Stop Using Biological Differences To Justify Gender Discrimination
Just a few days ago, the debate on who should be responsible to make the beds took a different turn at my house. My brother retorted at my sister’s claim of discrimination in the distribution of housework by saying, “Will you cry discrimination when you will be asked to conceive a child and not me?” While this argument cracked my parents up and somewhere gave them the satisfaction that finally, the debate had reached an end, it raised many questions. What has pregnancy got to do with equal treatment of boys and girls at home and equal division of responsibilities? Why do men conclude all the debates on equal rights by pointing out the fact that women are biologically different? Should biological differences justify gender inequality in society or become a determining factor, when it comes to how women are treated?
The current debate around period leaves, for instance, has ended up projecting women as disadvantaged and weak compared to men because of their body functions. Periods and pregnancy come to women naturally. But why should a woman’s body determine if she deserves equality in society? It is not the ability to get pregnant that causes women to drop out of the workforce after all. It is the social compulsion to prioritise motherhood over work that does. So then why can’t work policies and responsibilities be drafted accordingly? Why can’t we encourage men to be more involved parents? If duties are shared on an equal footing at home, won’t this enable women to focus better on work, without wearing themselves out by juggling duties on multiple fronts?
It is true that our bodies function differently from that of men, but this difference becomes a deterrent in our progress only because our society functions on the basis of a man’s sociological and biological system. Our workplace culture was designed to suit men, not women. And while women have broken many glass ceilings in previous decades, we are far from seamless integration at workplace, where the needs of every gender are of equal concern. But for that to happen, we have to embrace the biological differences in our bodies and not turn away from them.
How many of us learnt about the human body for the first time using both female and male body models? The moment someone talked about a woman’s body functions, an uncomfortable silence and a spree of giggles would spread in the classrooms as if something abnormal was being discussed. This shows how the silence around female anatomy and our body functions gets normalised as taboo since childhood.
Can our society ever understand women’s issues, unless it understands our bodies and accepts them as they are, without objectifying them, and reducing them to functions such as sex and reproduction? How can these issues be addressed without alienating women? How can we make men realise that to have our periods isn’t a choice that we make, but to be accommodative, is a choice that our work-culture can make for sure
Let us get this straight, just because a woman’s or a queer person’s body is different, it does not mean that they don’t have the right to equality. There is a need to expand our androcentric understanding of the human body and experiences and give equal space to female and queer anatomy too, so that no one has to compromise on their aspirations or shoulder responsibilities on basis of their gender. And you know what, even men will reap benefits from this change.
The views expressed are the author’s own.