Milkman. Postman. Cameraman. Salesman. What do you think is a common factor that can be extracted from these four jobs? Okay, before you leap to conclusions about my sanity level, hear me out. As much as these job roles are as diverse as chalk, cheese and pepper, the suffix of these job titles tell the same story – implied sexism at its best. To say the least, they are all male-dominant professions.
Let us take a simple example from the film industry! Manju Warrier is fondly known as the “Lady Superstar of Mollywood” – but who decided that superstar is inherently a word associated with men and felt the need to introduce the prefix “lady”? Why is a woman a ‘she-ro’ and not a hero?
It’s bad enough that gender stereotypes exist, but when such stereotypes loom over our careers and professions that’s when we know we still have a long way to go in terms of empowering women. Such levels of pigeonholing in a job title or description are the reason why women grimace from applying for a job and proving their finesse in it. That said, we look at a few male-dominant professions where our women characters of Mollywood thrived in:
Let’s face it – the aviation industry, or the cockpit to be specific, is not exactly one to boast of gender parity. It’s one of the male-dominant professions in India. When you think of women pilots in Mollywood there are very few images that hit us, of which the most prominent one is Pallavi from Uyare – a character beautifully portrayed by Parvathy. The aspiring pilot is ambitious and strong-willed, knowing from very early on that all she wanted was to fly.
Probably the next image that would strike you would be Priya Raman’s character in Sainyam, but woefully she was more of eye-candy while the limelight was on the air force dudes out there. In India, the % of women pilots forms only about 15%, which by the way, is the highest in the world!
A couple of years ago when I hopped on a plane, I was pleasantly surprised to hear the oh-so-familiar “Ladies and Gentlemen, this is your Captain speaking” being uttered by a woman. My bliss was short-lived as my thoughts were interrupted by a gruff voice behind me going “Oh! It’s a lady pilot. Nammude karyam enthavo entho” Well well well, deep-rooted stereotypes die hard.
Oh yes, the stereotype we just spoke of predominantly bombards us on land as much as up in the air. How can we forget the age-old “women are bad drivers” folklore shoved down our throats every now and then? And if a woman driver aces her driving test on the first try, how often have we heard that “Oh, they make all the women pass easily!” Yeah, not because she followed the rules, paid attention to her surroundings and maneuvered the vehicle!
Amidst all this, there are also people who drive cars, auto-rickshaws and other vehicles to eke out a living. Mollywood gave us Parakkum Latha, a fearless girl with a spine of steel who confidently drives through Fort Kochi in her auto-rickshaw. A decade later, we saw Anushree as Anitha donning the khaki to take charge of the autorickshaw with oodles of spunk in the movie Autorsha when dealing with gender discrepancies attached to her profession. You might also remember the female cab driver, Devayani portrayed by Kavya Madhavan in the 2015 movie She Taxi.
Mechanical & Civil Engineer
One of the fields in which women are vastly under-represented is Engineering. In spite of so many women signing up for engineering, not even 15% of the total engineering workforce is represented by women. If you’ve been to an engineering college you would know that the female to male ratio is the lowest in the mechanical engineering branch. This is simply owing to the patriarchal thinking that tells you to leave behind the physically strenuous work for the men because women are “weaker” and not “up to the mark” for the practical work. Heavy sighs.
The hype gets real when a female enrolls for the course, so much so that she is christened the “Mech Rani ” of the batch. Yeah yeah, I know you’ve seen all that in Chunkzz when Honey Rose’s character walks into the mechanical engineering classroom a year later when Chinnu of Queen made her way into the XY-chromosome cramped classroom. Though the same cannot be said about civil engineering, there is a level of skewed gender disparity existing in the profession as well.
In 2005, Sathyan Anthikad showed us Ashwathy, a civil engineer who nailed her job by sanguinely walking about and monitoring work on construction sites, a place generally dismissed as an unaccommodating place for a woman.
If you walk into a police station, there is a cent per cent chance that you will see more men police officers than women. This is primarily because only a little over 1/5th of the police force constitute women and how alarmingly low is that!
However, it is quite ironic that Mollywood has had quite a handful of women police officers during the last few decades. The treatment these characters received in these movies were a regressive hit at the women empowerment cause – case in point would be the female police officer in Kasaba (we’ve discussed this enough though!)
Starting from the 90s we’ve seen Vani Vishwanath slipping effortlessly into the khaki through movies like The Truth, Usthad and Independence Day. Another actor who swiftly comes to our mind is the legendary Shobhana, who played Nithya, the Deputy Commissioner of Police in the movie Superman. At this point, we also reminisce about Geetha Prabhakar, Inspector General of Police played by Asha Sharreth in Drishyam, ASP Supriya Raghavan played by Lena in Spirit and SP Anuradha played by Yama Gilgamesh in Nayattu.
For the longest time, there was a speculation that only people with high testosterone levels can fare well in athletics. Recently, a team of researchers dispelled everyone’s doubts in the said matter explaining how there is no causal relationship between one’s testosterone levels and their performance. Breaking long-standing tradition, lately there has been a surge of women players striking gold and winning accolades in the field of sports.
In reel life, we’ve enjoyed watching Aditi of Godha wrestling not only people but also age-old archaic, and most recently Maria Francis, Rajisha Vijayan’s character in Kho-kho working hard to get her team to the national level. You may also remember Vandhana (Manju Warrior) as a volleyball coach, training a bunch of prisoners in Karinkunnam 6S and Ann Augustine’s character in Rebecca Uthup Kizhakkemala who won medals in the Asian Games. You better remember Biji, Femina’s character in Minnal Murali, too unless you wanna get karate-chopped!
Surgery has always been touted to be a male-dominated field. In fact, studies suggest that even if a woman is able to climb the surgical ladder, they are rarely offered chances to perform complex surgeries. An M-wood surgeon that we remember is Dr Rohini from Thira, a role essayed by Shobana. Apart from excelling as a cardio surgeon, she also ran an NGO to give back to society.
The glass cliff sure does exist even today! Though women leaders have emerged in organizations, we still have a long way to go to witness them being promoted to C-suite executive levels. One of the C-suite roles I distinctly remember in Mollywood is Priya of My Boss who was the CMO of her company.
Filmmaker, Anjali Menon once said that when it comes to the craft of cinema, gender should not be mixed with creative individuality and professionalism. Women should be encouraged to not just prove their worth in front of the camera, but also behind it! Say filmmaker and the first Mollywood woman character to disembark in our minds is none other than Sara (of Sara’s) and her journey towards becoming a filmmaker while grappling with societal stereotypes associated with being a woman.
Did any Mollywood woman character who excelled in male-dominant professions strike you? Don’t forget to let us know in the comments!