It doesn’t matter how you feel. What matters is what you do about it
Perhaps you are the father of a seven-year-old daughter. Or perhaps you have twin sons, both under 10. You are wondering what the heck is going on in this world with the #MeToo movement. Like most of us, you oscillate. Has it gone too far? Will it do enough for women in the workplace? Will it make the world safer for girls like your daughter? What if the wrong women take advantage of this movement and screw men, literally and figuratively? What will happen to your sons when they grow up? Is #MeToo too much? Too crazy? Now what?
Now, here is the thing. It doesn’t matter how you feel. What matters is what you do about it. If you happen to be a dad to a daughter, what matters is how you change your behaviour, your workplace, your home and your society. You owe it to your little girl. If you happen to be a dad to a son, ditto. You owe it to your little boy. Because the world they will inhabit is changing with warp speed. The question is whether you are willing to play a part in it. If you are the dad to your ladli beti (beloved daughter), here are some suggestions to use or discard.
Promote women in your workplace in ways small and large. Realise that only if women’s voices are heard will they be viewed as equals in the power hierarchy. And #MeToo is equally about power as it is about gender. So, make the women around you powerful. Empower them to speak.
If you are invited to be part of a panel, insist on at least one woman panelist as well.
If you are part of a multinational that hosts annual conferences with keynotes and other speakers, try to find a woman speaker. Most summits, conferences, and other leadership events have a disproportionate number of men who speak.
When your daughter “talks back,” don’t wince. Don’t scold. Just listen to what she is saying. Give her the benefit of the doubt. Gradually, teach her how to speak her mind but courteously. Remember Jawaharlal Nehru’s words about a nation….long suppressed….finds utterance. Don’t suppress your child’s utterances.
Realise that the easy way out for all of you men in your late 30s, 40s and 50s always involves choosing a man. When you need someone to lead a tough project or assignment, men are the ones that come to mind. Dig a little deeper and see if you can take a chance with a woman. Your daughter will thank you for it.
Try to get comfortable with emotions and feelings. When your son (or daughter) cries, don’t shush them. Suppressing these emotions tells boys that they cannot be vulnerable. It teaches girls shame. Both are poisonous. When boys are taught that emotions are bad, they lose the empathy that is the most beautiful part of the human condition.
Realise that you may be the best dad in the world; you may think of yourself as a feminist. You may even be hailed as a male leader who champions women. And yet, you will have unconscious biases that need to be addressed. Google makes its roughly 60,000 employees all over the world undergo “unconscious bias” training. You can take a simple test to see if you have such bias. Try the Gender Roles test. If you test positive and realise that you are indeed a biased person, that doesn’t make you wrong. It makes you human. The good news? You can correct for these unconscious biases. Many companies now offer “unbiasing” programmes that attempt to overcome years of cultural stereotyping. For example, when you think of a “judge”, does a male or female image come to mind? Why?
A close friend of mine wears a T-shirt that says “Macho Feminist.” Now you can argue with the semantics, but the idea is that it is possible for strong males to be feminists. What type of feminist are you?
At office meetings, seek out opinions from women, particularly if they are in a minority. Realise that a confident exterior is not always linked to a clever interior.
Lastly, retrain your mum, particularly if you live in a joint family. Indian mothers are complicit in this power equation because they have raised their sons differently from their daughters. Old-fashioned mothers may play well in tear-jerker movies but they are so hopelessly out of date when it comes to your daughter’s generation.
May the force be with you. And your daughter as she goes out into the world. And for that matter, your son.
(This column addresses the issue of parenting our parents, an integral part of This Indian Life and our culture. If you have stories about the weird and wonderful relationships that enrich or enervate your life, write in.)
This Indian Life appears every fortnight
From HT Brunch, November 25, 2018
BRUNCH Updated: Nov 24, 2018 21:32 IST