Category Archives: Shwetangna Chakrabarty

What is your single story?

Image created by Shwetangna Chakrabarty on canva.com

Recently I was showing my senior students Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s TED talk The Danger of a Single Story. This led to an interesting discussion on ‘Single Stories’. As per Adichie, a single story is a one-sided perspective of something or someone. Single stories have the power to create false interpretations of the actual story. She coins the term Nkali to describe the power that creates false one-sided interpretations. For example, single stories about India narrate spicy food and dirty cities; Americans are plagued with gun violence; South Americans are suffering from never-ending substance abuse; African countries are underdeveloped and unhygienic. These single stories develop as we keep believing the same narratives without uncovering the whole context of the narrative. Also, single stories are fed to us by powerful lobbies or political rhetoric that are purposefully constructed to hide the whole story.

Going back to the original discussion with my students, I decided to do a critical reflection about single stories. I invited students to think about their single stories with the following two questions:

  • What is your single story?
  • How/why is it created?

Interestingly it was not easy to answer these two questions, hence I decided to give them a task in groups to identify a current issue that they know from a single perspective only and to look for a counter perspective of the same issue. For example, illegal immigrants, jobs being taken by foreigners, ivy league universities, the world wars etc. This strategy stirred up a lot of conversations and helped students to identify some of their single stories:

  • Thin is beautiful
  • Top universities better jobs
  • Ukraine is unjustified but Iraq is justified
  • China is a communist country
  • Diet to lose weight
  • Japanese are suicidal
  • French people are snobs
  • Women are weak
  • Showing skin is asking for it
  • Men should not cry

These are some of the examples my students came up with. This made me think, do I have a single story, yes, I do. My single story is-iPhones are the best! It struck me hard as I always believed that iPhones are the best phones, I have never bothered to look or research other phones in the market. I have created a single story that even makes me get into the debate of android vs IOS with my close friends and family! This is an insignificant example. The bigger danger of single stories is far more disturbing as it harbours inequality and prejudice. These stories generalize and marginalize people and justify a culture of dominance, discrimination and indifference.

Single stories can be challenged by recognising the purpose and the people behind propagating these one-sided stories. Another of avoiding single stories is to develop nuanced thinking-accepting multiple perspectives. Critical thinking isn’t enough, it must be complemented with nuanced thinking. This will help widen our perspectives and embrace conflicting points of view.

I leave you with a simple exercise, next time you meet a person from a different culture, religion, language or ethnicity, try not to assume or generalize their persona. Take the leap of faith and challenge dogmas that have penetrated your psyche. Single stories have the power to distort your mind, spirit and even soul, crush them before they crush you. Introspect today and answer my question ‘What is your single-story?’

Mother’s Day not Mothers’ Day!

All the Best Mother's Day Gift Ideas 2022 | The Strategist
Image credit: New York Magazine

The world celebrated Mother’s Day today to honour motherhood. I saw posts and messages like-“to all mothers out there”, ” for all aunts, sisters and grandmothers”, and ” for the wonderful women who are our mothers”…And the greatest irony-it is celebrated only once a year! Why not once a month, once a week or every day? I know this is a debated topic, some believe that we get a day to make our mums feel special and others believe it undermines the value of being a mother as they are only celebrated once a year.

Another question-why don’t we celebrate Father’s Day with equal diligence? Do we love mums more than dads? This can’t be right! So, what is the reason we get so worked up to celebrate Mother’s Day? I personally think Mother’s Day is a great business strategy. Anything sells if it is packaged with emotions that tug your heartstrings and compel you to take immediate action. Many companies have done good business selling merchandise for Mother’s Day, others have increased engagement on social media due to the flurry of posts that suddenly appear to remember mothers.

