The world requires a grand transformation, and for that, we must gather up the courage to confront and challenge the systemic inequalities as well as personal and individualized biases that we deal with in our daily lives. To ensure this, you need to have the drive that energizes you to challenge the status quo, and believe us when we tell you that the process is not easy.
Here’s the positive news: cultural shifts may not happen overnight, but they do work like dominos – it starts with one person and soon everyone follows. Thus, patience and determination are key in order for this process to be successful.
At International Women’s Day, we’d like to urge you to challenge yourself. It’s time we all hold ourselves accountable for not just the bigger challenges, but also the personal biases that we act on unconsciously. There are several ways to ensure this and some of them are discussed below.
The first thing that you must do is have an open mind, because that’s the only way you can unlearn all the mistakes that you’ve been making and make room for learning new ideas. One aspect of having an open mind is education – you have to expand your horizons and light the button that gives you cross-cultural awareness.
Be open for conversation – reach out to people that are outside your circle and have an in-depth conversation with them. If you come from a privileged background, you should move your attention to the ones who don’t enjoy such luxuries. The idea is to start acknowledging the problems and not disregarding the things that you don’t understand.
When you don’t belong to the same group, you often come with preconceived notions. You may feel threatened or at disadvantage if you’re outnumbered. However, you must be cognizant of the fact that there are several underrepresented voices that need to be heard, and sometimes, it’s better to be silent, listen, and empathize.
The pandemic took a toll on us on a mass level. No one can deny that the pandemic impacted everyone group financially, emotionally, and psychologically – but the minorities and people from the lower economic background were at a greater disadvantage. They suffered the most and were left with almost no support from the government. The system failed them and that must not go unnoticed.
The one lesson that we all learned from this awful period was that we all have scope for improvement and conviction to better ourselves. More than that, we learnt that our survival instincts are sharp, and when tested, we can come out victorious – sometimes with bruises, of course, but we must wear them like battle scars.
Like mentioned before, we have a lot of scope for improvement – and that applies to feminists as well. We need to acknowledge and make peace with the fact that, despite our best intentions, we often fall prey to our own biases and preconceived notions, which are but a product of our upbringing and social conditioning. The important thing to realize here is how well we are able to identify and correct personal prejudices on daily basis. There are several profound queries to latch onto.
Ask whether or not you’re making a particular assumption on the basis of gender, race, sexual orientation, faith, age or even disability. Ask whether your assumption or belief is based on limited knowledge. Always wonder if you have a proof or evidence to back your theory. Do you think that there could be another perspective to look at the situation? Are you taking full responsibility of your action, or have you gone into defense mode and are listening to respond instead of listening to understand?
Basically, you need to distance yourself from the situation so that you can look at things objectively.
A lot of us are guilty of having gender biases as they function as per the stereotypes that have been deeply ingrained in our minds. The unconscious biasness has a profound impact on our habits and daily rituals. They motivate our intentions and assert our beliefs – that eventually dictates the way we interact and socialize.
It’s not very common to see women confront gender biasness and step outside the compounds of gender norms. You may find them leading the way and taking leadership positions in their respective fields, however, the majority of them often give up and fail to voice their thoughts and challenge discrimination. They are forced into boxes based on assumptions – for example, if you’re a woman, you’ll have a set number of career choices.
You have the ability to get rid of the pigeon-holed mentality – a narrative that’s been fed to you since childhood. You can challenge yourself and seek understanding of different identities and experiences. You can acknowledge that sometimes your opinions and questions are not fit for all communities.
Be mindful of the marginalized communities and the problems of the less fortunate. You can’t offer one solution to all, as it may not be feasible to all. And most importantly, don’t offer unsolicited advice – especially when you don’t know anything about them.
Look, if you’re a man and you want to become an ally, you can start by asking questions. You might find yourself feeling judged and humiliated by other men, but it’s better to be in the know than stay ignorant and disrespectful. You have to understand that not everyone is going to respect your intentions,but it’s best to not please everyone – you’re not pizza. And also, it’s better to be on the right side of history.
You must, as a man, participate in this fight for your own rights as well because, at the end of the day, feminism is fighting against patriarchy which affects us all. The system inflicts injustices upon men as well by restricting them to a certain role, pressurizing them to follow a normative path of toxic masculinity and the practices it entails.
Hence, become an ally by equipping yourself with knowledge. Pay attention and ask respectful questions. To offer support to the movement, you have to understand how you can help and where you are wrong. Make sure that you don’t intrude someone’s privacy or cross personal boundaries, because that will ultimately defeat the purpose.
Try to ask open-ended questions and, it’s better to sound genuine, because a lot of people ask questions with the intention of proving them wrong. And the most important part of the conversation will be listening – you have to make a conscious effort in understanding the problem. Take signs from the non-verbal cues and make sure you don’t trigger anyone.
The first rule of having an open mind is being open to discomfort. This may be an unchartered territory for you – making it uncomfortable – but you have to soldier on and prepare yourself for the unpleasant talk. You may come across some of the problems that you’ve been actively participating in, but instead of feeling offended, you have to acknowledge your mistake and do better.
The first time will obviously sting – you’ll try to be defensive and make excuses. It’s a process, after all, and some take more time than others. Try to maintain your calm and not let emotions run the conversation. Practice self-control and learn to empathize, even when you don’t understand.
As mentioned earlier, this is not an easy conversation and the process of unlearning can be uncomfortable and unsettling. The process can be summarized into three steps: Listen, understand, and acknowledge. You may not get the answers you seek but that’s exactly the time when you need to reflect. Don’t interrupt or get angry – think about it in a calm manner and, once you’ve got the loophole, acknowledge.
This year, International Women’s Day is all about challenging your inner demons and confronting the biasness that is inherent. Unlearning is not easy, but it’s essential.
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