Q: As the former Facebook CEO, Sheryl Sandberg had spoken about the concept of “lean in”, where she speaks about the role of women in the work culture and more, what is your stance on the same?
Aarti: I’ve read about Lean In and it’s about women not taking a back seat, it’s about not saying no, it’s about saying yes to bigger assignments, bigger jobs, bigger roles even if you have family constraints. So that said, there’s always room to be polite and helpful. I think they are two separate issues. I think men should be equally courteous with women. It’s not a one way strain. I think its politeness irrespective of gender at the work place and not that it’s one way, it has to work both ways.
Q: So, how is this gender neutral perspective taking place today at the work place; more when you are one of the panelists to talked about gender biases in a session as well.
Aarti: : So, happy to talk about gender biases, and especially with women and the issues that they face at the workplace, not that that’s done to death but whatever of mine is respected and something that I have mentioned in my book. It would be about how they dress, about how success is modified for them and a couple of these.
Q: #MeToo. Was our country prepared for this movement?
Aarti: #MeToo has given an impetus as we’ve seen. I mean a lot of courage for women to speak up; it’s become a forum after Indian courts have not succeeded and women have over the years followed due process and lost hope. Now, one of the big reasons for the efficacy of the #MeToo to women has been social media and how it’s given women a forum to speak. That said, it’s spiralled into a lot of conversations. Earlier also we had a lot of sexual harassment laws, but there weren’t real conversations taking place. It was all “hush-hush”. Now it’s ‘cool’ to talk about it. It’s ‘’appropriate” to talk about it. And it’s being talked about. So to that extent, there is definitely more awareness, companies are trying to focus on increasing the ‘ecosystem’ for women for solidarity and support. There are progressive companies who have implemented Vishakha Committee guidelines where there is an external person on the board to regulate the same. So there are policies in place, but the idea is to have more awareness for women. To have them more informed. It does have repercussions on men as well because, of course, there is more mindfulness around this whole theme. There is also the need for reactions as, men don’t want to hire more women, so that would be impacted. I personally feel that in the case of “non-offenders”, they are worried and there is caution rightfully. So I think there are two sides to the coin so that’s where #MeToo broadly pans up.
Q: Since gender bias prejudices get implanted from a very young age, do you think that popular media content could be blamed alongside ignorant parental patterns for the growth of the same?
Aarti: I think there are a lot of factors that play a role in this. The patriarchy is engrained in the ecosystem. It starts young as we raise our sons, as Twinkle Khanna had pointed out in a number of occasions. The way we educate girls and boys, and how this transpires and how this carries forward to the school and college and workplace and it just gets re-imposed. Parents and families obviously do play a part. Coming to the second part of the question, of course media content does play a role in setting up or mending this gender gap. You have advertisements. Some years ago there was this Tanishq ad where there was a woman getting married for the second time and in the final few seconds of the ad, her daughter comes running to the groom and he lovingly picks her up in his arms. It was beautiful. And Tanishq being one of the leading jeweler brands , brought this up and broke a lot of stereotypes, so I think that media in general, and Bollywood, as well does have a role in defeating stereotypes. Also I think that media and advertisement and Bollywood are also mirrors of what the society is doing. So you can’t really blame them in totality; they exist and coexist and have a role to play and sometimes it’s important to be a little cognizant about the accountability and responsibility out there.
Q: In your opinion, where would you draw a line between the terms ‘beautiful’ and ‘beautified’?
Aarti: I am probably not the right person to judge it but I think it is as cliché as it sounds, but that beauty really begins within. And I think that there’s nothing wrong in using beauty products. As my 18 year old daughter says when I object about her wearing makeup and stuff because personally I’m not very fond of makeup, she says that “mamma I’m not doing it for others, I’m doing it for myself.” So I think that’s where I would draw the line. And that’s acceptable in my mind; I stand for me. You do it because it makes you feel good, it makes you feel confident. It helps when you know that there should be nobody to question my choices. It’s entirely personal. It depends on where you want to go. If you want to wear lots of makeup every day, that’s up to you, if your career demands you to wear it, so be it. I think its fine and I don’t think that anybody should really be judging or commenting on any of that because I think that it’s a personal decision and it’s a free world.
Interviewed by Astha Pramanik