Just try to solve what cognitive problems you have before trying to comment on my posts. Man, civilizations are not built up on riding others shoulders. If you want civilization, then implementation and socialization becomes necessary dimensions. Instead of catastrophizing, we should provide for modernism inside the boundaries of our culture. I am guessing what cognitive problems you will again show up to me in your another post. Recommend

  • Aamir

    Please Please Please,,,stop whining ! we are experiencing change in our society and girls are managing office as well as their families, very few people find it awkward and one of the reason is to justify their daughter in law’s limited education (with no offense to anyone), girls are given preferences everywhere, may it be nadra line, pick n drop facility from office car and many more. Please don’t find ways to object for more !Recommend

  • Yasir

    @Aamir:

    This is what I call reverse discrimination. Giving them preference at the expense of males. Recommend

  • Jules

    @Yasir:
    Instead of trying to comment on my so called cognitive problems, why not try to understand why I said what I said, unless you suffer from cognitive problems yourself…? You say a society should modernize within the bounds of it’s own culture instead of borrowing from the west…? Who defines culture? Culture isn’t something that’s unchanging or set in stone; in every healthy society, culture progresses and continues to do so. When it doesn’t, you have societies that are wrought by imbalance and inequality. As for making up your own concepts, there’s nothing wrong with doing so and holding onto some elements of your cultural identity, as long as those concepts provide a fair society for EVERYONE in it.
    “A civilization which leaves so large a number of its participants unsatisfied and drives them into revolt neither has nor deserves the prospect of a lasting existence.” – Sigmund Freud Recommend

  • Usman Shahid

    Those who really works, their work speaks more and where doing work means just to show-off, feminism and gender comes to play.Recommend

  • Intelektual

    It is true that we are a product of our cultural & religiously infused norms but the question to ask is where these ideologies came from !! It is as simple as the physical differences !!
    Are average 99% of men not stronger and taller and more capable of physical outside work or not !! Likewise can a woman delegate giving birth or nursing a child to a man !! Certainly not ! these are not just dogmas but physical realities ! Are women more prone to getting eveteased or are men ? and even if men are eyed would it really harm them ??
    Just imagine a burgler in ur house would u expect a man to confront him or approach him or would that be a wife’s Job ??

    Having all that said Men should accomodate and understand their life partners and respect a professional lady just as a professional in a work environment that is that the right thing to do there’s no further psychological and overrated reasoning needed respect and space to bloom any one’s individuality.. Recommend

  • Gullible Nomore

    @Usman Shahid:

    Usually ego is shaken up or comes into play for people who find the debate of feminism and gender roles a show-off!Recommend

  • Gullible Nomore

    @Aamir:
    If “girls are given preferences everywhere, may it be nadra line, pick n drop facility from office car and many more.” Then guys find ways to squeeze themselves shamelessly in girls compartment on public buses. They would not miss a chance to touch, rub or scratch women throw bus seat spaces, or in public places. Please don’t find ways to overshadow the debate of gender equality with handful examples nadra line or pick and drop facilities. The issue is beyond that !!Recommend