Feminist Fight Club

5 09 2017

An Office survival Manual (For a Sexist Workplace) by Jessica Bennett

Feminist Fight ClubThis is one of those rare books that I couldn’t even wait until I finished it before I ordered not only my own personal copy but also copies for my friends.

It’s irreverent, hilarious, witty, sarcastic, and above all practical and helpful. It lays out the many self-sabotaging and self-defeating behaviors and thoughts of women that accentuate the age-old stereotypes and thereby result in the vicious circle of widening the chasm between the sexes in the workplace. It talks about all the implicit ways that both men and women indulge in that contribute to the problem. It provides sensible tips and advice on how to tackle these damaging tendencies.

It highlights the pervasiveness of gender discrimination at work and points out that today’s sexism is not overt but seemingly very subtle and imbibed in countless  “normal” behaviors. Nonetheless, it’s not less damaging. We still do have a wage gap, glass ceiling, and other ways of limiting the growth of women in their careers. Women are interrupted more than men when they are talking, more likely than men not to be given due credit for their ideas and work, judged harshly/negatively compared to men for same behaviors etc.

Even if we think of ourselves as very progressive, the deep rooted stereotypes and cultural notions are assimilated in many seemingly harmless and often times subconscious reactions and behaviors. Everyone needs to consciously work on their own implicit  (and otherwise) biases in order to be able to address this issue and bring out the change. Because gender parity benefits one and all. It frees everyone from the boundaries of the stereotypes, because that’s what stereotypes do – they confine us all – men and women. Men need not limit their actions in order to conform to the “macho-man” stereotype, which sometimes involves significant cost to one’s own conscience, morality, humanity, and others. They need not bear the burden of primary financial and career responsibility solely on their shoulders and instead share that with women. Rising above the stereotypes is a challenge but not insurmountable. They do have their purpose as shortcuts but it helps to evaluate them and make conscious choices instead of succumbing to them blindly. Knowledge and awareness is power.

Men can not only help by not engaging in detrimental actions but also by stopping other men from acting so and/or supporting women. Likewise, women can help themselves as well as each other through a network of support.

I found at times that the tone of the book is too brazen and bold, but that may just be my cultural conditioning restricting myself from accepting such a tone from a woman, as well as applied to women. 😛 Also, I felt that some tips sounded more like “how to be like a man”. And it seemed that the culture associates most successful tendencies to be “masculine” and the less successful or even detrimental behaviors as “feminine”, at least in the workplace. It’s a dismal realization. There is even a chapter in the book titled “What would Josh do?”, which encourages women to emulate the tendencies of a successful male in certain situations. This is not ill advice at all. But I hope for a day when distinctly feminine behaviors also connote success, strength and professionalism. Currently, in case of transgressions or slips from ideal work behaviors, women are judged more harshly and often those actions get ascribed to the entire gender (and how women are inferior/unsuitable/out of place) in contrast to men, in which case, they’re only mere transgressions or “he just being a man” (a good thing).

The book evoked in me lot of emotions. I found myself surprised by some insights and facts (from studies), nodding in agreement at many places with the arguments, cringing while recalling my own self-sabotaging behaviors, inspired by the support available and the ray of hope to change the status quo.

Anyone who cares about gender discrimination at workplace should definitely read this book. I think that any workplace that likes to combat sexism can start by

  • Recruiting more women
  • Offering women same pay as men (very important and I think very doable. No, please don’t blame it on negotiation skills)
  • Educating all employees on various contributing and exacerbating tendencies and how to avoid or work around them

Here’s to empowering one and all! 🙂

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Women’s Day

8 03 2017

Today is International Women’s Day. To be truthful, I have little knowledge of what exactly that signifies. I can speculate and draw inferences though from other “Days”.

We have Mother’s day, Father’s day and Valentines’ Day. On those days we express our gratitude and appreciation for those special people in our lives. Usually there is one each. One mother, one father, and one valentine (hopefully). On a side note, I don’t understand why kids in US exchange valentines’ day cards and treats in school. To be truthful, given my Asian heritage, even the concept of Mother’s day and Father’s Day sounded very absurd at first. I see it as a distinctly western concept. But I eventually came to realize the purpose of it. The culture has spread everywhere. I reckon there is also Grandparents’ Day. And many others I would imagine.

