It’s International Women’s Day on the 8th of March and this year’s theme is “Breaking the Bias”. The aim of the theme is to bring to focus and create an awareness of the bias women of all colours, ages, social standing, physical appearance and marital status face in their everyday lives, at work, in the family setting, and economy in all nations of the world.
There is no doubt that women rights, causes and issues have come a long way but we still have a long way to go from the disparity in wages across industries to the injustices meted to women in the society. I know this for a fact especially as a single woman.
After Mr Aisi’s death, I decided to downsize and move from the apartment we were living in to a smaller one and I was shocked to discover that many landlords refused to let out their properties to single women. The fact that I was middle aged (not that it should have mattered at all) and was living with my mother did not deter them from implying that I was not a fit person to rent to.
The fact that I was a lawyer was another strike against me and that I was self-employed did not make matters any better.
It hurt badly and it helped me understand the many prejudices meted out to younger women, some of whom have had to pretend to be married -masquerading their friends or siblings as their husbands in order to rent an apartment.
As a widow, I am only too aware of the bias every widow faces from the death of her husband to the burial rites to life thereafter. Whilst everyone expects a man to remarry, understand and accept his remarrying within a few years of his wife’s death, widows are expected to mourn their husbands for a longer period and if they marry within the same time frame as the widower they are mostly judged as being guilty of having not loved their husbands or of having a hand in his death.
Bias is defined as a “prejudiced outlook in favour of or against one thing, person or group compared with another, usually in a way that is considered to be unfair.” It consists of stereotypes, unjustified assumptions, unverified facts and irrational conclusions, and although it is openly displayed it is mostly unconsciously expressed in sacarsm, jokes and expletives, imbibed not necessarily by formal education but by observation and interaction with people that hold the bias.
We all have biases, most of them inherited and therefore subliminal. Society has been able to curb explicit bias to some extent. At least we express shock when we see people being treated unfairly but we all have hidden biases which are exposed when the situation is personal to us . A good example is that of the ongoing Ukraine/ Russia war. A lot of caucasians are horrified by the war because in their opinion the invasion of one country by another country only happens in places like Afghanistan, Syria and in Africa, certainly not on European soil.
Our biases also occur through other people’s experiences. We all know someone that knows someone that knows someone that had the experience we hold on to so tightly. In situations like this, our biases are justified even if the circumstances that led to that one viewpoint are different in our case.
If you are strongly opinionated about some facts, which are often one sided, or you tend towards only facts that lean to a certain outcome, tend to stereotype, quick to judge without hearing from the other party, you are likely to be biased. It must be said, too that women are not the only victims of bias, men also face bias in so many ways e.g. black men in the western world especially the United States of America face severe prejudice and in relationships statements such as men are scum, are unfaithful, lack emotional intelligence abound.
“The conventional view serves to protect us from the painful job of thinking”-J. K. Galbraith
Truth be told, being biased is a lazy approach to life. It is much easier to parrot what some other person said, spew facts and figures that we have not verified authoritatively than to undertake painstaking research to find out the truth. It’s easy to conclude about something on the strength of a single story just because we respect or revere the storyteller. We believe what we want to believe because it’s easier to justify our positions than admit that we are wrong.
Becoming more broad minded takes a long time and it comes as a result of being mindful of our thoughts, of the fact that there are many sides to a story, that every individual is unique and that there are always exceptions to the “general rule”.
To overcome bias we should be:
A. willing to change our beliefs. It takes courage and bravery to admit that we are wrong or could have been wrong. Some of us would rather stick to our wrong notions or ideas rather than change them because of the time and effort that we have invested in believing them but as the saying goes the length of time one has spent on a wrong road does not change the road to the right one.
“The opposite of bravery is not cowardice but conformity”- Dr Robert Anthony
B. Question our beliefs. I have often felt especially with regards to my faith that a faith that cannot be questioned is not faith, it is mainly following orders. We must come to a place where we are able to question our beliefs, put them under an examining glass and ask questions of both it and ourselves . In doing so, our faith is not only strengthened but we are able to defend it better.
In the war between Russia and Ukraine for example, go beyond the rhetoric in the media, do your research, listen to both sides, understand the background to the war, apportion blame objectivity, look at past behaviour and judge for yourself
“In all affairs , it’s a healthy thing now and then to hang a question mark on the things you have long taken for granted”- Bertrand Russell.
C. Avoid jumping to conclusions. We are all experts at this line of thinking. We judge people based on what we see on the outside without any background information on them. We see a single woman being able to afford a luxurious lifestyle and immediately we conclude that she is being financed by a man. Conclusions stem from our experiences and many a time they turn out right but that does not absolve us from ensuring we come to the right conclusion on any subject matter. Before jumping to conclusions about others, remind yourself of positive examples of people from their age group, class, ethnicity, or sexual orientation.
D. Be careful of the company you keep both physically and virtually. Many of our biases are based on what someone else has experienced and whilst they may be true and should guide us we must not allow them to rule us completely. We don’t have to experience the world in the way we have been told to, we can learn new ways of doing old things, leave our circle of friends who insist on seeing things always from the same lens and choose for ourselves what is right or wrong.
Finally, let’s begin to seek out information aimed at different people, races, gender and class rather than what we want to hear. Let’s practice intentional inclusion by choosing to work or interact with people that are different from us age, gender and social wise. Let’s break out of our routine, talk to people we will not ordinarily talk or relate with, learn about the cultures and beliefs of others and together we can break the biases that hold humanity apart as we see ourselves in the eyes of others.
“If everyone is thinking alike then somebody isn’t thinking” -George S. Patton