Now before posting this, I wrote it out at the same time as Part I on the airplane to Odisha. First, let me assure you that I will get to posting about daily life in Odisha, my research project, and the incredible cast of characters with whom I work.
This post however, brought up an interesting debate in my mind…the liminal between my private thoughts and the insights I share. That is what of my thoughts to I want to save for my journal and what should be thrust upon the world wide web. I think this is a tough debate for my generation–instant sharing, “like”ing, retweeting, etc. Even when looking for jobs, self-branding is important and blogs, LinkedIn, digital resumes, and more could give us a needed leg up in this challenging market.
But focusing on the internal is important, too. I know for some it’s a prayer life or meditation, or just time alone to process experiences and new ideas. We need that nearly extinct quiet time with only ourselves where we’re not thinking in Facebook statuses or pithy 140-character comments and where we’re not being inundated with constant “updates” from others. (Not to say that new media can’t be a great tool, I love blogging and keeping up with friends and family…just to say sometimes we need a break).
So it is in the spirit of deciding whether or not to publish this, I offer you my second installment of Uncomfortable Moments…for the whole world wide web to see.
The next “uncomfortable moment” is related to my experiences traveling and the role of women in society. Glass ceiling? Didn’t that break when my mother entered the workforce? (She’s now cringing as she reads this–at my naivete and at the fact that I tossed that out like it was ancient history–you’re not mom…ancient that is.)
In my defense, I have been blessed with strong female role models my whole life. My grandmothers are definitely the matriarchs of our large, loving, close-knit clans. I never saw them unable to accomplish anything to which they set their minds. Of my 13 aunts, almost all have a college education–some advanced degrees–and every single one of them is an accomplished and respected mother and professional. My female cousins have globe-trotted, are intelligent, and know how to stand up for themselves and achieve their goals. I could go on…
But there is something different here in India that I noticed on my very arrival in the Delhi airport. Among high-powered female executives, intellectuals, politicians, and even some of our pilots and airport security officers, there is still a very specific role women fill. One could argue that women always fill a unique role in society–and I agree insofar as women provide a distinct perspective and contribution to society (and not to mention the many that bear children and are primarily responsible for their upbringing).
But this, this felt different. Standing in line for airport security for the umpteenth time that week, I put my carry on bags on the conveyor belt. The security officer directs me to walk through metal detector #4. Assuming (which I should know by now ALWAYS gets me into trouble) this #4 was the same security lane I was in, I proceeded to walk through the detector. I’m stopped as I’m halfway through and redirected to the other end.
Ah, the infamous portal #4…alas we meet. What is so special about metal detector #4? It’s for women only. This is when I notice for the first time that the other 3 metal detectors and screening lines are for men only. As Allison and I take this in, she points out the ratio of male travelers to female. It makes sense. There were actually many female travelers surrounded by children, but almost all seemed to be accompanied by men.
A look through portal #4 revealed a tent for security screening reminiscent of a white changing tent on a beach. The affixed sign said, “Ladies” with a silhouette graphic sporting a figure even Barbie would envy. Uncomfortable moment.
I’ve read about developing countries, poverty, and other cultures in which women are treaty differently. I’ve studied the UN Development Programme and UN Department of Peacekeeping Operation’s focus on women and women’s empowerment (both within the organization and for aid-recipients). But never. Never have I been confronted with it.
Uncomfortable moment–making me grateful that I’ve had family members, teachers, coworkers, and friends value me for my contributions and my personhood–not biased by my gender.
This is not to say that I saw any individual man disrespect an individual woman. I haven’t. The organization I work for fosters women’s empowerment as a secondary goal to livelihood and microfinance. The man that works at the grocery store kindly carried Allison’s and my groceries all the way from the store to our house when neither the store or us had bags. But I have learned (observed?) that it is difficult for NGOs to operate locally here if women’s empowerment is their main or only goal…at least it appears that way. Society does seem to be catching up with educated individuals within it and with human rights norms throughout the world.
This blog post is merely just commentary on the societal differences. Between my past experience and the reality confronting me. You can’t tell the difference between a real advertisement for flawless new airline stewardesses and the PanAm tv show ad–a male pilot sporting aviators surrounded by stewardesses 155 cm tall of proportional weight and clear complexions.
Perhaps, to each his own…but nonetheless there is something uncomfortable in the juxtaposition of my past and even my future, and this, their, present.
NEXT POST: After having talked about what has thus far made me uncomfortable, I will write about “Guest is god: India Hospitality”, discussing some of my favorite parts of India culture.