Usually, there is nothing more gratifying than being validated, than knowing you aren’t alone in your sentiments and experiences. But this time, there was nothing more gut wrenching either.
We all know there is a gaping disparity between genders. It’s no longer a controversy that shocks us. It is a vestigial structure of a national history deeply rooted in female subjugation that we as women are more than aware of.
But, somehow, hearing that never-dying artifact of degradation, helplessness and vulnerability through the voices of 12 young girls during my presentation as an Active Voice Fellow at the JEA conference in Palo Alto High school a month ago, still struck a chord in my heart. And that note reverberates in my mind everyday.
Before I go into that conference, though, let me provide some context.
As an Indian, I do hail from a predominantly patriarchal culture. Fortunately, that once immutable cultural constant is begrudgingly disintegrating because of the daily tenacity of millions of men and women across the globe, but we still live in a place where a male taxi driver in Delhi feels comfortable asking me about the intricacies of my reproductive organs because I’m exude the confidence of a “modern” American girl, where I can’t walk down the street without clutching my car keys, where I feel strong blockage in academia because I happen to have breasts.
So, I shouldn’t have been shocked by what happened when I presented as an Active Voice fellow to that group of 12 young women, asking them if they had ever been impeded in their goals in STEM fields because of their anatomy. But, it was still like – how do I put this – it was like dipping your toes into a pond for the first time. You don’t realize how deep it actually is. Similarly, I didn’t realize how the ripples of centuries of female subordination ran so wide and cut so strong until I heard young girls, all of different backgrounds, tell me they were mocked, hushed and silenced for taking a class in the STEM fields. The absurdity…
This conference made me understand that I want and need to be a part of the reason girls can have the confidence to step anywhere without caring how loud the sound of their heels is, without worrying if they have to blend in with the boys in their office, without covering themselves, their ambitions, their dreams. Where they can become an engineer, scientist, mathematician without someone telling them they are a “rare” breed. I want to make sure we develop a legion of women, starting with changes in the education pipeline.
Active Voice came to me in a pivotal time, it saved me from myself. I became so used to burying my inherent, perpetual discomfort and resentment for consistent discouragement and diminishment deeper and deeper that I forgot what it meant to stand up. Active Voice reassured and reminded me it was time. Enough was enough and I deserved more. It forced me to fully embrace my role as a voice for the young girls in my position who were told to not be a slut, to not pursue certain professions, to not speak up around men, everything we as women hear way too much.
I am not just a role model by choice. I am one by duty. And if I can be a part of the arsenal assembling a full-fledged army of young women, there’s just nothing else I’d rather do.