No. This post is not going to be another rant about stereotypes that women have to wage a war with day in and day out. Enough has been said and a little has been done about that. This is my own story. A story that would possibly not be a tearjerker, but something which might have you nodding and emphasizing with me.
Being born in a typical South Indian family, people expected me to study engineering or medicine and get married to a rich and balding NRI. I wasn’t expected to really achieve anything in life other than perhaps a good score in exams or a rich husband. This was what the society wanted from me. My parents, however, were a different story. They didn’t really expect me to ‘achieve’ much either, but they expected me to excel in whatever I wanted to do. In short, they managed to stay away from the societal stereotypes and supported my choices. They still do and I’m eternally thankful for that.
I’ve always been this studious and focused kid throughout my school days. I knew what I wanted to do with life and I always had a backup plan if my original plan had failed. I wanted to be a journalist. Back then Barkha Dutt and Vikram Chandra were so inspiring. Given that I was a natural in debating, journalism seemed a sane choice of education and career. Sadly, my parents didn’t think so. They didn’t want to see me physically struggling. They knew journalism demanded odd working hours, which would eventually take a toll on my health. So that plan went down the drain. My ‘backup’ plan was to take up either Mechanical or Instrumentation Engineering and pursue a career in the core manufacturing industry. That choice again did involve physical struggles in the form of travel to remote places, etc. My dad, having a first hand experience of that industry protested my choice yet again only to give up later when he realized I had made up my mind.
Four years of Engineering passed in a blur. I secured a medal for making it to the top 50 highest scorers in my state. Much to my disappointment, I didn’t really get the job that I wanted. I did however have an offer from a top IT company which wanted me to write codes. Writing codes wasn’t my thing. I wanted to meddle with boilers and compressors. I wanted to work in the very sector to which my education was relevant to. Makes sense, doesn’t it? Apparently, to countless other people it didn’t. My dad managed to set up an interview with a small manufacturing services start up company. I landed the job. People didn’t really understand why I chose a small startup which paid less over a plush IT job which would have paid me twice of what I would be earning. This choice apparently was going to haunt me forever. The manufacturing and its allied industry would never match the pay and perks of an IT industry. Yet, that was what I wanted and still do. To me it made sense to pursue what I learnt for four whole years.
Being a woman in the core manufacturing industry is difficult. There aren’t many of us who choose shop floor over the comforts of an air-conditioned plush office. One year into my first job and I got used to people gawking at me. I got used to people telling me that I can’t achieve much in a world dominated by men. Most men I met leered at my choice career and education. I am not really the type who would flare up and set out to prove the world wrong. I’m the type who fights only internal battles. It was a mental torture indeed to listen to people criticize my choice but with the support of my parents and close friends I was able to zone out all negative criticism. I wasn’t really comfortable in my first job either, thanks to a few people who were bent on dragging me down.
Thankfully, my agony didn’t last long. I got a brilliant opportunity to work in setting up a paper manufacturing plant in a remote village. I jumped up to the chance. Given that I haven’t really stayed away from home and was what one would call – ‘ a pure city bred girl’, my parents were apprehensive to send me packing to a village. I did have trouble adjusting thanks to horrible food and a very conservative culture, but I was at-least happy. I have my senior to thank for that. He never treated me with kid-gloves like I was used to just because I was a woman. If It was required to walk over an elevated way to check an instrument, I simply had to. No escaping from work in the pretext of being a woman.Yes, I did get chided for making mistakes, but never once for being a woman and being in this field. The troubles in my first job along with external pressure had almost stripped me of my confidence. Thanks to this gentleman, I got my confidence back. People who once told me that I am a near failure were praising me for taking up such a challenging job and surviving.
Breaking stereotypes that a woman can’t work in an environment such as a dirty and dusty paper factory wasn’t easy. It was difficult. It isn’t really going to get easier either. There were inevitable comparisons with the opposite gender. The comparison is probably never going to end. Women and men are different. They can never be equal – Physically or emotionally. People hardly accept that. I never once tried to prove I was equal to a man in an industry dominated by men. I only wanted them to realize, we can never be same. It was wrong of them to expect that I would be equal to a man. I can never be. I will be a woman – a creature who is neither above nor below her opposite gender but be just different. Women are not Equal to men. Period.
Note: This post is inspired from “Women Are Not Equal to Men” prompt from TBC Book club’s blogging community.