Sunday, March 8, 2015

Why we need one day to celebrate women

I was walking up the stairs of a hotel venue for an event when I overheard this and couldn’t stop myself from turning around to listen. A mother of a girl, about 5 years old, was telling another older woman about how the boys she was playing earlier with in the residential colony wanted to run. And when she tried to join them they told her that she cannot run because she is a girl. The girl seemed distraught at being discouraged by her peers. And her mother was trying to tell her that she can do what she likes and being a girl had nothing to do with it. Since they knew I was listening to this, I reassured the little girl that girls can do anything they want and she shouldn’t let anyone tell her otherwise.

Even though this was just a passing incident, it did stay in my mind even weeks later. I thought the world has progressed. Women are equal. Girls are educated just like boys are. At least the modern educated parents are teaching their boys to treat girls with respect, as equals. Where did these little boys learn that girls cannot run because they are girls. From the grown ups around them, obviously. I felt something break inside me - I think the hope that I had of change in attitudes for girls at least from the generation of these kids. 

I am sure these are the very parents who tell their boys not to cry like a girl. And then when these boys and girls grow up, we complain about boys treating girls inferior and committing crimes against them. Who taught them that girls aren’t worthy of equal respect? Sadly, even parents from better income and education don’t seem to be creating a level playing field let alone ignorant and less educated people from less fortunate economic backgrounds. 

So where does the change start? Actually, nowhere! A woman’s/girl’s status remains where it was. Yes, we have more freedom today. But we also have ruthless rapists proclaiming that girls alone are responsible for rapesYou step out and you deserve to be physically violated just because you are a girl. And your place is to sit at home and take care of everyone. You walk out at night and you risk becoming another Nirbhaya. Worse still, a nameless victims lost in the pages of police case histories. 

Yes, we have better education and almost equal opportunities. But we also have parents telling their boys that you can run while a girl your age cannot. We are hammering home the difference between genders even before kids probably understand the difference. We have already laid the foundation for these little girls to grow up and begin their fight with the system and society to give them equal rights. Which they are never going to get, anyways. 

And I feel this deep prejudice about girls is a part of the DNA of our civilization. And there are seemingly harmless ways in which it manifests itself but nevertheless adds to the bigger picture. To me, even a seemingly harmless comment on a woman’s mood swings just because she goes through hormonal changes (even though her outburst might have nothing to do with being a woman) is an example of it. It’s like she is not a human at all. Just a gender going through vagaries of humour that the female race is generally wont to. 

Even today, it’s a girl who leaves her parents to live with her husband and his family. And before I hear dissenting voices about what a shit load of crap this allegation is, I’d like to say that I am yet to see a husband pack his bags to live at his wife’s! No matter how independent a woman is, she is the one still torn with guilt between home and job. Men have been a huge help, no doubt. But I guess holding ourselves responsible for keeping a perfect home and proving ourselves in our career seems to have been ingrained in our unalterable DNA too. 

And while I was still ruminating about all this, out comes the controversial Nirbhaya documentary rams right into the face of rigid mindsets. At the outset, I am no legal, social, diplomatic expert to comment on the right and wrong of the making of the film. I am looking at it from how I felt watching it. And how it connects to my existing thought process. My first reaction was a deluge of questions: why would anyone want to rake the ugly past of the incident and make a documentary? Why? And why would the parents want to recount and relive the ordeal just because someone wants to make a film? Why...oh why would you give voice to a murderer masquerading as a rapist who should have been silenced by now for his fiendish crime? 

Prima facie, the film looks like a very balanced view of putting together all aspects of the story speaking to all the people involved along the journey. But in hindsight, I am pretty sure it is a well orchestrated, craftily put together film to show exactly the stereotypes we are trying to fight. The abject poverty of the rapists (India is still a poor country), the cringe worthy, regressive views of the lawyers (India still treats women as inferior citizens) and the worst is the rapist mouthing the rapists’ anthem (deliberately stereotyping a rapist?) - women shouldn’t protest, the victim should be killed. And the dignified, aspirational parents of Jyoti Singh providing the perfect contrast to rapists who lost the battle of poverty while they tried to rise above it by educating their daughter. (a daughter, no less! Here, the emblem of changing India was brutally raped and killed. Can anything else sell better in the international market?)

