I bought a car recently. I am remarkably good at wriggling finances around (having become good via necessity). I am remarkably decent at finding out what I like and buying it without getting ripped off. Wound up at a decent dealership. They were quite nice, except…both the saleswoman and the financial representative spoke to my companion (male companion) about the car and the pricing. I was the one paying. I was the one buying. And in the end, when the car was ready, the saleswoman gave the car keys to this male companion of mine.
I work at one of those fast-paced software firms. They liked (initially) handing the mathematics-heavy and coding-heavy bits to my male colleague, though he had far less of a background in mathematics and computer science than I did. I got handed the drudgery. Unlike the car situation, where I cared enough not to make a fuss out of it before my male companion, I quickly amended the work situation by reminding them of the reason why they hired me (the mathematics and the computer science). There is a lot of drudgery, but it is evenly distributed these days.
I go out to dinners with male companions. I usually pay, because I have one of those reward cards. It doesn’t matter. The waiter brings the male companion the cheque, the waiter takes my card (which has my photo on it) with a smile, bills the meal, and brings back the card (my card) and the receipt to the male companion. And it is all taken as acceptable by most men I have had dinners with. There was Sibelius, who is rather perceptive, who gently and politely told the waiter at Cafe Jonah that the card was mine, and that it would be nice if the cheque was placed halfway between us or discreetly to either side, without making it a point to place it right before him. The waiter changed his ways after that, at least when serving us.
I know men, even today among those whom I associate with, who still think it best that women stay at home after giving birth, to make sure that the children grow up with good values and such. I remember Babylon called a woman’s commitment to career after giving birth a selfish choice. I have a mother who stayed at home. I rather think everyone would have been better off if she hadn’t stayed at home. She didn’t have a choice, given the family and the society. I don’t think I will cease work for such a reason, though I like the idea of a child at some point, perhaps in the never-will-happen future where I can afford quality childcare. I find it appalling that many men (or women) assume that children might automatically become priority for me (priority enough to set aside other things in life), just because it is so for their wives (or for them). Apparently, it is too hard to not assume. “You can take a break and return to work,” they tell me. “Any time spent with your child is rewarding and fulfilling. A mother’s role is the most important. Genetically, physiologically, a woman will want children and want to take a break from her career to bond with her children. It is all worth it.” Might be, for them, and I am glad it worked out. I wish they let me be, though. There is no reason to try validating their choices by convincing me to attempt the same formula.
“So you are taken?” is a question men (or women) often ask me. Other times, it is “So you are off the market?”. I’d love to tell them that I was busy taking and partaking while they likely were still stuck masturbating to posters of actresses (or mooning over posters of actors or sports-men), fantasies of school-teachers, and porn-videos. I don’t tell them that. Instead, I change the topic. I have little patience for small-talk, particularly if it involves such questions that I consider a bit discriminatory. When men are asked, it is usually more politely, with a better choice of words.
“You must change your last name after marriage!” is another problem. Women tell me that I must, because they have done so and they like it (or don’t). Men tell that I must, because it is tradition, because it is part of showing how much you commit, because it is good to have the household under a single name, because they don’t understand why I wouldn’t want to, and the list goes on. For some reason, intentionally or otherwise, these arguments which usually become increasingly shrill, pleading and demanding in turns, go on despite my attempt to explain the concept of preferences (‘It’s okay if you change it. It’s okay if I don’t.’). It took me years before I settled on my last name. I quite like it and can think of no reason to contemplate a change. Commitment, to me, is monogamy between the sheets, and financial/other major decisions taken together. This expectation of a name change sits ill with me (‘it is only a name!’ ‘but if you can’t even make this small compromise…’).
I’ve had enough of family (mine) to last me a life-time. I am unlikely to put more investment into this business of catering to other people’s families. In India, the process is called ‘adjustment’, and it is expected, at least in my society. The man is not expected to ‘adjust’.
Most of the men at my workplace are full of virtues. They don’t set out to discriminate, unlike the peer-group I know from India. Discrimination here, at least at my workplace, happens more due to a lack of awareness than due to intention.
I am sharply aware of discrimination. I grew up in a society that enforced it. I was expected to study well until I was married off. I was expected to take interest in babies and kitchen-talk and cooking and clothes once I had hit puberty. The living rooms were for the men, who spoke of more serious matters. The women ate only after the men had eaten. I had had a difficult time of it then, since I have never been overly interested in other people’s children (they all looked the same), or their spouses (a Bell curve), or cooking (I prefer food cooked for me, will cook when necessary, and have no interest in trying to cook other people’s recipes) or clothes (I am rarely interested in your clothes. Sometimes, I am interested in how you look with your clothes off).
I went to an undergrad university where men ganged up together during electrical lab experiments and did not let me participate, giggled amongst themselves and ignored me when I tried to communicate, and in the end looked smug when I asked them to at least give me the experiment readings so that I could go and calculate the output. There were better men there, but they preferred to ignore the whole male chauvinism business. It did not affect them, after all. I wish they had ignored me, just as they had ignored the chauvinism. They didn’t. They tried to flirt, conveniently skirting this real problem which badly affected my education there. They believed themselves better than the rest (they were, of course), and because of that they believed themselves entitled to attention and fawning over. My room-mate, extremely world-wise, had pinpointed the issue long before I got around to it.
I feel strongly about all of this discrimination business. I think I have come to embrace a lossy way of dealing with these things. I have, through necessity, turned rather resilient to this, though I still feel frustrated each time this happens. I feel strongly about all of this, because to this day, the most impressive person I’ve known (intelligence, kindness, sensibility, courage, technical acumen and raw ability) remains a woman. She was brilliant and she left the technical industry because of discrimination. I loved watching her exclaim in joy when she had cracked a mathematical puzzle. I feel strongly about discrimination because she was brilliant and she loved work (technical work) and she was forced out of it all (by society, peers, men of her acquaintance, and teachers and many, many others).