In a woman-dominated PR industry, those at the top are all men. In science, whether it be due to their overactive tear glands sighted by Nobel Laureate Tim Hunt or their habit of falling in love in the labs, women are a small handful.

The same goes for any area of public life.

This is why we have just a handful of powerful women in German chancellor Angela Merkel, the US presidential nominee for 2016 Hillary Clinton and Dilma Rousoff of Brazil in the top with industry bigwigs like Indra Nooyi, Sheryl Sandberg and some other known names who wield considerable influence in their domains.

That is also why each time a woman makes it to the top rung, there is a hue and cry about it. They are so few.

But why?

PepsiCo's CEO Indra Nooyi has gone on record to say the biological clock and career clock of women are in total conflict, to explain "why women can't have it all".

Is that a stereotype she was propagating or a fact? Are women constrained by virtue of their physiology and psychology? Or is it simply a lack of leadership genes that see women always 'following' men rather than taking the lead?

Why has America not seen a woman president or even vice president so far?

Why for instance did it take 22 years for egalitarian America to send its first woman into space after tossing up a man?

The competence of women astronauts was always weighed out against the unsubstantiated fears of her menstrual cycle and how a temperamental human may struggle with the rigours of space.

Handling space ships was believed to be as difficult for women as flying planes. Most of the fears had no scientific basis besides vague ideas of microgravity causing menstrual blood to flow into the abdomen!

In fact, the only reason women were considered for space missions were only as tools of sexual release on long, arduous flights!

However, since 1983 after women astronauts at the ISS became common, it was found that there were no menstrual problems in space.

But the bloody trail refuses to let women go free. In countries like India, even today women are restrained from various activities during menstruation. Be it cooking, worship, gardening or even touching others, the 'impure' blood stigma continues to haunt many nooks and corners.

Was it simply the need for rest during a tiring time, or a play of energies as believed in ayurveda, or just another whip for the man to crack down on his woman? Despite proof showing it to be a natural phenomena households cling to tradition.

Surprisingly, turns out the uneven playing field is a recent development.

A University College London study has shown that equality of the sexes in fact conferred a survival and evolutionary advantage on the species. The hunter-gatherer tribes saw men and women having equal influence and decision powers.

The cave woman was menstruating too. She had her maternal instincts alright.

So why is it women have relinquished their rights? Why are they mere followers today?

In fact, women are the stronger sex not just emotionally but physically too thanks to genes.

Daughters are immune to defective genes passed on from their mothers while the same mitochondrial DNA can lead to defects in sons, found a recent research undertaken by the University of Otago, New Zealand.

Perhaps a woman leading the first mission to Mars could disprove this centuries old belief that underlies the chauvinist statement in the 1971 Nasa report: "Once space exploration has been successfully accomplished by men, then women will follow."


[The author is a senior journalist with IBT Media in Bengaluru. The opinions are personal and do not reflect those of her employers]