Apart from good business what else does this day bring to light? It brings to light the irony behind this type of celebration, that it creates more discord and discontent than true celebration. It is funny how this day creates sibling rivalry as they compete to impress their mums. It is sad how this day reminds and pains women who cannot be mums or have lost their child/ren. It is obnoxious how children wish their mums on social media yet forget to call or visit. It is confusing for those who genuinely love their mums and do not want to be public about their feelings. It is giddy for mums who know that this will only last a day. It is worst for mothers whose children have disowned them. So, what is the benefit of commemorating only a day to honour and celebrate motherhood?

The idea should be to educate our younger generation to strengthen the bond of respect and love towards one’s mum instead of making it a public mimicry of giddy emotions and caricature of the very essence of motherhood. Teaching ourselves about the special bond with parents, mother and father, and how to celebrate them every day. Learning to be better parents every day would be an attempt to truly celebrate or honour motherhood.

Also, celebrating and honouring a mother would be meaningful if we give equal due to a woman who is a mother and does not have to be anything else. A mother does not have to be juggling life and work; a mother does not have to choose between her child and financial stability; a mother does not have to give birth if she doesn’t want to. The day a mother has these privileges and choices she will truly feel celebrated and honoured.

Interestingly, people forget that “Mother’s” in Mother’s Day is a singular possessive, for each family to honour its own mother, not a plural possessive commemorating all mothers in the world. So what have you done today to actually celebrate Mother’s Day not Mothers’ Day?

International Teachers-A Rare Breed in China

Image created by Shwetangna Chakrabarty on canva.com

With Covid resurging in China, a new challenge has snowballed towards international schools in China-Teacher Retention. International teachers are leaving the countries due to two main reasons-the uncertainty of seeing their family members/crossing borders, and the uncertainty of the dynamic Covid situation. The recent lockdown in Shanghai and Beijing has been the last straw to an already existing condition of mental exhaustion from isolation.

It is to be noted that all the expat teachers working in China would absolutely like to continue working here due to the many perks we enjoy in this wonderful country-safety and security, competitive salaries, quality of life, and access to superior technology and infrastructures. Hence this is a rather tough decision that many teachers have to take whilst they would like to continue living and working in China.

How will this change the international education landscape in China? This will impact small schools that might have to close operations. The well-established schools will have to adopt innovative ways to survive this shortage of international teachers as recruiting from abroad is still not possible. This will impact the quality of the international curriculum being delivered in the schools. It will also bring less economy to the country as many expat families will and are already deciding to pull out their children from schools to send them back to their home countries. This will disrupt the ideal teacher to student ratio in international schools in China. Quality of teaching will be compromised as schools are forced to recruit teachers who do not have the experience of teaching internationally. Globally this will mean there will be more unemployed teachers looking for jobs in the next two years as they are leaving China in spite of not having secured a job. This means salaries are unlikely to be reviewed by school boards as they have many takers for the same position.

International schools in China need to implement measures to survive this exodus of qualified, experienced international teachers. They need to retain existing staff by offering perks or retention benefits; they need to reduce their subject offerings to focus on quality over quantity; they need to invest in upskilling of newly recruited teachers who are replacing the experienced ones; schools need to be transparent with stakeholders to get support and buy-in of unfavourable decisions; they need to create support groups for existing teachers to seek social-emotional support during times of extreme crisis.

International teachers have become a rare breed in China – schools are struggling to fill up the void left by the mass exodus of teachers this year. For those staying back, this means wearing multiple hats for the next few years as they will have to take on more responsibilities. This will lead to burnout that could lead to more teachers leaving next year and the year after and the year after, making us a rare breed in China.

How Critical is Critical Race Theory?

Image created by Shwetangna Chakrabarty on canva.com

Critical race theory or CRT has been in the debate recently with many places in the United States banning the introduction of CRT in schools. For example, Florida banned teaching CRT in schools in 2021. Why is it critical to ban teaching it? How critical is CRT? What is CRT?

CRT is explained as a critical analysis of the existing policies in a nation, from a race-based point of view, or it can be understood as a framework used to challenge racism and the impact of structural racism on society.

The idea is to introduce this in curricula to allow young minds to critically think about how racism is embedded into legal policies and how it impacts discrimination overall. CRT argues that racism is created by social structures like the policies that govern a state. These socio-political structures are erected with laws to support racial segregation.