And then we have other types of days – Earth Day, Aids day etc.. These actually represent a cause, are intended to raise awareness, and propel people to take some kind of action. For example, save energy on Earth day by switching off electricity for an hour.

So, what kind of day is “Women’s Day”? Who should celebrate it? Who should be celebrated? Should men celebrate the women in their lives or  should everyone, irrespective of their gender, express their appreciation for women in their lives? All women? Special women? Should women celebrate themselves? For what? For being women? Why? All I observe around is the hullabaloo in the media and women wishing each other or taking time out to chill out. Our men are generally quiet. 🙂 I would think women’s day belongs to the latter category – the one that represents a cause, rather than the former – a celebration of the subject in consideration.

I figured from a rudimentary web search that my hunch is indeed right . International Women’s Day is not the celebration of women themselves but rather of their achievements. It calls for gender parity. For centuries women had been underprivileged and it’s only recently that they have started penetrating and making strides in all possible spheres – economic, cultural, social, political etc.

I don’t mean to discount the women or the day. I just want to highlight that it’s important to truly understand the significance of the moment and feel the spirit of the day, not just be taken for a ride by commercialism, media, and just wishes.

I hope every woman pauses today for a moment to cherish and take inspiration from all the achievements of herself and other women around her. I hope everyone else take a moment to acknowledge the women’s progress so far and the journey ahead to achieve true gender parity.

Kudos to all the wonderful woman achievers. A couple of mentions here off the top of my head:

  • Just finished listening to Angela Duckworth’s Grit this morning. I appreciate her contribution, as a research scientist, to the body of knowledge. Her work on passion and perseverance is influential.
  • I should mention that I work for a company led by a woman. I appreciate and draw inspiration from all the wonderful women who are part of the organization.

Happy Women’s Day! 🙂





A cold hike

19 01 2017

An unusually cold December day. Perhaps it was one of the coldest days of Winter 2016.  Early morning temperature in 20s (Yeah, this is damn cold for Bay Area). Decided to beat the cold with a hike in the redwoods.  Teamed up with Trail Mavens to hike the Purisima Creek Redwoods Preserve. Trail Mavens organizes all-female camping and backpacking trips, and imparts associated knowledge and skills. In this case, this short hike (6.7 miles planned) was put up in Meetup and was free. Meetup is how I found Trail Mavens.

We were 10 women, age ranging from late teens to early fifties. I must say that I loved the vibe of the group. Energetic and passionate. The event host Sasha did a great job coordinating car pools and having us play games to remember each other’s names correctly and getting the conversation going. We were all shivering in the early morning chilliness. There was faint snow on the ground all over.  The plan was to start at North Ridge Trail, turn into Whittimore Gulch Trail and get back to the parking lot via Harkins Ridge Trail.

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Turning away from the North Ridge Trail:

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It was a nice clear day and as I hoped, the coldness abated under the warm sun. We had beautiful views of the bay.

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But then we climbed down to the creek. It was chilly again at the bottom amid the redwood trees and the creek roaring by. We stuck to the plan until we saw the creek.

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It was so beautiful, the sound of water rushing by soothing and tantalizing, we decided to amend the plans and take the Purisima Creek Trail. It was beautiful indeed, walking along the creek.

This change of plan added about 3 miles to the hike and we ended up doing 10 miles that day, which was the ideal mileage for me. The green path is what we actually took.

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The hike back from Purisima Creek Trail was uphill on the narrow trails amid the grandeur redwood trees.

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Sunset on the drive back:

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Fairness, not sameness

8 12 2016

What if all humans are alike? In looks, behaviors, and thoughts? It would be a dull and boring world. Isn’t it? Diversity is what makes life interesting. Of course, from a big picture perspective  we are more similar than different. Keeping this thought aside, we can safely say that each one of us is different and unique in myriad small ways. Despite our differences – in capabilities, attitudes, behaviors etc., we expect to be treated equally aka with fairness. We don’t like to be subjected to any prejudice.

This applies to racial discrimination too. There are obviously differences among different races in regards to certain aspects (just like people within the same race are different in certain other aspects). Nevertheless, we agree and aspire to treat everyone equally and with fairness.

