Breaking the Mold: Today’s Gender Misperceptions

Vinita Gupta-
Vinita Gupta

Vinita Gupta is a Silicon Valley Entrepreneur and was the first Indian-American woman to take her company public. Since retiring, she has propelled herself through her journalism, mentoring women entrepreneurs and playing competitive bridge at the highest levels. She has won several National titles in bridge.

A deeper examination…

Women’s empowerment is a bit confusing term, as it seems to imply something men must do to make it easier for women. It puts men in a position of authority over women. Girls should instead be encouraged to believe that their power lies in their own hands.

Similarly, in “mentoring”, the mentor occupies a superior position to the mentee. Instead of being told to “lean in,” women should stand tall and assert their values without relying on anyone else. This is why I cringe when I am asked to mentor young up-and-coming women professionals. The term is rarely used for men.

In a microcredit scheme in developing countries like Bangladesh, small loans were made of tiny sums of money to credit-worthy villagers. The Grameen bank-based model, approved “approximately $2.1 billion in loans… to 2 million people—94 percent have been women.” A research study revealed that “women show better repayment performance than men.” The report concluded that women were innately more trustworthy.

Women are hurt when their contributions to the home and family are not recognized, but men’s achievements and earning power is admired. Women have worked side by side with men to supplement the family income, but their efforts are overlooked.

Even more importantly, what gets missed is the formative role of mothers in the lives of their children. My mother once scolded me, saying, “If you don’t study, you will become a housewife” — when she was a housewife herself. Perhaps she did not want me to be financially dependent on a husband, as she was. Her scolding left such an impression on me, that I vowed to become a professional, a wife, and a mother.

Men should also be celebrated not just for being the providers of the family, through their hard work — day in and day out— but also for structuring our societies to make them safe. They have also been innovators who have helped eradicate diseases, built safer and more functional dwellings, and through electrification and automation dramatically improved food production — although many women have historically defied the norms, like Marie Curie who discovered radium, Rosalind Franklin who helped discover DNA, and inventor of CRISPR gene editing Jennifer Doudna. In the past 30 years, women have made progress in all fields, including founding successful tech startups, like Anne Wojcicki of 23andMe. Still, there are too few women in STEM.

There are obvious biases against women. But the implications of bias are also incorrectly interpreted. The psychologist and economist Daniel Kahneman considers, “Biases [are] optical illusions: they exist in the eye of the beholder.” I would add that biases are blinders on the person harboring them because a biased mind makes poorer-quality decisions.

Gender stereotyping is common. I cannot fathom what it is like to be in men’s shoes.

Generally, men are encouraged to be strong, to hide their emotions, and not to show vulnerability. As a result, men are less likely to seek professional counseling for mental struggles. Further, men, especially non-white men face biases with harsher sentencing and treatment in our criminal justice system.

In my conversations with millennial professionals, I was surprised to learn that as much as companies in the US are beginning to offer parental leave, men also face barriers to professional progress if they choose to prioritize caregiving roles over work, and women remain reluctant to disclose their pregnancies.

My son-in-law, a highly educated young man in Silicon Valley, decided to be a stay-at-home dad for their toddler. Initially, even I was skeptical of his choice. But now I realize there are very few Seans who dare to go against the grain.

Neither gender has it easy.

Since I have no brothers and no sons, I did not see the other side of the coin. As I write, I am returning from a bridge tournament where I noticed how my coach Morten interacted with the four young men in our team, including one of his sons. Morten is not the one to dole out unwarranted advice. But when he does, he is precise. Morten shared with me, that he pointed to one of the boys, ‘Try and make eye contact when you talk’. This heightened my awareness when reading Scott Gallaway’s blog, which concludes “(for American society) the single point of failure for a young man is when he loses a male role model. We are failing our brothers, sons, neighbors, and country. Being a man means making better men.”

Gender narratives need to evolve. Women and men could leverage themselves to greater potential when they feel freer to pursue their goals within and outside family life. A side benefit of it could be healthier marriages and happier children. That is our next step to grow, as a society.

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