So why is it being vehemently ruled out of school curricula to the extent that some teachers got arrested and some lost their jobs as they were trying to teach about the root cause of racial segregation? As per the CRT narrative, the root cause of racial segregation is not race; it is the discriminatory laws and policies that force segregation based on skin colour, ethnicity and other differences.

Policies and legal structures are the foundation of social harmony; they are supposed to be neutral; to treat all citizens equally; hence any kind of otherness in legal frameworks and state policies forms cracks in the foundation of harmonious societal systems. CRT compels us to peruse racial hierarchy and racially structures critically, to think about what causes discrimination and how it can be reformed.

But the recent uproar against CRT introduction in the school curriculum has opened another debate and maligns the true purpose of studying CRT. This has now become a political debate and like any other issue when politicians get to decide we never win.

It seems there is fear about raising consciousness amongst young learners that structural inequality and structural racism have become societal practices. A fear that if this is being taught in schools it will lead to negative reactions towards the whites. The fear of CRT, and its ban is ridiculous, unparliamentary, anti-democratic and more like a dystopian behaviour that stems from fear of losing supremacy.

The strong argument against teaching CRT is that it will portray a certain group of people negatively, hence cannot be taught. But that is not the CRT – it is rather the critical reflection on discriminatory laws and practices not toward people. We need to remember and make it very clear that racism does not manifest by people treating each other differently, it is manifested by unequal laws and biased legal structures. Banning CRT makes it worse as it affirms the wrong that exists in society. So, my question is: How is it ok to build structures of discrimination against people of colour negatively, and how it is not okay to talk about it? I am amused by the fear generated by the thought of including CRT in the syllabus, whilst completely ignoring the fear generated by racial abuse.

In very simple terms, think about it in this way: gender discrimination exists – it should be part of the school curricula to teach about laws and policies that propagate gender discrimination. This discrimination doesn’t exist because there are different genders, it exists because there are policies and rules that are created and implemented to support the male gender. This does not mean we start discriminating against men, but it does mean we learn about the laws and policies that created gender discrimination and get rid of them.

To answer the question: how critical is critical race theory? It is critical to teach it; to start thinking critically about what causes division, discrimination, alienation and subjugation of minorities and people of colour. It is not about race – it is about discriminatory practices in our legal and social structure. The sooner we critically reflect on them, the better for a peaceful world.

Trapped in Echo Chambers?

Purpose of education as quoted by John Dewey,

“The aim of education is growth; the aim of growth is more growth.”

This is an inspirational quote as it talks about intellectual growth and echos the purpose of education as growth and further growth. But in the current context, this quote is challenged by the ever-growing dominance of echo chambers. Echo chambers can be explained as self-created ecosocial habitats where one encounters like-minded people with similar perspectives, ideas and opinions. These echo chambers have exponentially multiplied in the past two decades due to many reasons and one of them being the growing dominance of social media.

The challenge is to know if you are trapped in an echo chamber? A simple psychological litmus test will spit out the answer for you, here are a few questions:

  1. Do you surround yourself with people who support the same political ideology?
  2. Have you lived in one place for over 15 years?
  3. Are you part of like-minded social media groups?
  4. Are you friends with people who share ideas, perspectives, likes and dislikes similar to yours?
  5. Do you passionately defend your perspective?

If you have answered ‘yes’ three times or more you might be creating and living in echo chambers. You are in danger of stunting your intellectual growth by feeding on confirmation bias within these echo chambers. Break free! Take this an urgent plea and wake up call to reflect on your perspectives, beliefs, opinions and ideas and audit their validity by deflating the echo chambers.  You can break free of these echo chambers that are reinforcing your existing ideas and perspectives to create mental walls towards other people’s perspectives and ideas. The echo chambers create a mental wall that completely blocks the exchange of new ideas since you prefer staying trapped inside these chambers.