Shouldn’t the same thing be extended to gender discrimination as well? Men and women are obviously not same. (I touched upon some aspects of how and why in my earlier post – Are men and women equal?) They possess different sets of strengths and weaknesses. Despite the dissemblance, we ought to treat them with fairness. Feminism should argue for fairness, not sameness. As Helena Cronin, an eminent Darwinian philosopher, puts it, gender equality doesn’t and shouldn’t suggest “sameness”, but rather only fairness.

We should celebrate all the differences and rejoice the diversity. Diversity is what makes the world much stronger, more interesting, more exciting, and more creative.





Are men and women equal?

27 11 2016

Are men’s and women’s brains different? In other words, are the differences in how men and women think rooted in biology?

It is an 18th century question, according to Gina Rippon, an eminent neuroscientist. When I posed the same question to my 9 year old, just for the fun of it, he basically mirrored the above sentiment. He thought that the question is absurd. When I pressed him further on whether could there be a scientific and objective evidence that there’s indeed some difference, he refused to take the bait. He stood his ground and refused to consider the question because he reasoned, the question “are men and women equal?” in itself suggests that they may not and hence lead to discrimination, which is by all means an undesirable and an incorrect behavior. In other words, he treats it as a leading question. Oh boy!  What Gina means by her comment is that several advancements have happened since 18th century that effectively and conclusively answered that question in negative.

Regardless of any insinuations and despite our need to be politically right, I think it’s still an interesting and relevant question to think about even in this century. Among the many differences we commonly observe, some are myths, some are culturally driven, while some are rooted in biology and/or evolution. Take for example, the notion that women are more emotional than men. It’s not exactly true because what’s different is more expression of an emotion rather than the emotion itself. The observed difference could well have been only a result of cultural and social stereotyping. I guess more or less similar reasoning can be given to most of the stuff you find in the gospel – Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus. :). But some differences do exist.

With all the advancements in neuroscience and biology, we have greater insights into human brain now than ever. In fact, today’s neuroscience sees little difference in how women and men are fundamentally capable of thinking. Whatever stereotypes we have going around are just that – stereotypes largely based on deep cultural notions and the resulting psychological impact of acting on those stereotypes. For example, take a typical belief that women are  not (or cannot be) as good at math as men. In fact, time and again the test scores reveal the same. But capability is not at the root of this trend. When the cultural expectation is for boys to outperform girls in math, and the girls believe it as everyone else, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. It’s the attitude towards competition and the anxiety induced resulted from cultural stereotypes that causes girls/women to under perform in certain areas (Study).

But some argue that nature and evolution cannot be overruled.  Historically, men had always been specialized in competing for mates, and women in caring for the offspring. According to Helena Cronin, a Darwinian philosopher, the different reproductive strategies of two sexes with completely different sets of associated costs and benefits, lie at the root of all gender differences between men and women. This survival tendency has clearly established different patterns of behavior and thereby nurtured disparate strengths in men and women.

And of course, one should not rule out the role of biology. The male hormone of testosterone is clearly associated with competitiveness, aggressiveness, dominance, assertiveness etc., while estrogen promotes stable mood, sense of well-being, improved cognition etc. (An interesting tidbit is that humans are naturally female and testosterone masculinizes boys in the womb.) As per Cambridge psychologist Simon Baron-Cohen, who has done extensive research on autism observes that “higher levels of fetal testosterone could explain increased prevalence of autism spectrum disorders in males”, following the theory that “the male brain is programmed to systemize and the female brain to empathize”.  Is this why women are considered more adept at social thinking and interactions compared to men. Testosterone is also strongly associated with violent and anti-social behavior. Hmm! Women also have testosterone, but men of course are characterized by much higher levels (10 times compared to that in women).

Another perception is that men tend to be more analytical than women or women tend to be more intuitive than men, hence the notion that men are largely left-brained and women are right-brained. Studies suggest that male brains may be optimized for motor skills while female brains may be optimized for combining analytical and intuitive thinking. Men also perceived to be laser focused while women are multi-taskers. Women tend to absorb more and store it all in their brains compared to men. Could these differences be explained by the hunter-gatherer theory, the sexual division of labor, where men normally pursued risk taking activities of hunting, while women were relegated low-risk task of gathering rich calorie for nurturing? Or do they have true biological causes? There are a lot of contradictory arguments and lot of conflicting “evidence”.