(The documentary not just gives him an opportunity to speak but he becomes a popular news item and his views are proudly aired on every mainstream and social media. People criticized him but nevertheless brings him into the limelight and that’s not good news)

And this whole exercise just seemed to reinforce, globally, exactly the mindset and attitudes we are trying to fight. So you can cry hoarse about today being Women’s Day and the whole spiel that goes with her diverse, selfless roles. But the die has been cast even in the minds of young children that girls cannot run like boys. And it will always be derogatory to do thing #LikeAGirl. And that's why we need one day in a year to glorify women and give them back some self-respect, acknowledge their contributions through the year and make them feel valued. Because we go back to our narrow mindsets for the rest of the year. 

Nothing has changed since Jyoti became Nirbhaya.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

My awesome time at Social Media Week, Bangalore!

The awesome event I was a part of! Photo credit 

I still have the draft from last year with my thoughts on my first Social Media Week in Mumbai. From a participant who heard about the event for the first time 6 months ago to a volunteer as part of the twitter team, it’s been a very exciting, informative and fun journey. From a novice who was just learning about social media to almost a partner in the event who got a glimpse into the nuts and bolts of how this mammoth event comes to reality, social media is an inseparable part of my life now. While social media continues to baffle me with the sheer magnitude of information on it, I think the recent event helped me wrap my head around a few things.

I’ll start with the thoughts I had jotted down last year. And they pretty much hold true even today. Not any less true, at least. 

1. Social media is bang in a middle of everything
2. Everyone is a brand
3. No matter who you are and who you do, you can't escape social media
4. Whatever your profession, social media can help you

So, last year at that time, I was beginning to learn how to set up a blog and leverage on the power of the medium. I also spent, and still do, hours online to read up blogs, articles that I feel can help me make my journey of setting up my online presence easier. As a soft skills trainer, it becomes harder sometime to keep the worlds separate since social media has so much to do about communication and presenting yourself to the people out there. But, blurred as it may sometimes get, I make sure that the lines between corporate trainer, Image consultant and a social media professional are respected and I try to stay within my territory. The more I read, the more it helps me gain perspective. 

The Learning stage last year was exactly what a student of social media like me was looking for. Topics from content writing to should you make an app, it covered a whole range of subjects. Unforgettable also is the food and hospitality of Novotel, Juhu! 

The awesome SMW Twitter team in 2015! Photo credit
This year was a whole new ball game. 3 twitter handles, 2 blogs and 1 FB profile (and now aspiring to G+) later, I seem to have dabbled enough in the media to have my own nuggets of wisdom to spread. But excited and curious as I am to learn about new things, being a part of the Twitter team this year was a total riot. Both at the learning and at the fun parts. I also got an opportunity to understand how these sessions are organised. All the speakers are honorary which speaks volumes about the willingness of people to give back to the community. Also, the sheer range of topics covered, like last time, is mind boggling. There’s something for everyone - novices, professional, techies. 

While I am not too keen on analytics - which I know is important for my own blogs - I did have a blast tweeting away to glory indulging in my creative writing skills. The character limit is a problem but I guess the challenge just adds to the thrill of expressing more in less. So, no matter who won the race, I definitely had a great time. 

Hacking away at my keyboard! 

The group of friends on the same team were no less fun. I definitely made some friends for life. And thank you, SMW for that bonus! We would all gather at our respective venues, plug our devices (put on jackets for some freezing venues!) and type away to glory. Not a very click-photos-a-minute person, I’d wait for others to click them and add them to my tweets! The sheer thrill and excitement of sending out events that were unraveling live before us through tweets was unparalleled! 

Just a sample of the endless selfies! 
Another phenomenon that I got to look at closely was concept of Twitter celebrities/influencers. No, I am not still sure about what makes them celebrities or what they do to become one. But to my limited understanding, these ‘Twiterratis’ (though I am not sure what this word means too!) are supposed to be very active, very popular and a following of a few thousand people hanging on their every word. Like I said, I don’t know what gets a celebrity status. But I did meet a few of them and I am touched by how down to earth these people are. I almost doubt that we just put them on a pedestal where they appear exclusive and inaccessible. I am sure it isn’t very easy to keep up with all followers but one can’t do it unless one has a genuine interest in keeping in touch and talking to people. Inspirational!

With Shakthi - India's most followed differently abled person. 

With Tinu Cherian - one of the founders of @WeAreBangalore and a Twitter celebrity himself!

With Sean Gardner - the Forbes no. 1 influencer on social media

So while I am still reeling under the impact of Social Media Week, Bangalore, there are already talks of the next one in September! While I am so looking forward to it, I also have a blog to run and should get back to work. So drop me your comments below and I will see you around!