Gender At Work recently published an article entitled, ‘Benevolent Sexism’, a concept that was previously foreign to me. Written by French Artist Emma, who is known for her comic style illustration on various issues and topics highlighted how particular remarks can belittle women in the workplace. It goes on to describe a woman’s experience who became employed at a company working in IT. After some time, she pitched herself for the managerial vacancy in which she was turned down. She left the job, picking up a managerial position at another IT company. At her new job, her employer would comment on how much she brightens up the place and her colleagues will refer to her as a “Dating-Mother” as she checked in on their tasks. Not once, did anyone ever reference her actual competency as an IT Manager.
Photo by Christina @ wocintechchat.com via Unsplash
I couldn’t help but flashback to this article following yesterday’s swearing in of the Government of Trinidad and Tobago’s cabinet. To end the swearing in, Prime Minister, The Honourable Dr. Keith Christopher Rowley took to the podium to address the attendees. To some, what he shared seemed powerful, intentional and just altogether beautiful, but I couldn't help but feel chills and annoyance. On the appointment of the Honourable Dr. Nyan Gadsby-Dolly as Minister of Education and The Honourable Lisa Morris-Julien as a minister in that ministry, Dr. Rowley shared, “I have put the nation’s children in the hands of two mothers…”, “and I trust they could not be better placed…They are responsible now, not just for their own family, but the family of the children of TT."
Benevolent Sexism is sexism that subtly enforces gender stereotypes on women as it is always packaged as ‘compliments’. Such an idea that women are fit to carry out certain tasks because they are mothers, pushes women into a box that everyone around them must be nurtured and so this type of leadership can result in ineffectiveness as everyone has to be taken care of.
What seems like a sweet sentiment is in fact a very damaging one and definitely a thought that we need to address. At previous appointments to this role, men were never validated as competent to serve by expressing their familial ties nor if they were able to plant their seed, in fact it has been justified by the level of experience they have had in a professional sense and praised for the type of work they may be able to facilitate. The Minister of National Security wasn’t made out to be fit for the job because of traditional stereotypes of men being instinctive to protect and fight nor was his fatherhood mentioned. Dr. Gadsby-Dolly obtained her Phd in Organic Chemistry and has spent several years as a teacher and lecturer. Her academic track record is impressive, these are the types of achievements that should be shared. She is BRILLIANT!
The notion of linking women’s capabilities to serve by how well they can manage the home, not only reinforces a stereotype of traditional gender norms but it also takes away from the years of hard work and effort put into ensuring that they are both competent and the best for the job. We need to move away from ascribing gendered ideologies to roles and functions as we seek to create a more gender equal Trinidad and Tobago and the world at large. Reducing a woman’s capabilities to whether or not she is in motherhood sends a message that women must bear a child in order to fulfill a leadership role that shapes the mind of the nation’s youth.
We must empower the women of the nation to strive for excellence in whatever way they are able to and not by what biology is able to do for some of them.