Neuroplasticity is perhaps the most important and fascinating discoveries in recent times. There is nothing static about ourselves – not our bodies, which regenerates itself with new cells every 6 months or so, to our brains, defined by the interconnections among neurons that can strengthen or weaken depending on the experiences and behavior thereby redefining them constantly. Isn’t it amazing? Change is indeed the only constant. 🙂 As our brains are getting continuously rewired, based on external stimulation, nature and nurture are so strongly intertwined that I think it’s difficult to disentangle them and say for sure where one ends and the other starts.

From the evolutionary perspective, we still have the same basic instincts as our primal ancestors. The gender differences (some if not all) too are rooted in them. But in today’s world, many of them maybe are irrelevant. We are not living in wild and are not facing the same kind of survival problems. Mankind’s development happened so rapidly that evolution and nature needs time to catch up. Am damn curious to know as to what the next evolutionary changes for us would be – what our basic instincts would be. Sometime in future when physical strength and all other evolutionary differences between men and women become less and less relevant for survival, can we achieve a gender neutral society? A society where no gender has an advantage over the other. Well, is it a good thing? It certainly sounds like it is. But who knows!





Privilege is invisible to those who have it

27 09 2015

This talk on “gender equality” by sociologist Michael Scott Kimmel is the best. Funny, witty, and drives the point home. The two highlights, according to me, are:

Privilege is invisible to those who have it.” – That’s the reason why a white American woman sees “a woman” in her mirror while a black American woman sees “a black woman” in the mirror. And a white American man sees only “a human being”.

Kimmel’s response to the diatribe by a few men who lost their jobs – A black woman took my job , is really epic. “What makes you think it’s your job?

Amen to that.





My Choice

22 04 2015

It’s My Choice. The video that went viral recently invoked a lot of passionate response – both for and against. Maybe mostly against. Truth be told, I too cringed a few times watching it. It is a bit extreme. But I guess the intended message is this:

It’s all about not judging based on gender. No double standards. Right and wrong apply exactly the same way to both men and women. No need to feel the burden of expectations and standards set by others on a particular gender.

But why be extreme? I guess the intention is to get attention and they sure got it. Getting noticed is critically important if you are trying to make a point.  But I think that the real message is hidden underneath everything sensational and doesn’t reach the audience effectively.

This reminds me of the ‘Slutwalk‘ movement. The actual point they want to make is lost on many amid all the shock the extremism invoked.

Gender discrimination is a very sensitive issue and from my own experience learned that it’s not easy to make others see your point. Some issues are very subtle and some lines are so thin, it’s difficult to explain and make distinctions within the context of pre-conceived notions.

I just hope that there is a more effective and direct way to convey a message – without eliciting a lot of unwarranted controversy.

This video seemed like a response to that documentary – India’s Daughter. I didn’t dare to watch it. I sensed by the outburst of others, that it is full of too much nonsense that I can’t endure to listen to. The documentary itself has good intentions I guess – to bring out the truth.  What was India trying to tell the world by banning it? That it’s not true or that it’s true but we can’t own up to it? Even while I was appalled when it’s banned, I wasn’t really surprised I guess. It’s no news that many people in power, those who rule the country and maintain law and order, have similar regressive opinions. When the leadership itself is so pathetic, what can we expect! Will there ever be laws and enforcers that will really make a difference?   No one wants to talk about rape. It’s as if an accepted part of life. The harrowing Delhi incident, which left almost everyone shocked, made a lot of people start talking about rape, which is a good thing. I’m sure there are plenty other incidents which are comparably horrific that never came to light. This particular thought makes me feel utterly sad, helpless, and scared.

It’s as if morality applies only to women. It’s beyond pathetic that some people actually believe that crap. I believe that the belief that “woman is the epitome of culture and moral conduct, blah blah” – is a form of oppression in plain sight!. All I say is morality applies to one and all, equally.

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Yay! This blog turned 6 today. 🙂