Having been interviewed for various articles more than a few time throughout my 15 year career, there have been a couple of times when the article was titled “Women Entrepreneurs” or “Female Entrepreneurs”.
Article titles where I’ve been interviewed, are not in my control. Usually, I keep my personal feelings separate. Sometimes though, I will request the editor or features writer to kindly re-consider. I do this by sending them a brief email with my request and my reasoning for asking for the change, i.e, from “Female Entrepreneur” to simply “Entrepreneur”. Or more accurately in my case, “Solo Entrepreneur”. I have been able to do what I do, not because I am a woman but despite that fact. It matters to me that I be introduced as an entrepreneur, regardless of my gender. Would an article about entrepreneurs who are men, be titled “Male Entrepreneurs”? I haven’t seen one.
One of the sentences from a brand brief we were discussing : “…gender discrimination is not just a women’s issue, but a business issue and an issue that affects the economy and the world at large.”
Thinking that I haven’t been able to do a lot of things because I’m a woman might be factual but it’s also a bit like accepting that I’m a victim. I refuse to ever subscribe to that thought process. Whenever I’ve truly wanted to do something, I’ve gone and done it.
For example, for the longest time, I’ve lamented that men can do street photography in India much more easily than a woman can. Safety issues being the main concern. I can’t casually walk on the street with expensive photography equipment without worrying about being molested, harassed in general or even being mugged, which might include physical assault. So, in general, I’ve stayed away from open streets and only do street photography in controlled spaces like Fashion Week and the India Art Fair. Or at locations considered relatively safe and posh, like Khan Market in New Delhi.
But these locations are not representative of the India I would like to photograph. So, I’ve photographed streets through a moving car or bus. But the main reason I haven’t ventured into street photography on a larger scale is simply because it does not pay well. It’s hours and hours of back-breaking work, usually in terrible weather and unsafe conditions. And there’s no one willing to pay for it. If I really wanted to get out and document the streets of Delhi and Gurgaon to begin with, I’d find a way. My gender will not be a catalyst.
It is possible that male photographers are getting paid to pursue street photography assignments. This could be because the client might believe that it is a safer investment to hire a guy to do it because at least no one will assault him for his gender and that’s a headache that the client can avoid from the get-go.
To put it politely, “What a pile of manure!” Hiring someone because their work is fantastic, regardless of their gender, is the ideal thing to do. If we start with that premise, we will ensure that we create circumstances where the best work can be done. This would be more proactive than reactive. You’re ensuring the best work gets done, regardless of whether it’s a man or a woman doing it.
Hiring a man because you believe he can take more abuse than a woman, is terrible for the man as well. What if he does go through something unsettling or violent? Is he automatically supposed to “handle it” because he’s a “man”? It’s unfair to both genders.
The excuse most of us use is, “But that’s not how the REAL world works!” Putting in effort to create feasible circumstances to help create good work, is harder than operating on status quo. Till the “Culture” fixes itself, I need to go out of my way to hire women. This is extra effort that most of us exhausted souls have little energy for. I get it.
Doesn’t make it ok.
As a photographer, I’ve had people walk up to me and express surprise ( yes, even in 2019 ), at seeing a female photographer. “Is your husband ok with this?” ( When the assignment involves late night photography. ) “Are your parents ok with this?” “Who manages the house when you travel?” ( If B is around, he does. If he’s travelling then everything gathers dust. And not that it is any of your business but, we’re ok with that. )
I’ve also had people walk up to me and tell me how wonderful they think it is that I, a woman, am a professional photographer. ( So a male photographer would not be wonderful? If you’ve seen my work and evaluated it against all the other work you’ve seen previously and THEN you tell me that my WORK is wonderful, THAT I’m ok with .) I’m not a curiosity to be gawked at. I’m a professional on assignment. I’m doing my job.
None of us should be looking at our careers from the point of view of gender. If there’s something you really want to do, but your gender has not done that traditionally, look at it as an opportunity to market yourself as the first. There is opportunity in novelty.
I am not including jobs or tasks that require the use of features that are biologically inherent in genders. If you wanted to hire someone to surrogate a child for you, there is no scope of men in that “profession”. Not yet anyway. We’ll have to wait on Science for that one.
I can get the jar of honey to open after struggling with it for a few minutes, sure. But I’d rather take it to B if I want my coffee as soon as I wake up. Had I been the more physically stronger one at home, guess who would be opening all the jars!
A man who is not the primary bread-winner and manages the household? OMG he’s not man enough. Isn’t that the woman’s job? Because women are better at taking care of a home. We might not say this out loud, but we think it. I know more than a few men who would be legitimately offended if they heard this. They are the better care-takers than their significant others. They prefer the peace and quiet of home. Traditional corporate roles, pretend aggression, etc. don’t work for them anymore. They put their mental well-being before external expectations.
Nursing has traditionally been a female domain. But we do have male nurses. Wrestling and weight-lifting have traditionally been a male domain but we do have female wrestlers and weight-lifters now.
Personally, I believe that the gender debate must focus on providing equal opportunities. No one can, or should, ensure equal outcomes. If women are given opportunities equal to what men are given, that would be great. But what each man or woman does with that opportunity is mostly, up to them. Train ten photographers equally, give them all a similar job. Regardless of gender, not all ten are guaranteed to be successful ( however success is determined ).
No one told me I couldn’t be a photographer because I was a woman. I didn’t ask. True, most of the work I’ve done over the years, has been because a woman hired me. 90 out of the 100 times that I’ve been hired, has been because a woman decided to hire me. Or championed my work internally at her organization and tried to get me hired. If I had been hired by men as well, I might have done more work, sure. But I’ve done plenty of work anyway. The loss wasn’t mine.
The point is, I can’t let that stop me from doing what I want to do.
Most of us do have pre-conceived notions about gender, but most of us are also too busy to notice whether it’s a man doing it or a woman – as long as the job is getting done. Rarely is someone actively and maliciously trying to cut you out of a gig because you’re a woman or a man. ( I’m not saying that it doesn’t happen at all. )
At the end of the day, it is not a competition between men and women. We are all in this together. We are all, fellow-entrepreneurs.
Go and do what you must.
(Over the years, I’ve tried to stay away from writing about “days” : Valentine’s Day, Photography Day – I’ve written about it once, Women’s Day etc. Love, image-making, being a human being, are parts of my daily life. I talk and write plenty about other things that are more important to me : professionalism, doing business in India, getting paid etc. There isn’t much about this stuff online, especially from an Indian point of view.
But there are plenty marketing plugs for Valentine’s Day, Women’s Day and every other Day that we’ve come up with. I tend to steer away from trends. As you might have noticed, my website & blog are hosted on a “.co” domain. In partnership with DotCo, this is the first time I’m partnering with a brand for International Women’s Day. Considering I’m 39 years old, that’s saying something. The brand has surpassed my expectations in terms of the brief that we reached an agreement on and the free hand they have given me, to express my thoughts. Hat-tip also to the agency MSL, specifically Devika, who made this gig WORK.)
If you’d like me to write about something specific, please let me know in the comments section below and I will make an attempt. You can always catch me on Twitter if you’d like to continue the chat on this subject.