When people start talking about paradigms, what do we really mean? A paradigm is a mental pattern of thinking that has control over our habitual behaviour. The paradigm is essentially the mental programming that affects our behaviour. In other words, we are all programmed and this programming affects our behavioural patterns. “No”, you shout, “I am a free thinker”. Sorry to break it to ya buddy, but we are all programmed by our upbringing, environment, education etc. C’est la vie. The good news is, that just like computer apps, programming can be updated and even replaced with better programmes. Don’t like the terminology? All sounds a bit sterile and futuristic abi? The reality is that computer engineers have sought inspiration from the genius of the human brain for decades, so it’s no surprise that concepts regarding human programming and computer programming can be used interchangeably. Ladies and gentlemen, please take it as compliment.
Let’s back up here and set the record straight. There is nothing wrong with paradigms apart from when they limit one’s potential or the potential of others, then we gotta put the breaks on and revisit the situation. What’s really going on here? We need to rewrite this code.
So how are paradigms formed? In order to find out how paradigms work we need to understand how the mind works. The subconscious mind forms paradigms by regularly absorbing certain language and images relating to a particular subject. Before you know it kamboom, its there, the idea has nestled into its nook, the nail has been hammered in there regularly, subtly, consistently overtime. You did not even realise it was happening. We have all been there. We have all stereotyped on the basis of no concrete knowledge but just based on what we have heard and seen repeatedly and then acted or reacted on the basis of the false information.
Let us take a brief and obvious example. Since its international women’s month, let’s look at some paradigms that women are usually subjected to by society and how these developed. In the 1950’s women were seen as just “housewives” responsible for taking care of children and identified as intellectually inferior to their male counterparts. Women also had little access to education compared to men, and if they did it was because they were in the upper middle class or higher. With these barriers, it was extremely difficult for women to make choices regarding career and self-development without society constantly pointing out the paradigms to restrict them. The media was full of images of the perfect housewife showcasing effective cleaning products. This is what women were good at, cleaning and preparing the perfect meal. There was something wrong with you if you did not fit into this paradigm. There was nothing wrong with the paradigm, ofcourse. Do we need to go on? The list is endless. These negative and restrictive paradigms still go on but in various forms depending on the cultural or historical context. The objectification of women being another example.
These paradigms have very damaging effects. Data shows that due to opportunities denied women, the vast majority of the world's poor are women. Two-thirds of the world's illiterate populations are female. Of the millions of school age children not in school, the majority are girls. Around the world, millions of people eat two or three times a day, but a significant percentage of women eat only once.
It is true that things are fast changing, causing shifts in several spheres. Now, there are a lot more women who are standing up for themselves to make choices. The evolution that has happened in the last couple of decades can be referred to as a paradigm shift.
Paradigm shifts denote a change in how a given society goes about organizing and understanding reality. In this case, the shift is appearing as a result of the cumulative efforts with regards to changing the language used when referring to women. The language is gradually changing to become empowering and inclusive language. The images are changing to become respectful images that all human beings can aspire towards, encouraging women to live their lives in a way that makes sense for them. Encouraging women to have conviction in their beliefs. Encouraging women to navigate the world in a way that they see the world and how it could be. Be the change you want to see.
Efforts were recorded slowly from women getting the right to vote to the inclusion of more women in the work-place, especially in male dominated fields. Having women at the head of many international organisations and many successful women-owned businesses is a sign that glass ceilings are not only being shattered but entirely new architecture is being created.
It is true that there are still challenges to overcome. There is room for more shifts and studies have shown that when women are supported and empowered, all of society benefits. Their families are healthier, more children go to school, agricultural productivity improves and incomes increase. It’s a win-win situation. There is no need for a binary view of things. There is a need for an integrated, holistic and integrated view of this paradigm and a conviction that human dignity is a right for all human beings.