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Journalist, Author, Columnist. My Twitter handle: @seemagoswami

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Ladies special

The brouhaha about female fighter pilots shows how feminists are falling prey to the culture of entitlement

I know I’m going to get sack-loads of hate mail for this (bring it on, ladies!) but I simply have to say this. When it comes to women being inducted as fighter pilots in the Indian Air Force, I’m one with Vice Chief Air Marshal P.K. Barbora, who famously voiced his reservations on the subject.

As Barbora explained, an obscene amount of money goes into the making of a fighter pilot. So, it makes no sense to train someone who would then take ten months off on maternity leave. Hence, if women are to be inducted as fighter pilots, they should undertake not to have children until a specified time.

Honestly, what is so chauvinistic about this statement that it has feminists foaming at the mouth with indignation? It’s a valid point, surely? If the Indian state is going to spend several crores on training someone with a specific set of skills, it stands to reason that it would want these skills to be available to it for a certain period of time.

In the Indian Air Force, that period is defined as 14 years. If a male fighter pilot quits before that, he has to compensate the Air Force for his training costs. So, if women are also expected to serve for 14 years as well – without taking nearly a year off on pregnancy-related leave – what is so scandalous about that?

After all, isn’t feminism all about equal rights for men and women? Isn’t it all about equal pay for equal work? And in that case, isn’t it a given that women should be held to the same service standards as men? So, why target Barbora for saying something that should be obvious to everyone, irrespective of gender?

No, there was nothing remotely sexist about the Air Vice Chief’s statement. But what is indubitably sexist is what some women are doing: claiming special rights for female fighter pilots – when they finally are inducted into the Indian Air Force – merely because they are women.

It’s not the Air Vice Chief who should be apologizing for his remarks. It’s the women who are making a mockery of feminism who should say sorry to the rest of us.

Surely it is self-evident that if women are to gain respect at the workplace it has to be on the basis of equality. We have to embrace a level playing field, not ask for special sops for the girls. And anyone who does ask for special treatment is a traitor to our cause.

And yet, such is the culture of entitlement has begun to take root within the ranks of feminists that their demands have now become faintly ludicrous if not downright surreal. Now, it is no longer enough that women get enough time off to have babies, they should also be able to able to work flexible hours or part-time once they rejoin office. What’s more, despite putting in less work (for the same pay) they should still remain on the fast track for promotion.

Surely, this kind of self-serving nonsense beggars belief. Why should a woman who puts in fewer hours, makes a lesser contribution be treated on par with her other colleagues – male or female – who are far more invested in their jobs just to fulfill the demands of political correctness? And why should women take for granted their place in the sun no matter how long they have been in the shade?

None of this makes any sense. I am not suggesting that we deny women the right to a family life, or make it impossible for them to have a healthy work-life balance. I am merely making the point that these are choices that women make. And when they decide to put family first they cannot realistically expect to be treated the same as someone who puts work first.

Unfair? Not a bit. You make your choices and you take the consequences. After all it makes little sense to replace the much-derided glass ceiling with a baby vault into the boardroom.

So, if you are female and want to become a fighter pilot, then there are some sacrifices you will be expected to make. Postponing childbirth will be one of them. Because no matter what the posters may tell you, you really can’t have it all – well, not all at the same time, certainly.

The kind of militant feminism that says otherwise actually harms the cause of women. It makes women – especially those of an age to have babies – a much less attractive employment prospect. And it pre-disposes businesses and employers to choose men over women instead.

But more than that – and this is what really worries me – it leads to the infantalisation of women. Instead of being seen as equal partners in the business of life they are projected as some sort of special-needs minority group that needs extra protection. Rather than being seen as strong adults they are portrayed as helpless little kids who need looking after.

That is what is truly offensive. That after all these years, we are still asking for special dispensations to help us cope.

If we don’t want to be treated like the weaker sex, perhaps it would make sense to stop behaving as if we are, in fact, weaker.

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