The Gender Thing

Last week was International Women’s Day. You may have seen various information on this day at work or in social media, e.g % of women in management, % of women working, salary comparisons, etc. There were several articles in the newspapers on the topic, as one would expect. In Norway, the most egalitarian country in the world, the pretty picture isn’t as pretty as we would like it to be, as 40% of women working are working part time, and by that lose out on promotions, salary level and pension points. The discussion is rather vivid around “what matters”; building a healthy and happy family or build up your pension points? (The “happy and healthy family” meaning that a woman is better at taking care of the children, whereas experience shows that a man does as good of a job..)

In Norway many of the men responding to articles/blogs are rather aggressive and literally attack what they call “the feminists” or “the red stockings”, which is a word with a negative connotation dating back from the more active feminist era of the 70ies. As a woman I don’t get it, as I don’t feel in competition with men, I think there is space for men and women leaders/head of state and men and women nurses; to mention a couple of stereotyped jobs. Men should have the same rights to take leave in order to take care of the family, work from home, not to be expected to work around the clock, etc. We want a better world for men and women, not turning the coin to give all advantages to and favour women. But, the fact is that we still live in a world where in many cases men are favoured over women in e.g promotions, challenging and developing projects and pay raise. We still need to work towards having the same opportunities and fair treatment. That’s not criticizing and wanting to downplay the men, that’s just wanting a fair world.

So much for the business world, there are some ugly truths around this planet about domestic violence, human trafficking and (lack of) security for women. Maybe all these messages mixed together (not enough women in senior positions, sexual harassment, rape, “Taliban conditions”) make the men feel attacked, that they are all seen to be the “bad guys” no matter how “good” they are themselves. Another thing is that when you are in a majority situation (e.g male leader among other male leaders) it’s hard to see the challenges of being in minority. Then being told the reality of the minority, it may feel as just another criticism and that “bad guy” feeling again.

I do believe that we still live under very stereotyped roles in society (with cultural variances), and that it colours us in so many ways. We expect certain behaviours, certain choices, certain looks. This can be a straightjacket for both men and women, and I do think it limits us and reduces creativity.

What to do? That’s the million-dollar question. I can’t think of any more simple, and yet very difficult thing to do, and that’s to stay open-minded and listen, whether you are a man or a woman. Walk in the other person’s shoes, see the world from that person’s view. Maybe one day we’ll experience a black nun as a pope..