Recognising the existence of echo chambers is the first step toward breaking free of bias, stereotypes and discriminating ideas. Then the question arises, how does one get out of these echo chambers. A few simple strategies will help you avoid and escape the trap of echo chambers. 

  1. Make some ‘weird’ friends! I use the word ‘weird’ as we tend to associate it with the unknown. People who speak differently, and think differently are not weird, infact they would be a great starting point to escape echo chambers. 
  2. Listen to the ‘absurd’! I use the word ‘absurd’ as we tend to associate it with contradicting perspectives. Listen to multiple perspectives; when debating or discussing complex ideas make a habit of listening not countering. The next step is to make a note of all the different ideas and make an effort to present your ideas without contradicting others.
  3. Burst the ‘filter bubble’! I use the term ‘filter bubble’ which refers to technology, artificial intelligence and social media conspiracy. This conspiracy reinforces your existing ideas and filters away new ideas forcing you to decay in monotony instead of growing in multiplicity.
  4. Make fun of yourself! I use this term to reinforce the need to find your sense of humour. Do not be afraid of being contradicted, infact challenge your own perspectives by critically ridiculing them. As a wise man once said, “ Stay Hungry, Stay Foolish”.
  5. Like the ‘unlikeable’! I use the term ‘unlikeable’ as we tend to preconceive what we like and do not like hence defining the ‘unlikeable’. Try giving a ‘like’ to an idea or perspective that you don’t endorse or believe in. This will bring down the echo chamber algorithm that is fed into every social media site and internet interaction to imprison your thoughts and intellectual freedom.

Echo chambers are particularly harmful in academia, they kill the pursuit of knowledge through inquiry. Therefore getting out of them is an urgent need, it is ceasing our growth and the growth of an intelligent species called humans. Echo chambers are amplified by technology; recognise it and save yourself by being more inclusive, open-minded and cognitive divergence.

Hope for Peace; Cope with War

Image created by Shwetangna Chakrabarty on canva.com

In the past weeks, I have had many conversations with my students from many parts of the world about War. In many classrooms across the world, the Ukraine crisis has opened up many wounds that are difficult to heal. Being in a diverse international environment allows us educators the opportunity to listen to multiple perspectives; most of the time we agree to disagree whilst respecting each other’s perspectives to find a commonality in our understanding of the greater good or the bigger picture. But war forces us to take sides, no matter how much we have suffered through relentless conflict we continue to inflict pain and misery as we take sides.

A Russian student taking the side of her country cannot be dismissed. It is a challenging situation when the cause and effect are conflicting, for example, the student understands that war is not good yet justifies a war led by her country due to social, cultural and personal perspectives. At the same time, some students have been victims of war over the past five decades; students from Iran, Iraq, Somalia, Sudan, Yemen, Syria, Armenia and many more countries, who have been displaced from their motherlands.

We hope that peace will prevail, but all we do is cope with war with no coping mechanism. As educators, we are empowered to influence and teach young minds. One of the most important things to teach students is to cope with extreme situations and environments or was. War brings a known enemy to your doorstep, whether you are directly or indirectly impacted by war, this enemy does not differentiate, it is called fear.  This fear destroys our young who have to endure a level of anxiety that is unavoidable and omnipresent.  So what can we do? We can teach to cope and hope for peace.

Here are a few simple strategies I discussed with my students to help them deal with the fear, anger, anxiety and pain caused by war.

Stay Away from Fake News: In times of crisis, it is very easy to get addicted to News. Even worse as most of the information is biased and sometimes a deep fake. Fake news misinforms, misinterprets and misleads the viewer to a state of fear. Fear sells, the electronic and digital media have mastered the art of selling fear through fake news. Overconsumption of fake news leads to a permanent state of anxiety, so stay away.

Learn to Pivot: In times of uncertainty, the ability to pivot or deal with change is an asset. War cripples daily life and impacts the availability of basic resources. This means we need to adapt quickly to survive the unexpected, or pivot to survive the unexpected. Teach students the ability to pivot, plan for contingency and prepare for a crisis situation.

