Media can be the most liberating and yet a very patriarchal industry for women to work in. A discussion, led by women from publishing, journalism and performing arts, focused on gender inequality in media at the Equal World Equal Spaces event, organised by Institute of France in India.
WOMEN THEN VS WOMEN TODAY
Talking about whether women are in a better place today as compared to when she started her career, Urvashi Butalia, founder of Zubaan books, said: “As a person who has been link to the feminist movement for about two decades now, I can say that feminist reactions don’t come readymade.”
“I question the whole notion of equality because I have serious problems with it. What is it that we want to be equal to? Do we want to be equal to the dreadful, masculine, violent world of media?” – Urvashi Butalia
“What we should be looking at is a transformed and an inclusive world. I don’t think that in the Indian context, we can talk about equality in quite the same problematic way. In publishing, we have for so long talked about the glass ceiling. And it is true that the top ranks in the industry still have men in it. But what is also true today is that the number of women who get published and women in publishing are many more. While men hold top positions, women control the intellectual capital,” she added.
POWER DYNAMICS BETWEEN MEN AND WOMEN
On the power dynamics between men and women, eminent dancer Mallika Sarabhai spoke her mind. She said, “In my performing work, there is one piece that I created called ‘Sita’s daughters’ in 1990. I have done 600 performances on it in English, Hindi and Gujarati and in various communities. And I found that I repeatedly have men coming to me and say, ‘can you explain this to our wives that we don’t want to be the decision makers?’ And I find that by using the arts to talk about these issues and not coming as ‘you are wrong’. I am able to take men with me much more than if you lecture them on why they shouldn’t be sexist.”
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Over the years, she has changed her focus in two ways, Sarabhai said. Initially, she started working with all women and then she went on to younger women and then to adolescent women. Today, she is working with children of four and five years of age as she says that at six, girls start self-limiting themselves. And it is at three and four that society defines gender roles to children.
WOMEN IN FRANCE
Considering the fact that EWES is an Indo-French initiative to bring about changes in terms of gender inequality around the world, the French Embassy had called journalist Laure Adler to speak on the issue. Talking about France and the treatment of women in France, she said, “In the physical space when we are in public, women are not equal to men. In fact, women are men’s objects or prey. Even within, we don’t feel completely that we are our own subjects. There are many reasons for this state of women, but the main is education. So even today, primary schools teach boys to have ideas and be active and women to remain in domestic spaces and play with dolls.”
WOMEN IN CORPORATE MEDIA
Talking about women in the corporate sector in the media line, journalist and entrepreneur Shaili Chopra of SheThePeople.TV said, “When it comes to corporate India, we haven’t even scratched the surface about how we even approach the idea of gender equality.”
Chopra took up two examples where women even after running successful business and raising millions of dollars have their male colleagues walk in on them and say, ‘probably you should take some time off because your children are going off for university’ or investors telling them, ‘great that you created this but I am wary of investing in you because the next thing you would tell me is that you are pregnant’. These kinds of questions exist in the real world.
“There are times when 15 out of 1,500 women positively talk about raising funds while being pregnant. But for the rest of the 1,485 women, the story of gender inequality hasn’t changed one bit,” -Shaili Chopra
Chopra feels that we still need to move mountains to fix numbers because until we fix the numbers, we can’t even get to the depth of the conversation.
“While working in the newsroom and being pregnant, often women bosses as much as men bosses consider maternity leave as a break,” – Sunetra Choudhary
EFFECT OF GENDER INEQUALITY IN WORKPLACE
While talking about gender inequality, one of the main issues is also when women hold other women’s success back. Journalist and writer Sunetra Choudhary explains it well. “While working in the newsroom and being pregnant, often women bosses as much as men bosses consider maternity leave as a break. I can’t believe that even today when we have come so far that people consider maternity leave as time off work. We need to keep telling each other that I am bringing up a child.”
“And the second kind of awareness and empowerment that women should learn is to make a support system for each other rather than turning against each other for working outside home. Women don’t need to stop working for bringing children up. Everyone should earn their own living and that is the only choice a person — whether male or female — has got.”