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International Women’s Day #100

March 8, 2011

I have generally avoided spouting views publicly on women, gender equality and feminism because my take on the situation has been evolving over the years and is far too complicated/confused to be summarised in a pithy post. I am averse to claiming membership to many of the existing feminist camps because many of them adopt stances too extreme for my taste; on the one hand, my ‘one-of-the-guys’ status amongst friends makes me cringe from the divisive men vs. women debate and on some days, I cringe at the phrase ‘one-of-the-guys’ – does my status as a woman who enjoys relatively equal rights as men make me any less of a woman?

However, as the 100th IWD comes to a close, I must mention one observation that has baffled me repeatedly in the last few years. Many of us women denounce the inequality of power and money but continue to foster a culture where woman continually choose to be nurturing, pretty and demure over brainy, highly paid and assertive. Even amongst the most ‘feminist’ of my friends and acquaintances, I see a tendency to encourage amongst their female friends lesser-paying humanities and arts studies, rather than higher-paying science, engineering or finance professions; please don’t theorise about left- and right-brained nature of male and female intelligence – a lot of that is constructed by ‘nurture’ in my opinion. Many of these ladies are quick to quit high-paying jobs leading to positions of power based on a whim that they’d rather try something different. If I hear of another instance of a girl giving up on her PhD plans or lucrative career to move for love or marriage, in irrational ways that many men would not, I will retch!

I have attended several ‘Women in Banking’ and ‘Women in Finance’ events where senior management express frustration at the trend of women choosing to drop out of races while they are winning. Through my boyfriend’s MBA class, I notice highly capable women holding their careers back to suit their partners’ whims. Many of my male friends are a lot more understanding about my choice to stay within banking for purely mercenary motivations. Of course, there are many systematic issues to blame – the lack of work/life balance in many of the highest paying jobs force women into a position where they have to choose between career and motherhood, for instance. Another cultural issue with women rising in male-dominated corporate world is the brand of politics and their appetite (or the lack thereof) for such power games. But even so, why do women, who have had all the opportunity in the world, choose to work in lesser paying and less powerful jobs? Especially in their 20s, when women have fewer/no constraints in terms of juggling household and family responsibilities, why do they not gun for more ambitious jobs? In other words, why am I more likely to find women in obscure activist groups protesting against Goldman Sachs’ compensation policies as opposed to women heading up executive boards in GS and making real changes in compensation policies?

These are not victims of circumstances, but conscious decision-makers opting to take the lesser share of the pie – why?

PS – This is a rant based on personal and anecdotal incidents, so no links to any major studies this time, I’m afraid! I expect some brickbats about how the world is inherently unfair to women, etc, which I do not deny, but the question I raise is about the conscious choices.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. March 10, 2011 6:41 pm

    Unfortunately we find pretty much the same skewed ratio in technology. Maybe, as Wired says, it starts right from school, where the distribution of science and math teachers is skewed:

  2. Shilpa permalink
    March 13, 2011 4:35 am

    Interesting. I wonder why too. Personally I do think I will give up corporate world in the near enough future. Maybe make movies or plays instead. It is a priority of what makes me happier vs. wanting to be out of the race or priority of family etc. But then again, I do think many men would want to do the same as well. So probably not the same scenario as what you have written here.

    P.S. I think I just made zero sense there.

  3. March 17, 2011 5:49 pm

    Maybe they are just smarter in choosing happiness over material wealth..

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