Find a Happy Place: In times of acute distress, finding a happy place requires one to muster up all the positive experiences in their life. To keep mental sanity, one has to have a happy place; it could be the feeling when you hug your loved ones; the feeling when you spend time with family; the feeling of your first love/crush; the feeling of smelling the spring in the air; the feeling of the aroma of freshly baked cake; the feeling of being happy. Find your happy place, it will help you to navigate the feeling of distress and helplessness.

Take a deep breath: Learn to take a deep breath, practise controlling your thoughts and avoid your triggers. This can be done via meditation or practising to stay calm, it could be through something that helps you focus, like painting, playing an instrument or even singing aloud. Allow your brain to focus on the positives to control your thoughts. 

Keep the hope alive: Anne Frank wrote in her diary, “Where there is hope there is life”. This was written at a time when Anne was caught in one of the most horrific conflicts in the history of mankind. It was hope that kept her alive and has kept her memory alive. Without hope, there would be no Anne Frank’s diary-a testament to resilience, perseverance and courage. In many senses, hope is courage, hope is life and hope is peace. To survive a war we need hope we need peace.

Wherever and whoever you are in the world, teach yourself and your younger generation these coping strategies. As the war rages hope will rise above the ashes of destruction and desperation to usher the wave of peace.

Will We Ever See The End of War?

Image created by Shwetangna Chakrabarty on canva.com

The battle in Ukraine makes one wonder, will we ever see the end of War?

I have always prayed for the war to end since childhood, I prayed for the war to end as my dad was in the armed forces. He had a long career in the Indian army as a doctor and commanding officer with many accolades to his name. He was often posted near the border, where he had to stay away from his family (me and my ma) for prolonged periods of time, and I always prayed for his safety. I prayed for everyone’s safety, I prayed to be able to see my dad again, I prayed for peace, and I have continued to do so like many around the world.

Like me, many are still desperately praying, but who is listening to our pleas and prayers? War in Syria, in Yemen, in Iraq, in Palestine, in Somalia, and now, in Ukraine. It never ends. Infact, we have managed to create a generation of orphans and refugees. It is said that no one wants war, so why have we not ended it once and for all? Why is it impossible to avoid conflict? What forces people to take up arms against each other? Why is it ok to sacrifice the young in war? Why do we never learn from the past?Will we ever see the end of War?

There is a way. The only way to end war is to end investing in armies! A country without an army, a continent without an army, and a world without an army. Is it too much to ask for? We have to stop investing in war, stop funding armies, stop profiteering through arms, and stop pseudo patriotism.

Sending young people to die in the name of patriotism is the biggest crime the world has let go unnoticed. Vindictive patriotism only rouses hatred against others, the pseudo patriotic sentiments sold in blockbuster movies brainwash people and they refuse to see reason. Eventually, patriotism evolves into jingoism. Hence we see no end to War. If we want to end the destruction, we need to get rid of all armies along with pseudo patriotism.

There are many statistics to support warfare, funded by our never-ending lust for power and wealth, but there are also many stories of women, men, and children dying. Unlike the people that start it, war doesn’t discriminate who it takes. Ultimately, we need to decide what we let control our decisions – meaningless statistics or the stories of sacrifice. We need to lift the blindfold that years of politics, jingoism, capitalism, and patriotism have shrouded us in. We need to unite as One World – No Army, No War. Else the end of world is closer than the end of war.

Restorative Justice

Have you ever discussed Restorative Justice? Have you tried to implement Restorative Justice? Do you know the meaning of Restorative Justice? I should have started by defining it first as to my surprise not many know anything about it and yet we wish for a peaceful world!

Restorative justice is the process of restoring harmony and peace by discussing conflict resolution to repair the harm and find a positive way forward. To coexist peacefully despite differences. It is more directed towards the injustice than the perpetrator of injustice. For example, in the case of microaggressions, restorative justice would be to talk about the root cause of the aggressive behaviour and eliminate it, rather than punish the aggressor.

