Reactions to #metoo in India and my response

Source: buzzfeed India

The Me Too movement has reached India a little over a year after it took Hollywood by storm. What has been an eye opener to me is to see the varied reactions it generated. They bring a gamut of emotions from frustration, to anger and disbelief. So I want to address some negative reactions I have been reading:

– Why did the women just react if it happened years ago?

It is extremely hard to talk about these topics, people make light of molestation or second guess whether you are over reading the situation. The victim goes through periods of shame, self doubt before finally revealing such issues. And in some cases, when you can finally speak about it, you are doing it because you don’t want any other woman to go through what you did. The point is the victim often carries scars of these incidents for years, so why shouldn’t she talk about it?

– She put herself in the position by <insert reason>

This just makes my blood boil because men are expected to be animals and women have the long list of don’ts so they don’t invite bad behaviour- don’t be outside alone in the evening, don’t wear short skirts or anything that invites attention, don’t smile, the list goes on and on. No matter what you wear, how you look, or where you are- you can never relax. There are predators everywhere you turn. And this something we just have to accept. If the consequences to harassment were severe and swift, this wouldn’t be true. But we all make excuses for the perpetrator and find a way to blame the victim.

– This happens to everyone, why make it a big deal?

That’s a travesty, that we accept harassment as a reality; starting from public transport or crowded areas to work place or in many cases with family/ friends or neighbours. The fact that we are finally acknowledging this is not ok is a first step.

– Only film industry has this issue

The me too movement originated with the entertainment industry but let’s not forget it is also because they have a wide platform. By bringing up this topic, they are raising this for women everywhere. We all can start fighting back in our own worlds.

– There are so many false claims so i don’t believe.

If someone told you there was a 95% chance a vaccine or medicine works, would you believe it works? Especially if it really affects you. It’s the same here- 95% of cases are true but we shouldn’t focus on the 5% false cases and assume everyone is lying. It is a far reaching issue- more than 50% of women have faced harassment of some form.

This is the first step in a long journey but I am so glad India is finally having the conversation. Don’t trivialise such a serious issue with jokes about witch hunt and men being the true victims.

The world I imagine for my daughter..

As I count the days to the arrival of my little princess, I have been thinking about the world I want her to come to.  The world for me was a lot better than me previous generation, but there is still sexism, women’s safety is a concern,  and women still have to battle for being treated equally.

5 dreams for my daughter are:

  • Safety for women is a right:

This needs to explanation: we live in a world where 20 schoolgirls were taken from Nigeria 2 years ago and there is no sign of them, university campuses in US have episodes of rape,and gang rape cases happen even today in India. We grow up with a sharp sense of fear, walking fast and being wary about strangers. It is a women’s job to constantly be alert and can never really relax. I hope the world is a nicer place where she doesn’t need to be on guard and enjoy the world for being what it is.

  • Sky is the limit for my girl:

“This job may not be right from a woman, it has long hours” or “it might be hard to do this job when you have a family”… how often have we heard things like this? If a man with a family can do it, there is no reason why a woman with a family cannot. We are breaking the glass ceiling, but it isn’t equal opportunity for everyone. It should be a given for all women to have any role they dream of, sky is the limit!

  • The term “like a girl” is a powerful statement, not an insult:

The Always “Like a Girl” commercial got me thinking, we use these statements all the time. But now when I hear someone say like a girl in a derogatory way, it will make me cringe. I want my daughter to never feel self conscious about being a girl, she can run like a girl and fight like a girl, but that is a because she is a girl, and there is nothing to be ashamed about!

  • No pressure on appearance:

A hot topic that has been written about a lot lately is the pressure on appearance. The airbrushed magazine covers set unrealistic standards for beauty and young readers get under pressure about their appearance, raising the ugly head of eating disorders, unnecessary plastic surgery, and self esteem issues. In a recent interview, Jennifer Lawrence (of all people!) mentioned she felt like the fattest one- something that baffles me. It is crucial to make all body shapes acceptable, as long as someone is happy and healthy!

