We have received your payment. Your booking has been confirmed. Hope you have an enjoyable stay…", read the email.
In a split-second I spiral into a vortex of identity crisis, once again. All the blood, sweat, and tears that went into carving a niche for myself, making my identity in this cut-throat world – all of it seemed to have been in vain because even in this day and age, despite your achievements and accolades, you cannot expect to be addressed with the proper salutations. You cannot be dignified with being called what you are.
I had planned a surprise getaway for my husband on our anniversary. I followed my Pinterest board down to every minute detail. Gift, cake, hotel booking – everything was done. And then I receive the email. Sadness replaces my excitement as my self-esteem takes a beating.
We push women to dream, break boundaries and empower them but do not pay much heed to creating a society that accepts and celebrates them.
Women have been to the moon and back, have conquered mountains, led businesses, governed countries, but our society's fragile ego still finds it hard to digest that a woman might be capable of paying the bills. What a way to alienate part of the customer base from the onset. In case they haven't picked up on it already, I am not a ' dear sir'.
For a long time, I did not bother about how communications from most of the service sector was gendered. From waiters instinctively handing the bill over to my male partner, casually assuming he will surely be the one paying the bills and, in the same breath, dismissing me even though I had explicitly asked for the bill.
From the experience of having to mention a "guardian" for opening a bank account, even though I am financially independent, to hotels asking a million probing questions for a simple booking – the list goes on. I let it slide till I could not anymore.
Over time it became more than a minor source of irritation for me. I have started to see it as an exhibit of how traditional work practices unconsciously or even consciously in some case, exclude women in circumstances where gender is irrelevant.
We live in a society embedded in a system that subordinates women through so-called social norms, defines women's place in society, and guides their conduct.
Now I am no staunch gender activist, neither will I glorify myself as such. While their agenda very much resonates with me, I have not done much actively to deserve the title.
This comes from a very ordinary girl who has worked hard, broken barriers, braved circumstances amplified because of her gender, to get where she got in life. In a predominantly men's world, all that we have ever wanted was to be given our rightful place in the table. No more, no less.
I am not the first one to experience this subdued, yet profound reductionism and I will not be the last, unfortunately.
The social sphere has stopped being the exclusive haunt of "Sirs" long ago, but it's more than that.
When we promise women equal footing with men in all spheres of public life, let that extend to addressing the most fundamental needs. We have a role to play in looking out for gendered business communication and do something about it.
We must collectively ensure that gender equality trickles down to actual practice, not just remain a promise. When women choose to challenge, let us make sure we do our part in celebrating and acknowledging their success.
Farhana Shahnaz is the Communications Officer at UNDP.