This practice prevents conflicts and repairs the harm it can cause or has caused. So what does it look like in a school context? Here is an infographic that I created to explain this concept in the context of international schools.

Image created by Shwetangna Chakrabarty on canva.com

International schools are diverse communities. So, diversity of gender, race, culture, language, physical and neural abilities is a common phenomenon. Due to differences, there are situations when microaggressions come to the surface. Let me explain the infographic with the help of an example. The incident: a student making fun of the other student’s accent. This is a racial/cultural microaggression. How should the teachers address this? In most of our schools, we adopt a more ‘consequence-based approach’ and especially in an international school as we strive to be internationally minded. Hence the consequence-based practice follows a tried and tested approach:

  1. Investigation and documentation of the incident when a complaint is launched.
  2. Meeting with the teacher and the students in concern, both aggressor and aggressee.
  3. Aggressor named and shamed.
  4. Aggressor required to apologize.
  5. Behavior note, parents notified.
  6. Possible suspension of the aggressor and/or meeting with parents of the aggressor

IMPACT

Aggressor becomes more hostile or antagonistic towards the discrimination issue, they do not realise why it is wrong to make fun of accents. They never forgive their friends who told on them and end up being a hater of people with an accent. With time and age, the hate may go away but the bias remains with the aggressor and grows from implicit to explicit bias against people with accents. Similarly, the aggressee cannot find peace as it always stays with them as a feeling of hurt and shame, they try to avoid similar situations by either changing their ways or resorting to secluding themselves.

On the other hand, restorative justice-based practice follows a process to discourage harm and hatred. Therefore, the same incident mentioned above will be dealt with like this:

  1. Listening to both sides of the conversation with a non-judgmental approach.
  2. Calling a meeting with the aggressor, aggressee, all their friends and classmates to discuss the harm caused by the aggression or conflict.
  3. Aggression named and shamed, not the aggressor.
  4. Students asked to discuss in small, focused groups why it is not ok to make fun of accents. Or discuss the root cause of the problem.
  5. Students to self-reflect on how they can make a positive change, students can do an introspection in any way they want, by writing about it, making a video, doing an interview, talking with parents, writing a post or even meditating for understanding the idea of restoring justice.
  6. Normalisation of the situation.

IMPACT

Aggressor understands that it is not ok to make fun of someone’s identity. They understand that it reflects poorly on them as such behaviour means a deep-rooted bias or hatred. They try to be better, may even have a conversation with the aggressee to apologise as they feel it is the right thing to do. All students develop a common understanding of the issue and know the difference between right and wrong. They aggressee heals as they don’t feel victimized, harmed, or shamed. This way, even though the impact is not immediately visible, the harm caused is addressed to prevent the harmful effect.

Restorative justice is the way forward for a peaceful world. The consequence-based approach only leads to changing micro-aggressions, hate and implicit bias into macro-aggression, hatred and explicit bias. This further leads to conflicts and crimes like discrimination and radicalizing, which further leads to macro issues of prejudice, genocide, war and worst dehumanizing.

If we teach and preach restorative justice the future generation will know better than destruction, war and annihilation. They will learn peace, harmony and coexistence, virtues taught to us by leaders like Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela. This is possible, we saw it recently when a soldier confessed that he does not want war when he was captured and offered food and shelter rather than treated as an enemy. This is the story of a Russian soldier captured by Ukraine who was offered tea and sandwiches and allowed to call his mother. This video went viral have a look: https://nypost.com/2022/03/02/video-shows-crying-russian-soldier-drinking-tea-calling-mom/ The power of truly being OneWorld by restoring it not by destroying it.

Restorative justice has to be taught if we want to end war.

#BreakTheBias

Image created by Shwetangna Chakrabarty on canva.com

Imagine a gender-equal world.

A world free of bias, stereotypes, and discrimination.

A world that is diverse, equitable, and inclusive.

A world where difference is valued and celebrated.

Together we can forge women’s equality.

Collectively we can all #BreakTheBias. 

