The (gender) role of a teacher

According to world Bankthe female workforce in India is only 20% of the total workforce.

The LinkedIn Opportunities Index 2021 found that more than 4 in 5 working women (85%) say they missed a raise, promotion or job offer because of their gender. The ongoing controversy over a young woman assistant professor from the reputed St. Xavier’s College, Kolkata was forced to resign for posting ‘objectionable’ photos on her personal social media account is a case in point.

Professor Joseph H. Pleck proposed the Gender Role Constraint Paradigm (GRSP) in its founding book “The Myth of Masculinity” which can be used as a lens to examine this scenario.

The GRSP allows us to understand how cultural norms, social norms and institutional expectations related to ‘gender role identity’ – ‘femininity’ and ‘masculinity’ – influence individual conduct in infants and adults; and organize everything for the long term – from the socialization of young students in an educational environment to the emotions, expressions and behaviors of faculty members and college administration.

The current case of a college’s regulation techniques (reading, policing) of an individual assistant professor’s speech and expression on social media fits quite well into Pleck’s paradigm which explains how the “gender role strain” arises from the deviation or inability of an individual to respect or to society and an institution normative order of femininity.

Pleck’s “gender role norms”

Five of Pleck’s ten major propositions may be directly relevant to the present controversy, namely:

  1. Gender roles are operationally defined by gender role stereotypes and norms: The Guardian of the student who had filed a formal complaint with the college against the professor worried about the type of education such a teacher would give to his son, whom he protected all his life from “gross indecency and objectification of the female body…”
  2. Violating gender role norms leads to social condemnation: The professor was yelled into a room, in the presence of university officials, including the vice-chancellor, registrar and head of the ‘gender cell’, and told of the complaint. This “control room” circulated the questionable photographs of the professor among them and asked her to confirm their veracity. What followed was a rigorous session of moral policing, disparaging the professor’s conduct on social media and her upbringing.
  3. The violation of gender role norms leads to negative psychological consequences: At the end of the meeting, the assistant professor was asked to apologize and tender her resignation, as it was too late for any further appeal as the photographs had already gone viral among students.
  4. The real or imagined violation of gender role norms obliges individuals to conform to them: St. Xavier’s College, Kolkata is a “sacred institution” and so he has strict dress coded for his students. Female and male guards at the gates of the college protect the integrity, decency, and morality of the institution by brazenly dismissing students wearing anything “objectionable.” The teacher was once a student at this college and if the three years she had been here had failed to develop a moral character in her, then what could? She should have known better!
  5. Each gender experiences gender role tension in their paid work and family: Women are automatically bound by descriptive and prescriptive gender norms in the workplace because, as part of “impression management”, they seek to connect with colleagues, project an authentic feminine identity and form a deeper departmental alliance; all under the pretext of being accepted into the organization.However, in this case, the college went too far by monitoring not only the employee’s conduct on its premises, but even her individual expression on social media. Essentially, the college judged the character of its employee based on her social media profile and not based on her work as a professor.

American case law on “gender stereotyping” in the workplace

In Price Waterhouse Cooper (PWC) vs. Ann Hopkins 490 US 228 (1989)watercraftthe world-renowned accounting firm, refused to promote Ann Hopkins to managing partner because she did not behave and dress in a traditional feminine manner.

Unlike other PWC partners, Hopkins demonstrated exceptional performance, professional independence and integrity as a project manager. She worked long hours with multidisciplinary teams that she vigorously pushed and demanded excellence from; she has dealt directly with clients who have showered her with praise for being a hands-on project manager; and she had even won a $25 million contract with the US State Department.

However, completely erasing his career achievements – productivity, energy and creativity in the workplace – some PWC partners have described Hopkins as “macho”, “abrasive”, “boring”, “irritating”, a “tough talker, somewhat masculine, with a hard nose”. manager’ and a ‘woman’s libber’, while the others advised Hopkins to ‘take a course at charm school’ and to ‘walk more femininely, talk more femininely, dress more femininely, wear makeup, do their hair and wear jewellery’.

In a landmark judgment, the United States Supreme Court ruled that an employer’s decision regarding an employee’s job performance that was based on “gender stereotyping” was discriminatory and therefore illegal under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964; and that a company could not refuse to promote an individual simply because that employee did not conform to stereotypical notions of how a woman should appear and behave in the workplace.

Need for US “Title VII” Legislation in India

Apparently the college indulged in ‘gender stereotyping’ as the academician was forced to resign because she failed to conform properly to institutional standards of ‘achieving womanhood’ on social media. Being on probation made his position even more precarious.

An important question that arises is: would a male counterpart in a similar position have faced the same level of scrutiny and moral policing from college authorities for posting photos to his social media account? ? Or was the professor treated like this just because of his “gender” and “age”?

Universities across the country need to think deeply about these relevant issues around “gender equality” and “sex and gender discrimination.” None can operate in a silo implementing its own set of norms and expectations based on traditional notions of gender roles. It is extremely necessary for educational institutions to define their code of conduct, gender role standards and disciplinary practices for their faculty members and students in accordance with the Sexual Harassment of Women in the Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redress) Act 2013. There are far-reaching consequences to dealing with such sensitive issues in an ad hoc and informal manner.

There is also an urgent need for the Union government to step in and legislate through special legislation reflecting America’s Title VII and its own Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act 2019; Sexual Harassment Act 2013; and Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, 1979to bring private sector organisations, corporate employers and educational institutions within the framework of fundamental rights and the application of gender equality.

“Gender Role Coercion” Has Negative Consequences for Employees

In by Pleck conception, gender role constraint can take the form of one of three theoretical subtypes:

  1. Gender role difference: An employee who is watched and reprimanded for posting her photos on social media may end up feeling unworthy, incomplete, and inferior to her docile colleagues.
  2. Gender Role Trauma: Employees who are put under constant surveillance could suffer from ‘alexithymia‘, a medical condition in which an individual lacks emotional quotient and is unable to put their emotions into words, nor their feelings into their work.
  3. Gender role dysfunction: The adaptation and internalization of gender norms by women leads to increased self-policing which leads to acute physical and psychological effects such as eating disorders, sexual dysfunctions, depression, anxiety about losing friends and rejection from the workplace.

Today’s women are no longer by Eliza Linton – the first salaried female journalist of the Victorian era – version of “charming women” who didn’t blur outlines or possess confusing qualities and had “no Amazon virtues…we don’t have Achilles before us in petticoats rather …a true Pyrrha or a more tender Deidamia…”

Institutions like St. Xavier’s College in Kolkata need to catch up.

Prerna Dhoop is Assistant Professor at the National School of India University, Bangalore, India.

Vandana Dhoop is an independent research consultant based in Kolkata.

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