What happens when women overtake men?
As Harvey Weinstein was thrown down from his position of absolute power by the #MeToo movement and yet another woman from Haryana, the poster boy for male dominance, was getting on to sports’ world stage, I wondered for a moment whether these were signs of the beginning of the end of male domination over women. Are women throwing away the shackles that kept their real potential from being realized?
For quite some time, I have been getting anecdotal insights from my religious community about changes in society. I belong to the Syro-Malabar community of Catholics with roots in Kerala. For the last few years, I have been hearing complaints from the girls of my community, and even their parents, that they were not able to find suitable boys for marriage. “Uncle show me a boy who gets at least Rs10 more than me” is a request I have often heard from young women. Is this a trend only in my community or is it a sociological trend?
Are girls marrying boys with lesser educational qualifications, and if so, what are the consequences for married life? The evidence, of course anecdotal, came from the Malayalam film industry. In recent times there have been at least two movies that depicted the tribulations of less educationally qualified husbands with wives who have better-paying jobs. The fact that both these movies had the superstars of the Malayalam film industry in the lead role was an indication that the sociological plot of the movies was mainstream. But this wasn’t data.
The speculative nature of the assumptions regarding the educational qualifications of the youngsters in Kerala came to an end when I chanced upon the Economic Survey 2015-16 of Kerala government. It showed that 49.3% of school students in Kerala are girls. In a state with 51.4% of the population being women, and with a larger society that gives a lot of importance to education, the number was not a surprise. But the fascinating data point is that 71.01% of the students enrolled for graduation are girls; 72.6% of all those enrolled for postgraduation are girls. It is only in engineering education that boys outnumber girls. This trend has been on for many years now.
The National Centre for Education Statistics, US department of education had predicted that by 2021, in the US, 58% of the bachelor’s degrees, 62% of master’s degrees and 54% of the PhDs will be held by women. This was to be one of the first significant symbols of women becoming superior to men. But here in a small part of India, this significant trend has been in existence for decades.
While several other facets of the Kerala model of development have been spoken about and celebrated, why did the intelligentsia ignore this data? Or is the lack of celebration of this clear symbol of women’s superiority pointing to some hidden truths about complicit human behaviour?
If the educational qualifications of a section goes up, it is natural that the rising levels of education should be followed by a corresponding rise in levels of work participation rates. It is shocking that the work participation rate (WPR) of Kerala women is 22.2%, lower than even the national average of 25.3%. And to further add to the shock, WPR of women in Kerala has been showing a secular declining trend for quite some time.
Why is the work participation rate in Kerala declining even though the education levels of the girls in the state has been on a high for a long time?
Philip Zimbardo, the famous psychologist, had found that as feminine confidence grows, it could proportionately and inversely affect the harmony between men and women. Is the low participation of Kerala women in the labour force an indicator of some insidious strategy to protect the economic power of men, and thereby maintain their status in society?
How are the men in Kerala dealing with the fact that they are losing ground to women on the educational front? When power equations between two people change, and the traditional players lose the power they held for a long time, inferiority complex sets in immediately.
Violence is one of the clear fallouts of a world with inferiority complex. The number of reported rapes has almost tripled from 2007 to 2016; the number of cases of molestation is on the increase; and cruelty by husband/relative still constitutes a major component of crime against women in Kerala. Are these rising cases merely due to efficient reporting of crime? Or are they signs of the consequences of the larger society trying to keep young, educated Kerala women tied to their traditional roles in the kitchen? The huge negative reactions in Kerala to a few women film artists asserting their position and questioning male domination is surely then a part of a larger trend to show women their “rightful” place.
The women of Kerala gaining superiority over their male counterparts in education is just a beginning. Men will lose their superiority in many more fields across the world. That this trend is bound to gain momentum raises many questions for policymakers and leaders of society.
How will men react when they lose more and more positions of strength to women? How do we get men to gracefully accept their inferior position—an uncomfortable new status quo? At the same time, how do we equip women to accept this position of superiority with confidence?
Biju Dominic is the chief executive officer of Final Mile Consulting, a behaviour architecture firm.
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