Saturday, March 10, 2018

All women need to strip off….

..the biases
..the stereotypes
..the perceptions
..the others in you

No this is not a note on pornographic innuendoes, neither is it a set of tips to succeed in an MCP world. This is a collection of a little reflection, inspired by the monotony of over empathizing celebrations of Women’s day!

Have you ever wondered - Why is Pink Panther a comedy and Black Panther an action hero film? Why is it that in spite of more movies in Bollywood now with lady protagonists, the Superhits – the highest grosers are still the ones that drive machismo? Why does our behavior towards women in our lives get determined by the lunar calendar? Is respect for women seasonal?

Right from childhood to whatever you might term as “later stage of life” – women go through stereotypes. Some use hashtags to summarize their #MeToos, while others lock themselves in a room, praying for a better afterlife or silently waiting for the Phoenix to get up and change the world! Some empathize with their co-sufferers, while others over-victimize themselves over their apparently really bad but-actually-not-so-bad-state-of-affairs!

A lot of men, including me, pledge exceptions, while still living those stereotypes subconsciously. Picture this - I still call one of my colleagues a janaani if he cries a lot. Or I chose to wear Pink for Women’s day today! Or even when my 3-year old thinks of what dress to wear, I feel she is just behaving “like a typical girl”. That’s what the hypocrites in us are – externally feministic but internally chauvinistically Stereotypical [I stand guilty, but am willing to improve (as if I have a choice, being in minority both at home as well as work!)]

The formula for Respect - So what if another women’s day comes up? Just calculate all the respect you ought to give to women for the next one year (till the next women’s day, of course), add your guilt of only “talking” about it – calculate the Net Present Value of it – and then give them a delicious cake, a card, a wish, maybe a gift, worth the value….. and there you go! Cut Loose!

Why do we have a world like this? Why all this drama and show-shaa for Women’s day? Do we need to stand out and shout that, “hey, we respect the girls around us?” or “hey, see – we have women working in our office and we respect them?

Yes – we celebrate womanhood for a day, just the way we celebrate other relationships – and we give that one special day of importance to them. It is also the one day women get to do what they want to do, officially – but seriously ladies, do you need a day for it?

Why not celebrate “being a woman”? Not because they are women, but because they are your colleague, your friend, your sister, your wife, your mother, your aunt, your daughter, your neighbor – your anyone – and celebrate them being around you – for how they have helped you progress in life, and not because they are from the “other half” of the world, or worst, the “oppressed-and-surprisingly-capable half”?

The Reflective in me triggered the Curious in me – and this is what I could gather – the pieces put together really makes you wonder – the various (stereo) types of women!

"The Child" Woman
Surprisingly, Biases against the daughters are there since a very early age. While parents might claim to be gender neutral, google reveals some other data. (According to Seth Stephens-Davidowitz in “Everybody Lies”)
Parents have an implicit prejudice against girls. Right from early age, parents attach stereotypes to their children -
  • A search of good traits are mostly for sons; 
  • anything related to Appearance is mostly for daughters, 
  • negative traits are mostly associated with daughters but less skewed than other search results
  • Overweight - mostly for girls, (while in reality, 28% girls are overweight vs 35% boys)
  • Ugly - more for girls; more positive words - for sons

Specific to India, Google trends highlight the most searched trends - Son is gifted or gay, daughter is overweight

"The Girl" Woman
Apparently, girls lose most of their confidence when they attain puberty – as they start their teens. They lose their confidence, and the world around them makes them believe they are the ‘weaker sex’. A brilliant campaign by Always, Like a Girl, highlights this, along with another campaign, Unstoppable

Nike ran a wonderful campaign to showcase this strength in Russia  - What are girls made of

And then another strong stereotype is associating crying with girls – a campaign of Boys don’t cry by Vogue - #Startwiththeboys, really makes you reflect (especially as a father)!

A fair representation of "the girl" woman is the Fearless Girl who has been fearless standing on the Wallstreet for almost a year one – it’s a different thing that its future is uncertain

"The Working" Woman 
When women start working, they go through multiple stereotypes. But then there are enablers – one that makes women confront issues more strongly, and the other that makes men reflect on their mentality (not sure how much the latter works, though!)

Few campaigns strongly work on the former
One in four woman directors in India Inc. belongs to the promoter family. Of the 1,667 NSE-listed companies that have achieved the mandate of at least one woman director on board,, as many as 425 have women with ties to the promoter group.

