Recently I’ve been wondering about the balance between maintaining cultural respect and respect for one’s self.
Even bigger bullshit: not shaking hands in the first place?
When it comes to men letting me into the elevator first or lifting heavy objects for me (despite me sometimes being physically stronger than them…) I let it slide. Those are minor things I can deal with. But when it comes to my boss shaking the hand of my male colleague before he leaves the office, even when I am sitting right beside that same male colleague, it slightly irks me that he doesn’t shake my hand as well. Should I be offended? Am I not equal to my male colleague in terms of how much respect should be shown towards me? Does shaking my male colleague’s hand, but not mine, reveal that he doesn’t see us as equal co-workers, but merely as a female and male? In his eyes, am I defined by my gender?
Before I spark any outrage, however, I have to say that I have observed a lot of men in Kazakhstan greet other men this way by shaking their hands. When they begin work in the morning, as well as when they leave in the evening, they all address each other in this way. I sit there, along with the other women, and pretend to mind my own business. I try to hide how awkward it makes me feel.
Although I understand perhaps it is part of this culture that men shake hands with the other men, doing nothing about it makes me feel uneasy. Am I doing an injustice to women by accepting the fact that my boss will actively shake the hands of my male colleagues but not my own? Or am I merely adhering to a cultural norm? What if there are certain cultural norms that I have the potential to change? Am I in the position where I should try to change certain cultural norms in the first place? Would that make me overbearing and rude? In my head, it is quite a mess of contradictions.
Shaking hands, it’s chill with Hill
In Muslim culture, it is not permissible for a man to touch a woman’s hand if she has not been promised to him or is not a female relative. Even in the US it used to be taboo to touch a woman in such a manner (back in the day). Perhaps what seems like a strange phenomenon to me is remnants of a previous time. Or maybe I’m just behind with the (Kazakh) times.
In that moment when my boss reached out to shake the hand of my male coworker, I considered sticking my hand out as well. But it all felt so awkward. I felt that I would come across as overly-aggressive, and perhaps just plain strange. He is my boss, after all. Perhaps this is yet another matter that is similar to allowing the men to lift all the heavy objects, and I should just leave it be. There are certain battles that are worth fighting, but I’m just not sure that this one is worth it.