Of women’s safety

The 4th of March is national safety day in India, and my concerned Indian employer emailed all employees about being safe in the workplace and society in general. It’s a tradition. Every day for an entire week, we get an email discussing a specific theme.

To commemorate International women’s day a couple of days ago, the email that day spoke about women’s safety and best practices.

Of the many bullet points, one stuck out weird, like a sore thumb, reminding me of the sore safety situation that’s an issue across the world, and specifically rampant in certain places like India.

“Don’t get into a vehicle that has more than one man seated in it.”

Not obeying that piece of advice is a recipe for disaster. Or so people think. Hence the warning. 

However, heeding that warning is an even even bigger problem.

Telling a woman to stay away from an enclosed space that has two or more men is stupid. The world is half men. At any given time and place, there’re more than a handful of men in a gathering. If women avoid being in the vicinity of men just because they’re men, that only shows how poorly we think of our men.

And when we think poorly of men, we, in turn, think poorly of the women who raised and influenced those men.

In a convoluted, indirect way, telling a woman to stay away from menfolk’s presence is like asking a woman to lock herself in her room. That’s limiting a woman’s ability to be herself, to be an active participant in society’s everyday activities.

Coming from an Indian background, I’ve seen and, more often, heard about women bartered off in the name of marriage. As if they’re incapable of thinking and speaking for themselves. When fathers and husbands, concerned about the safety of “their” women, tell—or even subject—them to stay at home thinking that it’s best for them, those men miss the whole point about equality and freedom for all. Sure, they’re worried about safety in the streets after hours. They’re terrified of what’ll happen if their daughter’s the only passenger on a bus at 11 pm. They’re so focussed on preventing bad things from happening that they often overlook the cause of that in the first place. 

You see, we always insist on avoiding trouble, but in the process, we avoid identifying the real trouble.

A woman sharing a cab with three other male colleagues isn’t a problem. The problem is our mindset that men are so low that they only need a small chance to become violent towards women. In a way, we’ve created a culture that treats men not as fully-functioning, even wise, humans, but as mindless animals that’ll attack the moment their prey slacks. 

The saddest part? Most people don’t look twice at these warnings. Or even spend a minute to wonder how it impacts the minds of our future generations. Tell a young mother she should avoid densely populated male areas, and she’ll automatically transfer that fear onto her daughter. As for her son? He’ll grow up forever terrified of the women who treat men as aliens.

It’s such a vicious cycle.

What’s the point of seasonal campaigns?

It’s rather an important day in the world of marketing. Major brands across the world convene months of planning and hard work while smaller brands collate rushed last-minute efforts to make a splash. The reason? Today is International Women’s Day.

Although most of the world is unaware of the importance of this specific day, India—where I live—is outspoken and even unashamed in promoting it. Of course, it’s convenient that it falls right within the much bigger topic of trend: Women’s History Month.

Workplaces, media outlets, social media channels are all sharing the spirit of encouraging and empowering women. And because most brands that do so, do so only to news jack and ride the trending wave, the hoopla often seems fake to me. As a result, those who’re sincere get bogged down by bright and flashy banners on social media that slap a woman’s face on it to gain viral status. As someone working in online marketing myself, I see a company’s desire for branding attention. As a passive internet observer, however, I find it annoying and futile to spend so much time and energy into one day.

No point of doing it just for the sake of doing it.

Regardless of my personal beliefs, though, brands will advocate women. Not that it’s wrong, but it feels so wrong to do it just for today rather than any other day.

It’s like the Me Too movement. Every waking day was painful as I saw revelations from so many folk I’d appreciated in the past. People for whom I wasted my time in theatres or on movie marathons were all abusers.

That’s when I realised how petty and insignificant those movies are. But that was all. About five months down the road now, not many care as much as they did then. They’ve moved on. Nothing about the Me Too movement or the cases against the celebrities came up in the Oscars. Everyone spoke to each other and of each other with fondness and compassion—where’s the fierce determination that had broken the internet a few months ago?

Poof.

Every trend has its end. Women’s issues, empowerment, girls’ education are all great topics to pursue. If only we pursue them instead of just perusing them.

Women’s Day?

Where I live, it’s the day after Women’s Day. It’s the last day to redeem discount coupons for beauty products and the final chance to feel “special” before we can feel it again next year.

What a scam women’s day has become. Last year this time around, my Facebook feed flooded with hashtags. He for she, she for all, woman of steel, wonder woman, girl power, and all those goosebumps-inducing supposed-motivational videos, plus “25 quotes from Malala that makes every girl love herself.”

Fast forward a year, and this time, my feed says hashtag whatever. My feed is full of women holding cards that echo the same emotion: we’re tired of glorifying women for a day and trashing them through the rest of the year.

Well, I can sympathise with that.

Except, all these against-Women’s Day hoopla come from corporates, and people just retweet or repost them, making it a marketing success for the brands involved.

Whereas until a year ago, the same brands flashed stereotypical “women are the best” campaigns, and we retweeted and reposted them then too. Last year that worked. This year, brands wanted a new kind of campaign and they chose a more “be bold everyday” message.

If celebrating women on Women’s Day was the marketing ploy of yesteryear, shunning Women’s Day celebrations is the marketing ploy of this year.

And lost in all these ploys is the true essence of Women’s Day: where we dedicate a day in our calendars to thank women for being a part of our lives, wishing each other all success in years to come. It’s no different from Labour Day, Mothers’ Day, Fathers’ Day, or Teachers’ Day. Or even Children’s Day.

Women’s Day is yet another of those social days where we take a moment to appreciate women. Nothing’s wrong with that. What’s wrong, though, is what the biggest brands of our capitalist world have transformed this day into. Gender disparity at work and home is a common issue. Just like teachers being respected less over scientists. Just like child abuse, or less-than-minimum wages.

We seldom make a marketing blast connecting low wages with Labour Day. Or child labour with Children’s Day (thought that’s becoming a trend now). Or abortions with Mothers’ Day.

But Women’s Day has been beaten to death, and somewhere along the way, the sincere thought of appreciation is lost forever.

One Day!

We Millennials care.

While we while away

in wonder and awe

about Syrian refugees,

trump, clinton, an’ all,

writing petition letters

to desktop clerks

of political personas,

#SupportApple

Hashtag iPhone users,

Vouching for Justice, reform,

and all things revolutionary.

While sexual slaves —

somewhere round a corner —

remain deprived and uncared.

But Millennials care:

We have one day,

to “empower” women

with doodles and videos:

“One day!”

“empowered” for one day ;

womanized every other.


It’s International Women’s Day. I tried being nice and hopeful (honest!), but I couldn’t. So this.