Do women choose work or does work choose women? – The women’s ‘Sorting Hat and Harry Potter’ dilemma

This is an important question we find ourselves asking regardless of the gender we belong to. There is not one answer to the question asked in the title. We must peel layers and address each of them individually. When Harry Potter wore the Sorting Hat, he was suggested Slytherin and he chose Gryffindor. It was primarily because his first impressions were likeable about Gryffindor which he gathered from his conversations in the Hogwarts Express. The Sorting Hat’s suggestion was based on Harry’s aptitude whereas Harry’s choice was made by his heart. To understand the causality between women and employment, we must divide the intellect from the heart and then go on to peel the layers from both sides. Intellect can mean individual aptitude / intelligence and socio-cultural domination by the opinion leaders and society. Heart can mean individual desire which is torn between love towards gender bound duty, its perceptions and love towards self-preservation. When thinking about women and employment, one must also give space to the role of the capitalist and globalized market we cater to. Choosing to work in exchange of cash or kind involves making several life changing decisions which have to be implemented and negotiated every single day.

“We lost our green land, we lost our clean air
We lost our true wisdom and we live in despair.” – Yoko Ono


The innate voices of the women are lost in the Tower of Babel. Much like the myth of Babel, in this case, the confounding languages are those of the social, psychological and cultural. By social, I mean the mere existence of people at large and by cultural I mean the output emerging from that existence of the people. By psychological I mean defining the self by what one sees externally and trying to always live up to what one sees on the outside. The question I find myself asking is if I were a man, would my choices have been different by the circumstance of gender and the socio-cultural changes it entails? For India, I find myself answering in affirmative if I subjectively filter certain truths and present them in isolation. For instance, in our country, the population is privileged and under-privileged because of biological sex they belong to. In rural India, girls drop out of school once they attain puberty. The common reasons have been lack of sanitation facilities in school, superstitions attached with menstruation practices and the fear of the girl being raped and conceiving a child from it. The parents and in-laws fear that education would give girl an independent mind which questions and seeks rather than meek submission. The wry humor in the situation is that once married, the adverse impact of the girl’s under-developed self can be realized. It is her stifled development which leads to poor negotiation skills in family planning, it is her lack of education which makes her non-eligible for working in exchange of cash or kind and it is her lack of sense of self which makes her raise another generation of humans which are malnourished by psyche and physiology. Here it is interesting to note how a woman is made into a one person army trying to live her own life and catering to those around her. There is a famous quote about educating an entire family, generation and a country if one only educates a girl. It gives lopsided responsibility to the girl and does not take into consideration the fact that first it takes an educated man to understand the need of educating a woman. The man is hence relegated to being an obsolete sperm donor who may choose to be employed. In rural India, he also has the choice to waste himself away in vices. No Nitish Kumar can change the inner will of the man who has chosen self-destruction and a life dedicated to harmful addictions.

Driven by centuries of caste based division in the society, only certain sections have been exposed to education, sanitation, food, art, music and self-elevating literature. Today there is better reach of education across all the sections of the society. However, it does little to change the deficit of the previous backlog of deprivation and the adverse impact that backlog has on those who are trying to progress today. The end result of such complicated dynamics is unequal social progress which has given rise to creation of urban and separation of it from the rural and causing the famous urban-rural divide. With the added layer of social conditioning, the intellect and the heart of the woman encounters an additional thinking point once she deals with the gender aspect of her choices.

The reality of women’s employment

As per the available data from National Sample Survey dating 2009-10, only 26 percent women formed a part of the work force in India. Of which, 56 percent were self-employed, 4 percent were salaried workers and 40 percent were casual laborers. Men have inordinately higher percentages in all the aforementioned categories. In the salaried category, women were reported to be paid much lower than their male counterparts with a difference of 38 percent in rural areas and 19 percent in urban areas. Considering that a pan India figure of a rather outdated data shows 56 percent self-employment in women; it would be interesting to scale up the status of self-employment in the country and world over to see the status of self-employed women who at worse own beauty parlors and tailor shops for self-sustenance and at best start up an enterprise which gives boost to the economy and brings in social recognition.

CNBC published a listicle on 20 hottest startups the world over for the year 2015. In the list of 20, India figures tenth with a woman led enterprise. Upon further observation, two other women feature in the same list of which one hails from Portugal and the other from Philippines. It would be interesting to note that the enterprise of all the three women dealt with children and HR sector. This brings us to the beginning of the article where we dwelt upon how certain works are stereotyped. Are women inclined to make particular choices given their primitive instincts to nurture and procreate despite the modern tools of education and globalization? If the answer to this question is in affirmative, then the next point to think about the estimated loss we face by relative non-involvement of women in science and technology. There is a Facebook joke, “If women personify countries there would be no wars, just a couple of countries not talking to each other.” Yes, we are damn well right. If women were to dominate certain spaces with the combination of primitive instincts and modern tools, maybe, just maybe, there would be no wars.


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