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 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)

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

The day of Depression and Desperation – via Baba Valentine

It is that day of the year when you can only see one color – the color that symbolizes aggression as well as good luck at the same time! Not sure which one works for today, but given the sentiment, you would most likely be switching between being skeptical, judgemental, depressed and (supposedly, like me) indifferent!

This is a day when all your stereotypes come out and collaborate with your insecurities! A day – when the date is celebrated with implicit connotations of the so-called four-letter word, which few understand. A day when Love becomes a cryptocurrency – everyone talks about it, everyone wants a piece of it and hear stories about how everyone else apart from them has it but they don’t – but almost everyone is clueless about what exactly it is!

The word Love is confusing, as I believe, in most of my sociological intellectualization, that it is a packaged version of Lust when one moves from liking someone to needing something more! But then there is a nice explanation of the difference between Lust and Love – a TED talk by Terri Orbuch

I remember getting conscious about having conversations with girls on this day, lest they thought my intention was to drive them towards consummation, I mean, celebrating Valentine's day!

This is what an over-marketed day (now a festival of 12 days) does to you.
Couples end up overspending, singles end up over-depressed and pretentious couples end up....continuing to pretend!

A quick glance at your Facebook timeline leaves you overwhelmed with the deluge of couples sharing their pictures with their better halves, reinforcing their territories (almost shouting out loud that they do have someone to call their Valentine!). Maybe its the herd mentality or maybe it’s a FOMO at another level – they might be perceived as a depressed soul if they don’t put up their ‘young and happy’ couple pic!

Or maybe they realize the truth - When the ignorance through the year is supposedly compensated for in a single day, why take the trouble of spending time with your family and loved ones through the year when you can just put an image on FaceBook of the two of you!

Another interesting piece - echoing most items I dislike about the day was published in Indian Express last year by Jyotsna Basotia, some of which are highlighted in this text – a hyped day to either drive you broke or depressed!

So what are Indians searching for Valentines?
While surveys claim to tell what they want, Google is our new age mirror – you can’t hide much from it.
Inspired by Seth Stephens-Davidowitz, I was curious to know what are Indians searching for.  Here is an interesting summary -

1. In India, Searches for Gifts for Girlfriend are more than Gifts for Boyfriend, where the reverse is valid for the world, especially US and UK. Clearly, we are different (gender bias?)

2. Top things searched for the day include Quotes, Gift, and few other items. But interestingly, have a look at the density of searches globally and then for India.

Globally, the order of search density is Quotes > Gifts > Love > Dinner > Sex
But in India, Quotes > Gifts > Love > Sex > Dinner  
We Indians surely have our priorities correct! (Just for records, as per research, while Married couples prefer dinner dates, youngsters prefer gifting!)

3. Which cities are the most excited about the day - Interestingly, in the past week, 8 out of 10 cities globally are from India - including (in decreasing order of search densities) Nagpur, Patna, Kanpur, Ghaziabad, Pimpri-Chinchwad (Pune), Noida, Jaipur and Gurgaon.
Surely, the Eastern belt in our country is more romantic! While this is largely attributed to the younger population, including student cities, you cannot undermine the possible inhibitions that we have to go and admit love – today is the official day to propose.

And why not, globally, 9 million marriage proposals would be made today. More than a million FaceBook users change their relationship status around this time (Source)

Can Money Buy Love
Valentine's day might have some confusing and disconnected history (which has got no relevance to the spends done during Valentine's), but that does not stop approx Rs. 20000 Cr (~$3 billion) being spent by Indians through this extra-red festival!

The official Webster’s Dictionary defines Valentine as “A card sent anonymously to ones real or pretended lover!” apart from “One's sweetheart or best friend”. Clearly, this reflects in the spending pattern as well. According to the Greeting Card Association, an estimated 1 billion Valentine’s Day cards are sent each year, making Valentine’s Day the second largest card-sending holiday of the year!

In other cases, most of us believe in the monetization of love with extravagant representations – the size of which represent the size of our love! Shockingly, 90% people in a relationship buy a gift, be it fancy dinners or cure-all mend-all jewelry, that are ‘just’ perfect for your soulmate.

In a recent survey by Casharo, more than three-fourths of those dating, engaged or married “celebrate” Valentine’s Day by buying gifts for their partners. They are likely to spend anywhere between Rs 1,500 and Rs 3,000 on flowers, cards, and other things. Finally, there is an insightful Infographic on Valentine's Spends to give you further details of our wallets that expand during this time.

Do gifts help you strengthen your love? 
Well, some say they do – Prof Dan Ariely highlights the kinds of gifts that can ‘buy’ love! Not flowers or card or something temporary – the best ones are the long-lasting gifts remind about our relationship. So all the buyers out there, be little more original! :)
However, the underlying happiness that we get is the joy of gifting - giving gifts makes us happier. 
If that is the case, do we really need someone to gift to celebrate Valentine’s?
Why not gift something special to yourself? That brings me to the final part of my ranting...

An interesting set of infographics highlights what this day means for Single.

I recall getting depressed looking at my Facebook timeline in my bachelor days and blaming my bad luck (or look, howsoever, you may want to pronounce it). Its apparently depressing for anyone who assumes it is a regular day for her/him, even if you are not single. They actually feel ‘singled out’ (pun intended)

For the singles out there, avoid Facebook! :-) On a serious note, there is nothing to feel bad – its our own notions that makes us want to skip this day or go outside!
As the longest-serving first lady of the United States of America, Eleanor Roosevelt, had once said, “no one can make you feel inferior without your own consent.”

Data shows that three in 10 adult consumers who reported they aren't celebrating Valentine's Day still plan to spend money to treat themselves for the holiday by either buying themselves a gift or going out with family and friends, particularly those in 18-24 year old range.

You don't need a day to feel good, feel loved and feel pampered - you don't need a partner either. And the best part, you don't even need money to celebrate. 

As for me, am fortunate to have lovely ladies around me. My better half continues to get better every day, and my young lady thankfully doesn’t wait for roses, yet! 
To all the lovely ladies in my life (wife, daughter, mother, grandmother, mother-in-law, office colleagues, sisters and sisterly brothers), Have fun today – courtesy Baba Valentine!

To conclude, couldn’t resist to extend the nursery rhyme on Valentine’s (they have one!) with a more pragmatic version - 

The rose is red, the violet's blue,
The honey's sweet, and so are you.
Thou art my love and I am thine;
I drew thee to my Valentine:
The lot was cast and then I drew,
And Fortune said it shou'd be you."

Just to extend it further…..

All my money has gone am left with few
For all that went into some stupid gifts for you
I thought our relationship will turn a page new,
But all that is left is back to me and you
And for the single me, am tired of the coochi-coo
For me, I am the one and I am the two!
Sanefully, I know where to draw the line
Be it Baba Cupid or even Baba Valentine!
Let me just wear red and have some fun like a regular day
Cause frankly, I don’t care a Damn about Valentine’s Day

Image Sources – Baby MirrorHappy womanVirushka