Source: IWD 2022

Why is this conversation urgent?

According to the World Economic Forum survey here are some shocking statistics:

  • Women are 47% more likely to suffer severe injuries in car crashes because safety features are designed for men.
  • Globally, 12 million girls each year get married before the age of 18 – roughly 33,000 every day, or one every two seconds.
  • According to the UN, collectively these women spend 40 billion hours a year collecting water.
  • At the current rate of progress, it will take another 108 years to reach gender parity, according to the World Economic Forum’s most recent Global Gender Gap report.
  • According to the Forum’s Global Gender Gap report, only 22% of the world’s AI professionals are female, compared with 78% who are male. This accounts for a gender gap of 72% yet to close – and reflects the broader STEM skills gap.
  • Only 6 countries give women equal legal work rights as men
  • For every female film character, there are 2.24 men

Source: weforum.org, 2019

Imagine a gender-equal world…

Why Imagine? Why not Initiate? The United Nations Observance of International Women’s Day this year is under the theme:

 “Gender equality today for a sustainable tomorrow”

Initiate micro solutions for a macro impact. Breaking the bias with micro solutions, recognising a bias and initiating an action to eliminate it. This has been my guiding light-micro solutions. Below is a list of rudimentary level biases that exist, these are not even close to the more debatable issue of the gender gap, pay gap, equal rights or freedom. But these need immediate attention as recognising biases is the first step towards breaking them.

  1. Bias: Assertive Women are Bossy

Assertive men are leaders but assertive women are bossy? This is an implicit bias, it has become a belief, hence assertive women are labelled as uncaring, rude, bossy and other inappropriate words that I refrain from writing. Women raising their voices are creating a scene while men raising their voices are macho, for example, in a movie a male protagonist is considered rugged and macho when asserting themselves. Same behaviour but different labels?

  1. Bias: Women are Homemakers

Women are entrepreneurs, women are state leaders, women are mothers, women are friends, women are change-makers, women are thought leaders, women are scientists, women are astronauts, women are artists and the list goes on…so why limit women by branding women as only homemakers? Changing the way we perceive societal roles is a step towards breaking the bias.

  1. Bias: Women aren’t Bread Winners

This bias limits women in many ways and leads to the gender gap in the work environment. Since society has assumed that women aren’t breadwinners, there is hardly any conversation happening about bridging the pay gap. Same responsibilities, same performance expectations but different salaries?

  1. Bias: “Frailty, thy name is Woman”

With due respect to Shakespeare, I disagree with this quote. It became so popular that it was miscommunicated even as “Jealousy, thy name is Woman”. While it can be argued that Shakespeare wrote it for a specific context hence it gained popularity, I personally would contradict and argue that it became popular as it further generalised women derogatorily and not men. Women having survived generations of abuse and violence, I re-quote, “Intrepidity, thy name is Woman”.

  1. Bias: Women have to be Beautiful

When it comes to beauty a women’s appearance and physical features are the only factors considered to label them beautiful or not. Pick up any matrimonial advert, dating website profile or brand promotion, the expectations are ridiculous. Women have to be thin with curves; fair with tanned skin; porcelain smooth skin with freckles; tall but not more than the man next to her; mature but not too old; and many more impossible conditions that define beauty in an almost misogynous way. I use the word ‘misogynous’ as the standards of beauty only lead to furthering the bias against women creating hatred towards those who do not meet these standards. This has led to objectifying women as desirable and pleasing for certain purposes only. This bais demands societal intervention in defining the beauty of a human, not a woman. 

  1. Bias: Women don’t Understand Math

Math engages critical thinking, creative thinking and problem-solving skills. These competencies are well mastered by women as all our lives we have been trying to solve real-life problems with or without mathematics. The innate ability of deductive reasoning comes naturally to women as research indicates that girls mature intellectually earlier than other genders.