  • Women for women:

This is something I often wonder about: when I got married, I decided to move to New York  to join my husband, I quit my job and I had not figured out my options. I had to face judgment from friends/family- strong career women who felt it was weak to follow a man around the world. When I speak to working moms, they mention how hard it is to juggle work and home and the often unreasonable work pressures. I used to believe women in senior positions would mean a more inclusive culture. But I have observed that often women in management roles have a uni-dimensional view of how to manage work life balance: the perspective is driven entirely on how they handled it. If they had full time nannies, they don’t get the pressure of leaving at 5pm to pick up from day care or take over from the day nanny. Don’t you think it is time we stand on each other’s corner? We should support any career choice or child care choices-we have so many battles everyday,  we don’t need to defend ourselves with other woman…


The world is your oyster and I hope nothing holds you back! ❤

Why to watch India’s Daughter

india's daughter

Last week one of the big issues that hit headlines was the BBC documentary by Leslee Udwin “India’s Daughter”- covering the rape case of Nirbhaya (means fearless- the name used during the case to protect the victim’s name) in December 2012. A 23 year old medical student was mercilessly gang raped and later died due to her injuries. Her story caught national headlines and led to widespread protests. The documentary “India’s Daughter” covering the rape created headlines, with Indian government banning it. There were some questions on whether legal channels were used to interview the rapists in jail.

I watched the documentary, and I wanted to share my views. Firstly, I have to admit it was hard to watch, and leaves you shaken and upset.

A lot of the furore was directed at the fact that the documentary was taken by BBC, a British media house, and the intention was to paint India in bad light. In my view, there is nothing anti-India in the documentary. There are multiple documentaries on social issues in every country to raise awareness, and this shouldn’t mean the intention was to paint India as a land of rapists. It is important for us as a country to take a look at our problems, and discuss how to solve them. I have seen articles quoting rape statistics around the world. The point though is the root cause in each case is different. We need to see the problems and watching it through someone else’s lens is still a necessary reality check.The documentary isn’t offering us a solution (that might be perceived as condescending) but just showing everyone’s story during that fateful night. By ignoring documentaries like this, we are trying to convince ourselves that these aren’t serious social issues that need to be solved.

Hearing the rapist was chilling at best- there was no shame or repentance- only indignation- he felt he was teaching the girl a lesson for being out late at night. His other points included saying his brother has done it many times, and usually the girls never tell anyone so they can get away with it. On the discussion for death penalty for rapists, he felt it would make it more dangerous for women, since next time guys would just kill the girl- that comment drove me positively mad. It begs the question-the interview suggests nothing will change after their time in prison so can we really have lax legal framework for such grave offenses? The jail psychologist blamed their upbringing, but I don’t buy it- that isn’t the only reason and we really need to dig deep to understand more about such offenses.

The views of the lawyers sound appalling (“Our culture is the best. In our culture there is no place for a woman”- that being the mildest of the views shared, the rest I really don’t want to write here). These views are a random view of one individual- time and again, during the protests, we heard everyone from politicians to religious pundits blame women for going out at night, wearing clothes that attract attention, and suggest women just take it. We need to hear this in a broader forum- it will trigger a wider discussion on how women are brought up- in the documentary, Sheila Dikshit pointed out that often boys see their sister get less milk, or are raised under different rules. Boys that grow up seeing their father not respect their mother will never grow to respecting women later in life- exposure to violence and abuse at home is lethal in shaping the young boy’s minds. If you don’t start with respecting women at home, it is a hard trait to pick up later.

I don’t think the documentary was pushing one view or another- there are questions on why the rapists’ views were broadcasted- but it was important to show that there are some savages that show no remorse so believing in their humanity and being lenient is a mistake. I think the documentary told everyone’s story without taking sides- they showed more about the victim including a clearer picture on her hopes and aspirations. The parent’s story tugged my heart strings- they went against their patriarchal family, and chose to invest in their daughter- their strength is a remarkable size.

Some things I didn’t like was the documentary was a tad dramatic in footage at times for viewership. Another problem is the perception that rape is a result of poor uneducated men- it is a simplistic generalization that I am not sure is accurate.

At the end of the day, this documentary is a harsh look at the story of Nirbhaya that brought the country together- we shouldn’t let Nirbhaya’s bravery go in vain- it is our moment to ensure that we build a safer India for women.

Some thoughts on International Women’s Day

women's day

Happy Women’s Day!

As I think about it, I had a few thoughts: First thing that hits me is why do we as women need a day to celebrate? So companies and spas can offer women’s day specials? My cynical side questions if we are equal, why do we need a day to make us feel special?

But of course, a more balanced me reminds me that we are a long way from being equal- women around the world face the challenges of security and fundamental human rights, and maybe a day like women’s day should be the time when we re-assess what is going on, and what we could do to help.