One of the key brands that drive this brilliantly and consistently is Titan Raga, with its campaigns #herlifeherchoices, khud se naya rishta, and #breakthebias

"The Wife & Bahu" Woman
One cannot fall short of the number of stereotypes our society has given to women – most of which have been amplified by the Bollywood systems. While the Saas-Bahu Serials continue to strengthen these notions, the brands shown during the breaks are attempting to break the very stereotypes they help fund!

These include Anouk - Bold is beautiful, breaking stereotypes, Biba - Change is beautiful through a series of Ads about Change the conversation, change the question or Change the convention or Change the perspective
In the continuity of this, there is the final “this is enough” Woman – the rebel woman
Like My Choice by Deepika Padukone or Elle India - Let the Girls be. Of course, The Gulabi Gang is inspiringly executing this change - and standing up for the "wives and bahus" women in the country!

Marriage is a strong institution that our Indian social structures still defines as the most “sacrosanct” relationship, and absolves all related parties of any “exceptional” behavior at any point in time.  While some of these Ads drive women standing up for themselves, and giving the choice to THEM, there is interesting data on even stereotypes related to Divorce!
Here are some more interesting facts on what people search for on Google Baba
  • We are a curious bunch of people. We are more keen on why 2 individuals filed for divorce, especially the celebrities. Search for the top searched items related to "divorce" and you will mostly get hritik roshan, arjun rampal in India, US - Kardashian in US  and Drew pritchard, brangelina or Mel B in the UK, 
  • Patriachal societies have lower divorce rates, whereas where the women workforce is higher, women are more independent and are more ready to separate.
  • State-wise divorce rates are different, with highest in Mizoram (4%+)! Top cities include trivandrum, Navi-Mumbai, Thane, Gurgaon, Noida, Bengaluru and other metro locations
Interestingly, following are the top search terms related to "will my son" and "will my daughter"
  • will my son be ok after divorce, is he gay or will he ever speak and 
  • will my daughter ever get married, tall or looking like me, curly hair and pretty.
So if you are a 6-year old girl or a divorced daughter, the concerns of parents still seem to be similar! Phew!

One of the most powerful women globally, Indra Nooyi, said a couple of years back that Women can’t get it all – though she has been criticized for it, maybe there are different connotations to it – one of them being that given the multitude of roles women play during their lives, it is a tough ask to outperform each and every one of them. She also opined that women do not support women in the workplace. On the other hand, this Sunday (4th March), Times featured ways in which women can help other women.

In 2016, Madeleine Albright, the first woman to hold the cabinet post of US secretary of state, said: “Just remember, there’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help each other.
True Indeed – if you go by what Musimbi Kanyoro, CEO of the Global Fund for Women, says, we all need to be human first, and then others. She introduces the Maragoli concept of "isirika" -- a pragmatic way of life that embraces the mutual responsibility to care for one another -- something she sees women practicing all over the world. And she calls for those who have more to give more to people working to improve their communities. (link to her TED Talk)

So what does all this lead to?
You don’t need a Fearless Girl to fight the child in the woman, you don’t need Gulaabi Gang to fight the Wife and Bahu Woman, you don’t need to “not have it all” to be a Working woman….and you don’t have to be someone else to be you.......you just have to be you!
Happy Women’s day to all the Women who believe they are who they are and have stripped off any other "type" they belong to!.


Few concluding rhyme-rantings…

Strip off the biases
The (stereo)types above make us realize why we do what we do
Men like us come in various shapes-n-sizes, from Effeminates, Feminists, Janaani to Gulaams of Joroo,
As for you, Ladies, there are better ways of being inclusive, of being another #MeToo,
Yes, those ways are far and few, maybe that’s why they have this day to give you your cue!
Why should the future be decided upon when, where or by whom you are born,
Why should Pink Panther ever, ever be an oxymoron!
So Girls - Be Useless, Be Careless, Be irresponsible, Be Faaltu,
Whatever you do in life – there will always be appreciators far and few
Do you bloody care – for whatever you are – you are awesome, 
Whoever makes you doubt that, give a kick on their b*m!
You don’t have to really do the maths to know if you are getting your due,
Strip off the biases, Just be True. Just be You!

Just be True, Just be you!
A Man! (Amen)

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