We live in the 21st century and phrases like ‘Be a man,’ ‘Don’t cry like a woman’ and many more slide away with zero repercussions in casual conversation. Young boys and girls of impressionable age are learning to make choices governed by gender. They are also learning that one needs to be ‘tough’ to get ahead and also it is the ‘man’ who is the tough one. Or, at least, that’s what the norm says.
You might not know it as gender socialisation, you have most likely been influenced by it and subconsciously digested its teachings that have instilled beliefs about what constitutes gender-appropriate behaviour.
To put it simply, gender socialisation entails learning behaviour that is perceived as being consistent with one’s gender. For example, girls might be expected to be generous with her belongings, remain mild and calm in arguments (if she accidentally gets into one), or never openly be a sexual being. While these expectations are detrimental in themselves, they also lead to far-reaching consequences such as telling women that appropriate behaviour means being willing to be submissive, to let go and accept whatever comes their way – even if it’s failure.
This is also where the issue of failure conditioning rears its ugly head. Women are conditioned to fail every day, in ways that we don’t often pay much attention to, but it is time we wake up to this reality.
Is It Really A Man’s World?
Internalising appropriate behaviour for males and females is a gradual process through exposure to various social agents such as family, media and other social institutions. This process begins within one’s household where a child first learns about the different roles of gender – equating power and authority with man and gentleness, inferiority or submissiveness with femininity. Subconsciously, males learn how to exercise authority over their female counterparts while the latter learn how to simply take orders from the former.
This results in deep-rooted confidence issues – every woman has at some point experienced the debilitating sense of inferiority that comes with having their confidence frequently undermined with statements such as, ‘You cannot do it.’ ‘This is too difficult for you.’ ‘This will take time to achieve, and you cannot afford to waste so much time on this.’
Not like men are gaining anything from this either. Boys learn that displaying emotions is a sign of weakness, thus leading them to suppress their true feelings. Moreover, the younger men of the house may also feel like they need to respect their elders, even when they are wrong, thus leading to self-confidence issues.
Bottom-line? Patriarchy helps no one.
The many faces of failure conditioning
It’s not just the households. Advertisements, movies, and other pop culture forms have largely propagated this patriarchy and misogyny. What we see on TV, unsurprisingly plays out in real life. Do you recall an ad where the man is waking up his son and making breakfast in the kitchen using the best utensils? Or seeing a room full of men ardently listening to a female boss in a conference room as she confidently sprints through her happening life? Probably not. How is a young boy even expected to imagine such a scenario? Let alone internalising it.
More recently, a rather sensitive example played out. With the accusation that most of Bollywood actors are addicted to illegal substances, the first people in the line of fire were women. In fact, it is hard to remember if a single man was named as part of the controversy. This inability to accept a woman’s failure as just a failure makes it that much harder for women to take any chances at all- because the smallest misstep could result in severe consequences.
Another example is the reactions women receive in India for doing the same things that their male counterparts would do. A boy is actively encouraged to date as many people as possible before tying the knot. But girls on the other hand, are slut-shamed if they get out there to explore their options. What they are meant to do – stay indoors and wait for someone to find her good enough to get married to him. This further undermines a girl’s fundamental right to the freedom of her own body and spirit keeping her from trying anything that is even remotely close to improper or imperfect.
This discussion on failure conditioning could never be complete without addressing the equation between partners in marriages, at least in some cases if not all. As soon as a woman is married, she is expected to set aside her career to cater to household demands instead. At work, she is shown that her role in other areas is detrimental to her professional progress. On the other hand, at home, she is shown that she is a ‘bad’ parent for choosing to work. She is failing anyway, everywhere.
No rulebook says that a mother is more important than a father, nor is there any concrete proof that a woman automatically becomes less productive once she is married. These are just constructs that we have created in our own minds.
These aspects further undermine a woman’s confidence and put her into the failure mindset. In extreme cases, she may even believe herself to be entirely dependent on the mercy of those who are ‘in charge’ of looking after her.
Why women are risk-averse. Delving into the idea of rejection
A report from an internal study conducted by Hewlett Packard showed that men applied for jobs when they had 60% of the job qualifications required, whereas women applied only when they met 100%. Despite having great incentive and higher salaries, women preferred to wait instead of choosing positions with uncertainty.
A large number of women know they are competent yet are extremely risk-averse. They sure know how to ask for what they deserve but would rather upgrade their expertise and strive to excel where they surely can, instead of negotiating for more. This lack of agency can be rooted back to early experiences.
These fears are far more about rejection than of failure itself. And thanks to archaic social conditioning that has brainwashed women into functioning as objects that only exist to please, giving advice on how to better manage failure isn’t going to help anyone. They aren’t ready to face the unabashed disapproval that comes with making a bad decision.
Pressurising young girls to be ‘twice as good’ could mean only half of them actually make it in this gruelling world. The other half is sidelined by the young man waiting to climb the ladder, who already has everyone’s faith and encouragement anyway – just because he was born and identifies as a man.
Change always begins at home. It starts with listening to the girl with an opinion. It starts with not buying gendered clothes and colours and letting children decide what they want. It begins with standing up to statements such as, “Why get her educated? She’s going to get married anyway.”
We must all learn to allow our girls and women to fail and give them the space to get back up on their own terms.
(Edited by Neha Baid)