I have written before about women’s safety in India and my personal story (Women Safety in India- My Story). The recent furore over the documentary India’s daughter reflects the issue with attitude towards women’s safety. Indian government has banned the documentary for being slanderous against India- but aren’t blasphemous views by the rapists and lawyers a reflection of the views held by a section of the population. In my view, this is an essential viewing, for all sections of population from school on-wards. You cannot change a mindset unless you first show the brutally honest reality that exists. Until every village and city views girls and boys as equal, boys are taught to treat women with respect, and women’s safety is a focus for everyone- things won’t change. This isn’t just an India problem- many countries in Asia and Africa have challenges in ensuring women have rights to education, safety, their bodies. And this is what we need to focus on.

The other thing I often wonder about is the corporate world: are programs to promote women in corporations helping us or hurting us? In my mind, sometimes these reservations and policies to promote women hurt us more than help- somehow your growth or success is doubted or questioned because you got the special program.Programs to help women manage work/ home, options to be virtual, etc would give women the opportunity to stay in the corporate world, and they will grow in the company on their own merit. As an independent woman, don’t give me any handouts or concessions- I want to go ahead on my own merit.  In an article, New York Times noted that the number of working mothers has been dropping in the US, and is lower than other developed countries (Link)- the main reason they found is the 8 week maternity leave is too short and there aren’t family friendly policies.

There is a lot of debate on the “having it all” idea- I wrote about this in an earlier post: (My musings on the article: Why Women Still Can’t Have It All). I think women leaders have an opportunity to lead the dialogue and direct it to a more inclusive direction- inclusive because maybe you managed your work and home without flexible hours, but you cannot take that option away from someone who can’t (I am looking at you, Marissa Meyer). Women need to support each other- backing our individual paths to ensure that we can carve our own paths. And there is hope: Katherine Zaleski, president of PowerToFly recently discussed with Fortune how she used to judge other working women until she had a child of her own. She co-founded a startup which matched women with technical skills with jobs that they could do from home. (Link). Stories like this give me hope of a more inclusive women workforce.

So as I end this note, I hope that by next women’s day we move to a world that is a better place for women!

Thank you Jennifer Livingston <3

I was inspired to write day after watching an interview of one of the most remarkable women, Jennifer Livingston. For those of us in America, her story has been one of the most talked about stories. Jennifer is a local anchor in Wisconsin and received an email from a lawyer who admittedly never watches the show, but admonished her about her appearance- more specifically her weight. He went on to say ‘Obesity is one of the worst choices a person can make and one of the most dangerous habits to maintain’, so Jennifer as a public role model should do more. The email was made public by her husband, who also works with her and Jennifer went on air and gave her own response. Instead of attacking the lawyer- which would admittedly be the easier move- Jennifer chose to take the high ground (see her response below).

As someone who has been attacked on weight on multiple occasions, this whole issue touches a nerve. I was particularly impressed with Jennifer’s response and I wanted to pen my own thoughts about it.

  • Jennifer chose to lay out some simple facts- he was not a family member or a friend, or someone she interacted with a regular viewer- he was just a one off viewer who passed judgment and moved on. One of the points that Jennifer made really stayed with me-she said ‘You know nothing about me but what you see on the outside, and I am much more than a number on a scale’. I agree with this point wholeheartedly- as he admitted himself, the sender hasn’t seen the show before, and he is still willing to not just make a quick judgment, he is also willing to tell her what he thinks! For anything in life, we only take the advice or views of someone whom we believe are invested in us and our best interests. Why should I take the advice of someone I am meeting for the first time?
  • Secondly, in the letter, the sender assumed she is doing nothing to promote a healthy lifestyle. In her interview, Jennifer wondered why the sender thought she doesn’t know how she looks-she knows she is overweight. I completely agree with what Jennifer is getting at- I have often had family members and friends come up to me and remind me that I used to be thin and now I am not. I always wonder, don’t they know I can see that, I remember that every time I look at the mirror-I honestly don’t need a constant reminder. And they don’t know the efforts I have put in, and the struggles I face- from afar, it is easy to cast judgment, for someone who is working hard on it and failing do you really think you are helping?
  • More importantly, Jennifer brought up a very important issue too- when we start judging celebrities for their weight, then we move to people on the street- we don’t consider the impact it has on kids. We are raising kids with the values that casting judgment on others is completely OK, and they can go to school and bully a child about their weight. With real issues like bulimia and anorexia, aren’t we responsible for controlling such conversation or eliminating it all together?
  • I am not disagreeing that weight is a serious issue and obesity is an epidemic. But instead of going to the source- promoting health eating habits and focus on exercise- we cannot focus on efforts on chasing every overweight celebrity to ask them to promote. I think at some level, the lawyer who sent the email didn’t send the email to promote a healthier lifestyle or in Jennifer’s interest- he just wanted to be mean and criticize someone on TV.

