The Stand-Alone Woman

The Stand-Alone Woman
“The woman who follows the crowd will usually go no further than the crowd. The woman who walks alone is likely to find herself in places no one has ever been before”—Albert Einstein

Generally, humans prefer a routine life with an occasional detour compared to constant bouts of upheavals leaving little room to adapt with the changing circumstances. Over centuries, women have been programmed to procreate and provide for men without demanding even the idea of being recognized for these efforts. This ‘taken-for-granted’ attitude reflects at all levels of society whether in homes or at workplaces. In traditional, rather ignorant social classes, this type of approach is even more profound where gender-related topics are considered taboo. To be more precise, any discussion related to the rights of either females or transgender is more sinful than just taboo. It is like unleashing the lava in a volcano capable of wiping out the entire humanity.

Man, center of this earth, has dominated society for eons, so much so that he takes pride in the fact that God sent only male apostles and not females just to prove his point of being the superior creature. Most of the religions too have a masculine character addressing mostly men to take on the leadership in any form, in clergy, on the domestic front or wherever there is a need to take important decisions. Thus, men can be seen as leading tribes, families, clans etc. Coming across a female head is quite a rarity even in this era of rising consciousness.

According to United Nations Women as of 1 January 2023, only seventeen countries have female heads of state while nineteen governments are headed by women. Only 26.5% (up from 11% in 1995) of parliamentarians in single or lower houses are females. This is despite the internationally agreed target set in 1995 in the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Actions, aimed at balanced political participation and power sharing between men and women in decision making.

Even in the corporate sector the number of women working as chief executive officers (CEO) are yet not at par with their male colleagues as apparent from figures of Fortune 500 companies wherein July 2022, there were only 44 CEOs. In the USA, the last decade has seen a dramatic shift in CEO replacements in favour of women. As per the latest male vs females CEO statistics, out of 1,236 a little under 26.86% were made by women. In 2020, this was at 22.78% and in 2014 it was just 15.2%.

Not that females are not capable. In fact according to a recent analysis that included 454 men and 366 women leaders in a corporate pandemic-governed world, women outscored men in 13 of the 19 key leadership competencies. The data proves that they have performed much better during the crisis. While males scored higher in areas like technical and professional expertise, women corporate leaders were rated better at taking initiative by 60 percentile scores, learning agility and surpassed in their ability to inspire and motivate others by 58, helping others to develop and building relationships by 59 percentile scores.

Information is available for other professional and technical sectors where men have a dominating prowess. As per data of International Labour Organization (ILO) comprising 121 countries, the area women workers have an upper hand (88%) is personal care while in building and related trades they are merely 3 percent. Male-female parity can be observed in such occupations related to legal, cultural, social, business and administrative jobs and of course sales. Education, health and customer services also witness a predominantly female hold.

In our social milieu, much remains to be done for emancipation of women since ours is a rigidly patriarchal society. A friend sarcastically claims that here gender related issues evoke emotional and even hostile response from certain quarters that consider women’s heaven as under their husband’s feet and that a woman’s place is in the house. He goes onto remark; “OK. Agreed. Then keeping this declaration in mind, women should be placed in both houses of Parliament.”

On somewhat similar lines, a caustic comment by Bette Davis goes as: “When a man gives his opinion, he’s a man. When a woman gives her opinion, she’s a bitch.”

One of the principles of patriarchy is the ownership of females who are likened to chattel. Some think they are assets but are they considered as human beings, is a question that feminists usually ask. As long as they remain submissive, subordinate and obedient to their males, they are honorable, chaste and ideal but the moment they demand genuine freedom, they are called by derogatory names and branded as a dishonor to their family’s reputation. Here is where the stand-alone woman makes her presence felt. She dares to rebel, to exercise her right to live like a human with free choice, to break the glass ceiling, to shrug off inhibitions that restrain her from walking straight, to speak out where her speech is cut off by those who are incapable of hearing the truth but in this process, she finds herself losing vital support. If she fizzles out, she is gone but if she stays strong she can become Marie Curie, Rani of Jhansi, Joan of Arc, Hedy Lamarr, Corrie ten Boom, Queen Anna Nzinga, Asma Jahangir, Kishwar Naheed, Benazir Bhutto and many of their kind. The same is true for inter-sex and transgender people.

Patriarchal mind-sets need to understand that everyone is responsible for their actions and decisions. If, according to them, a woman goes astray, it is their responsibility to teach her a lesson although a stray man may be forgiven because it is something that comes naturally to him. Besides, a man’s deviant act can never be visible whereas an unmarried pregnant woman is like carrying a placard of disgrace for herself. Other than this fear, there is not much that patriarchs are insecure about which is why they bound their females in multiple chains and shackles, stifling their genuine desires, restraining their inert talents, preventing their abilities from flourishing and denying them a fulfilled life. Or are they afraid as John Steinbeck points out: “I believe a strong woman may be stronger than a man, particularly if she happens to have love in her heart, I guess a loving woman is indestructible.”

Perhaps they should learn from what Marcus Smart has to say: “Everybody is responsible for their own actions. It's easy to point the finger at somebody else, but a real man, a real woman, a real person knows when it's time to take the blame and when to take responsibility for their own actions.”

Perhaps it is time now to expunge such terms as ‘mankind’, ‘chairman’, or ‘one man show’ from our vocabulary.

The writer is a lawyer and author, and an Adjunct Faculty at the Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS), member Advisory Board and Senior Visiting Fellow of Pakistan Institute of Development Economics (PIDE)