Thursday, November 22, 2007


Isn’t it ironic that a woman spends half her life trying to prove she can do it as well as a man, and the rest in disproving the adjunct of “difficult” she earns as a result of that effort!

Vinita Dawra Nangia

Being a woman is like being on stage for most part of the day -- enacting roles, proving your worth, being watched and generally being put to test, so to speak.

In a work scenario dominated by men, a woman has to first prove she’s no less capable and then get on with the day’s work. Fighting stereotypes and biases, she has to initially put in double the effort to be half as effective. If she is to achieve a measure of success, a woman has to necessarily be tougher and more focussed than a guy. For, very soon a working girl realises it’s better to have a “tough” image rather than a compliant one. Though, later on, this unfortunately is what proves to be her nemesis!

As it did with Kiran Bedi. Supercop, superwoman – yet superceded for post of Delhi police commissioner by a man two years her junior in service. Where did she go wrong?

Men usually have two tried and tested ways of dealing with a woman at work – they either slip into the “Me Tarzan, you Jane” role with effortless ease, or they try their darnedest to desex her and accept her as “one of the boys”! With the first they settle into a comfortable, lightly flirtatious mode, in turn bestowing or withdrawing smiles to make her do their bidding. With the second, she becomes what Kiran Bedi calls their “booze buddy” – bingeing at watering holes and sharing a smoke on the staircase with them. Here she becomes one of them and more often than not, goes into an overdrive to acquire male acceptability.

When a woman resists both these castings and rather than gaining popularity with the men, concentrates on being an effective, no-nonsense professional, men resort to tagging her with their favourite epithet for women they can’t control – DIFFICULT! Obviously from their viewpoint she is difficult – because she is immune to all sexist manipulative tactics they know, and yet, as efficient and capable as they come!

In attempting to manage her work efficiently, she has earned the reputation of a succesful doer, who will naturally rub many up the wrong way as she goes about her work.

And so, when the time comes to reward her efforts, men around dither because they are out of their depth dealing with someone who scares them with her effiiency. Hence the epithet “difficult woman”.

Isn’t it ironic that a woman spends half her life trying to prove she can do it as well as a man, and the rest in disproving the adjunct of “difficult” she earns as a result of that effort!

While Kiran Bedi was good enough for some of the most difficult and unpopular postings (each one of which she turned around to her advantage), when it was her chance to be appointed police commissioner, her “tough, independent image” became her nemesis! Similarly, seniormost woman IAS officer Reva Nayyar didn’t make it as Cabinet Secretary. and Veena Sikri, IFS, wasn’t given any reason why government chose to overlook her when it came to appointing Foreign Secretary!

Have you noticed that while merit lists of school and competitive exams are dominated by girls, in the journey between classroom and boardroom, they seem to lose their advantage? Why? Because in the office situation, unlike at school or competitions, she is for the first time being evaluated, not as another roll number, but as a woman!!

Twenty-one years ago the Wall Street Journal had coined the term “glass ceiling” to refer to apparent barriers that prevent women from reaching the top hierarchy. For every Kiran Bedi who hits the headlines today, there are still any number of other victims who wither unseen.

No man can acknowledge the multi tasking dexterity of a woman. And she pays for that; how she pays! She is usually the one who handles home as well as office, but dare she let the twain meet? Not if she hopes to see her career graph on an upward swing!

If her children are unwell, she better give any other excuse but the truth or she gets typecast as a woman with family problems, unable to bear up under office pressure.

So then, does this mean that a woman in order to be successful, must settle into being either compliant or a booze buddy? Here I disagree with Kiran Bedi. Though slipping into roles men find comfortable may smoothen your daily official interactions, it certainly doesn’t translate into promotions or increments! The only women who have yet made it to the top – and there is a handful in India even today – are those that chose to march to their own drummers and were efficient professionals.

If she hopes to be a successful professional, a woman must learn to run neither with the wolves, nor with the hounds. She has to pave her own path and in doing so, ensure she doesn’t rub too many people up the wrong way. She needs to pray hard that men lose their insecurities.

And she has to be lucky. Man, does she have to be lucky!

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