In the past month, Hillary Clinton has established herself as the presumptive democratic candidate in the presidential election of 2016. If she emerges victorious in the election, she will be the first woman to preside over the United States. In a seemingly unrelated event, Virginia Raggi, a representative of the anti-corruption five-star movement, created history by becoming the first female mayor in Rome.
While these two women have, undoubtedly made a lasting impression on the world, the number of female leaders and heads of state in the world continue to be alarmingly low.
Women who aim to rise to positions of power have various challenges thrust upon them at different stages of their career by a predominantly patriarchal society. These are more outward forms of discrimination and are viewpoints that have been accepted as hindrances to equality. However, there is another end of this spectrum and the damage caused here is significantly more subtle. It is visible in instances wherein a woman’s gender becomes her primary selling point, it becomes the headline in every article published about her, it becomes the one point consistently reiterated through the course of her campaign.
This practice stems largely from the fact that female leaders are a novelty of sorts, but that is not a lasting quality. We must strive for a day when female leaders are commonplace, which is not to imply that they are ordinary as individuals, rather, that the notion of women in power is so widely accepted that gender ceases to be a point of pertinence. Equality is not a state wherein more women wield positions of power, rather a time when candidates are chosen irrespective of whether they are men or women.In consistently highlighting a candidate’s gender, one sidelines her capabilities as a leader and what she may have to offer to the people once in a position of power. This is a more dangerous obstacle in the path towards equality, in the long run, owing to its subtlety, and because it is something people do not seem to perceive as a problem at all. It is, therefore, vital to realise and eliminate this practice before it is absorbed any further.
Internalised sexism, therefore, presents itself as the greatest enemy of gender equality. It is the silent perpetrator, the most devastating weapon. It is visible in the careless depictions of mothers standing in front of stoves and fathers donning briefcases, it makes itself heard in every, “Mumma ne tiffin mein kya diya”, it compels itself to be felt everyday and everywhere, whether it be the rural regions or the apparent liberal homes of urban metropolises.
They say that the first step to solving any problem is accepting that there is one, to begin with, therefore in the battle against gender-based discrimination, it is crucial to recognise the deeply ingrained stereotypes we are all guilty of possessing and often unknowingly propagating, and thereon move towards eliminating them.