Role reversal and gender conflict


With more and more women joining the workforce in various sectors, there are new challenges and areas of conflict arising in areas where there was only male dominion earlier. With women breaking glass ceilings in the top positions of certain work spheres even as patriarchal social and cultural notions and practices exist in society, there are rising instances of various forms of issues emerging in the workforce starting from exploitation, sexual harassment, mental and emotional conflicts that hinge on the gender divide and stereotyping. In a deeply patriarchal society, where women are still meant largely to be seen and not heard; their visibility in positions of equal footing is leading to new arenas and vistas of power equations and struggle. Within the four walls of the home and hearth, women are supposed and are indeed doing the subservient role by tending to various household chores that revolve around ensuing that the men in the house are being served: by cooking food, cleaning the house, by washing clothes and others. In the workspace, these very women who serve in the house also take up the role of a head, which creates a conflict in terms of their roles in different spaces. Just as it would be difficult for a woman used to be an equal with other men or even in a senior post heading a male workforce in her workspace to continue taking a confined and repressed personality in her social and family interactions, it would be the same for men used to being the center of attention and having their way being relegated to the role of being given subservient tasks in the work space. The conflicting roles and the constant shifts in power equations where women are leading in her work space but taking on a backseat in her family sphere where patriarchy still rules leads to domestic conflicts where she is often the subject of physical abuse while men who are not able to play the more ‘powerful’ role in their work sphere because of their lowly position where he is superseded by women or other men mostly tend to take out their frustrations in their domestic sphere, resulting in domestic abuse again. And while society relegates women as the weaker and men as the preferred section, the blurring of the divide between men and women both in terms of their sexual and social roles and functions that is presented by the existence of transgender and same sex couples leads to this section of the community being marginalized and suppressed from expressing their individualities.

On a different note, the presence of women in the workplace in different roles of equal merit, position and pay along with men while patriarchal norms and practices exist in the larger society of which the work sphere is a part brings in a whole range of scope for abuse and harassment. While earlier, women were thought of being fit to be teachers, medical staff etc, the change of the male bastion in the financial sector, the IT sector, engineering and other professional service sectors has meant work hours being no longer confined to conventional day timings. Men and women who were earlier socially and culturally segregated or at best, used to having limited interactions with each other are now brought together. In societies where patriarchy is not as prevalent as it is in India and Manipur, workplaces in both the organized and non-organized sectors do see cases of conflict and harassment (including sexual harassment) but unlike here, such cases are dealt with seriousness and impartiality.

The recent case of sexual harassment Phaneesh Murthy, a top CEO in the IT sector being asked to leave slapped with a sexual harassment case being slapped against him by a colleague has thrown some interesting footnotes: that in an earlier sexual harassment case too, the suit was framed by a non Indian even as there has been no charge of sexual impropriety by women in the country which can be linked to how work places in the country do not have any strong measures to tackle with cases of sexual harassment and how women who do face such issues are actually made to feel that they are fighting a losing battle by bringing attention to themselves. The country now has the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013 but the implementation of the act is far from being taken up with the seriousness it deserves. The first stumbling block in implementing the Act of course is the fact that there is not much awareness or seriousness about protecting women in the work sector. The fact is that most workspaces do not even have a Complaints committee where there is a woman on board.


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