Jennifer, thank you for being so graceful about the whole issue- it took a lot of courage to go on TV, admit that you are overweight but that they are personal issues, and bring attention to the crucial issue of bullying. Your response was eloquent and full of grace, and you are an inspiration to girls and women everywhere!

My musings on the article: Why Women Still Can’t Have It All – The Atlantic

Anne-Marie’s article on ‘Why Women Can’t Have It All’,  has been subject to a lot of discussion on the internet lately. I loved the article, filled with insight and offers an in-depth view on the discussion. Even the picture was perfect- a baby in the briefcase! Anne-Marie hit hard with some hard-hitting facts that hit close to the truth so I wanted to write about a few of my views on the subject.

Link to the article: Why Women Still Can’t Have It All – The Atlantic.

Do you want it all, or do you choose not to?

I think women face a lot of pressure from each other. As an example, I believe part of the women rights is to make your choice-it might be to give up your cushy job to spend more time at home, or move to be closer to your family. Having it all maybe for the ones who want it all, what if I don’t want it all? When I chose to move to New York to be closer to my husband as a newly-wed, I got a lot of flak, mostly from women I used to admire for their career focus, who assumed that my choices weren’t my own, and that as a woman from the new generation I should be stronger than that. I remember the episode in Good Wife when Caitlin explains her decision to quit the firm to Alicia-  her point is that her generation has the choice, without judgment to focus on work or family- that statement stayed with me.

I think that making the choice yourself is progress- if someone chooses to take time off work to focus on family or moving to be closer to your spouse doesn’t make them weaker or against the cause. At a high school reunion, I would like to see working women not have a smug smile of satisfaction when they meet classmates who are full-time moms or housewives- we really should be more supportive of each other. Don’t you think there is enough hate out there without us being judgmental about each other?

Why don’t men have to worry about having it all?

There is a lot more scrutiny on women who are successful- the recent case is Marissa Mayer- since she took over as the head of Yahoo, there is more discussion on her pregnancy and maternity, than there is about her plans for Yahoo. If roles were flipped-a Mark was the new CEO and had a baby on the way, I wonder if  there would be even one question about paternity leave and having it all with him? Consider the case of Hillary Clinton, running for the highest office in United States, but most columns were directed at her clothes and haircuts, rather than her views on the economy or Middle East. Most conversation about women in powerful positions go down the route of superficiality or judgment on her family choices. If writers and commentators are obsessed about having it all- is there a chance that we can ignore it?

I talk to colleagues with kids- and the women I know tend to beat themselves up for not being there for a football game or when their kids go through teenage rebellion. Even the ones with supportive spouses feel the need to be there or feel the guilt of being away. I don’t mean to make this discussion about fathers, my point is simple- as women, we have the pressure to do it all.

What I worry about?

This article gives great suggestion and insight on how to reach a ‘having it all’ situation, but it won’t work for me-that’s the part that worries me. I just started working in a financial services company in New York, and while financial services isn’t as cut throat as investment banking or some other areas of finance, it is still pretty intense- if you don’t seem like you are there, you may be getting marginalized till one day you are out. I am constantly aware that there are 100s who can fill my shoes, so I have to be at my best. I love my work, and I can’t imagine doing anything else.

That sets me up to my quandary (albeit imaginary one, I am nowhere close to having kids yet but I am an over-thinker by nature!)- I have been raised by a mother who has always been there, my mom left her job when I was young and once we were in school she worked around my schedule. It is the kind of childhood I would want for my kids, but I am fast realizing it won’t easy to get there. I love my job but I would like to have the opportunity to have a give a great childhood for my kids too. Unless I find another career that I am good at and love, I don’t see how I can ‘have it all’. The ideas on the article aren’t exactly workable for me- after all, most financial firms still care about face value so working from home isn’t really an option and zooming off at 5pm may not be the best idea for long term prospects.

All my favorite role model mothers have managed beautifully- but they have career schedules that are flexible, they work their days around their kids. My cousin who is a doctor has clinic hours when her daughter is in day care, or when her husband is home. Ideal, but not for everyone! What scares me further is when I talk to women leaders within my company, their answers vary from ‘I had kids when I was 22’, to ‘my parents pretty much raise my kids’  to ‘ my husband works from home’– all great answers but none that would work for me. I don’t find enough stories of how women managed it all, without regrets.

Do you agree? Does having it all exist? How do we get to it?