  1. Bias: Women want Security

In other words, women are insecure! The definition of security is having a man to protect the woman. Patriarchial and marital norms that force women to accept men as guardians further lead to gender power imbalance and disparity. Women want independence, not security. Independence to make choices about their lives, careers and themselves and their bodies. Generally speaking, security should never be wanted by women or even men, it should be warranted by society. 

  1. Bias: Menstruating Women are Emotionally Unstable

This has been the biggest myth that has been repeatedly reinforced. If emotional stability is linked with hormones all genders undergo changes. Surprisingly, men’s hormone cycles fluctuate from morning to evening every single day. If menstruating women are emotionally unstable then why don’t we see it every day in the workplace, at home, in schools, in colleges, at parties, on adventure trips, in conferences, in the gym, in soccer fields, where at least a few dozen women are going through their monthly cycle. This is evidence of highly emotionally stable individuals who despite massive discomfort and pain bring stability to the world around them.

  1. Bias: Women are Delicate

Yes, physically women might be more delicate but they are emotionally more resilient. When it comes to decision making and making tough choices women should not be stereotyped as delicate. Infact research proves women in leadership and positions of responsibilities are more tenacious, principled and very capable at decision making.

  1. Bias: Pro-women is Anti-men

A person who can take care of themself can take care of others. If women are demanding their rights, they are only trying to take care of themselves. Pro-women is pro-humanity and most men are pro-women (thank God!). That doesn’t mean they are anti-men. Supporting women in securing their social and human rights is a step towards securing a sustainable future economically and socially. Pro-women is Pro-future.

Where are you from?

Image created by Shwetangna Chakrabarty on canva.com

Have you ever been asked, “Where are you from?” If you have never been asked this question I really envy you. Well, to the infinite times I have been asked this question, I have not come up with the right answer or even the same answer! It is actually a combat mechanism to deal with dilemmas of cultural appropriation and cultural nuances-do not answer the question.

If you are a person of colour, I am sure you have been asked this question no matter who or where you are. I am not intending to talk about racism or discrimination. I genuinely yearn to know two things; number 1-why do people ask this question? And number 2-how to answer this question?

“Where are you from?”

Let me discuss the first question: Why do people ask, “where are you from?” I personally think that they just want to remind you that you are not what they expected. So could be a compliment, a shock reaction or even an insult. Infact could even be a hint of microaggression towards you! Other reasons could be lack of civilised education, lack of understanding of diversity and of course the tendency of being the frog in the well. The world to the frog is only the well hence anyone outside the well either does not exist or should not exist. The irony of the question is such that most people who have asked me are my country cousins-Indians. I would never ask anyone a question like this as I feel it does not tell us anything about that person and I strongly believe it is unnecessary. Belonging to a certain place, city, region or country has nothing to do with what you are, who you are, or how you will be. This question is asked by people who are judgemental and have a fixed mindset. My son gets asked this question over and over again as he speaks many languages and likes to use specific languages in specific instances or with specific people. That is his choice, not identity. People love to put you in a defined boundary so they can start forming opinions about you and feel safe in their narrow alleyways of defined boundaries.

The second question-how to answer the question? Whenever I am asked this question, I always avoid answering it, as I am not comfortable confining myself to the way I look, speak or to the place I belong. Another reason the moment I say I am from India, the conversation radically moves to spicy food, colourful clothes or yoga and many a time even to Kamasutra depending on how much alcohol has been consumed. The point I am trying to make is that there is no further conversation after the question has been asked. It’s always awkward silence or awkward banter, hence I try to avoid both by smiling politely and not answering the question. It’s not that I do not want to answer the question. I am extremely proud of my identity but that cannot be defined by a place, region or country. So ask me something I will be interested in answering, for example, how many languages do you speak? What are your interests? If you really want to know “where I am from?”

Our age-old obsession with nationality, patriotism, gender and skin colour has crippled us from developing self-identities. To the extent that it is defined as soon as we are born; whose child; what country; what gender? Hence developing self-identity is the biggest struggle we undertake as human beings, always a hurdle to overcome in the short race of life. If we stop asking and judging where people are from, it could be the first step towards being human.