Love Our Goddesses, Hate Our Women

A print ad campaign in India with images of battered Hindu goddesses seeks to highlight a disturbing dichotomy in the country’s culture: a reverence for goddesses and female deities on the one hand and rising numbers of rapes and abuses of women and girls on the other. You can see the images here.

How to explain this twisted double standard? Is it the patriarchal mindset, the centuries-old preference for boys, repeated reinforcements of chauvinism in the popular culture, the lack of strong legislation, or feeble political will to take a stand? All of these and more, perhaps.

There has been a 16 percent jump in the number of reported rapes in India in the five years through 2012, and a 902 percent jump since 1971, Bloomberg reported, citing police records. In the first six months of 2013 alone, reported rapes in New Delhi soared to 806 from 330 in the same period a year earlier.

An ad campaign, no matter how striking, is not going to put an end to it, even if the men charged in the horrific Delhi gang-rape were found guilty after a speedy (by Indian standards) trial. But the campaign it has at least got people talking.

There may be fewer goddesses in Bangladesh and China,  but that doesn’t mean there’s less violence against women in these countries. Almost a quarter of men surveyed in Bangladesh, China, Cambodia, Indonesia, Papua New Guinea and Sri Lanka, said they had committed rape at least once, according to a survey of more than 10,000 men. The survey, published in The Lancet Global Health journal,  is said to be the first multi-country one on the prevalence of rape, and is part of a UN report on violence in Asia and the Pacific.

One in 10 men said they had raped a woman who wasn’t a partner; with partners included, that number jumped to 24 percent. Just under half said they had raped more than one woman. Nearly three quarters of those who committed rape said they did so for “sexual entitlement”. The second most common reason was rape as a form of entertainment. In other words, they were bored. Makes for chilling reading.

Dig my daughters? Vote for me

It’s not unusual for politicians to parade their families before voters to drive home the point that if they have managed to raise a family with few calamities, surely they can be entrusted with the task of running a country – or a constituency.

But Tony Abbott, leader of Australia’s Liberal-National coalition and the country’s freshly-elected prime minister takes the biscuit.

In a video message that lead candidates were required to send to participants in the Big Brother house (I know, but let’s focus on the matter at hand for now), Abbott appeared flanked by two of his daughters and proceeded to say: “If you want to know who to vote for, I’m the guy with the not bad looking daughters.” To the credit of the contestants, even they appeared taken aback.

It wasn’t the only sexist remark Abbott has made. During his campaign, he also made reference to the housewives of Australia doing the ironing and described virginity as “the greatest gift” a woman could give someone. There’s also, of course, the infamous “breast” menu for a party fundraiser that set new standards in sexism Down Under.

But of course, Mr. Abbott’s biggest claim to fame is being the subject of former Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s completely inspired — and totally unscripted — diatribe in parliament, in which she described him as the very definition of misogyny in modern Australia. If you haven’t seen that video in full, I urge you to do so. It’s worth all 15 minutes of your time.

Sadly, nothing’s changed since that speech. Going by the campaign and the repeated, vicious attacks on Gillard — not just from politicians but even radio personalities — it would seem that that brand of misogyny is not going anywhere in Australia. Is it any wonder then that so few women take the plunge into politics.

When getting home safe is all that matters

Stunned by yet another report last month of yet another gang-rape in India, this time in Mumbai, where I lived and worked for eight years, and which I believed to be the safest city in India, the most woman-friendly. It’s hard to wrap my head around the facts of the story, given that the mill-area where the 22-year-old was raped in the presence of a male colleague is where I went into work for nearly six years. The former textile mills now house media companies and private-equity firms, malls and restaurants, and is a bustling bee-hive of activity in the centre of the city. A city that doesn’t feel safe anymore, like dozens of other Indian cities.

What’s also worrying is that recent attacks on women – including the horrendous one in New Delhi last December – appear to be targeting a certain kind of woman, in particular: educated and working, usually in the city. This is not to belittle other attacks on women that occur every day across India, where a rape reportedly takes place every 21 minutes. But it seems that the more Indian women break with tradition and embark on careers and independent lives, the more determined men are to bring them down – sometimes violently.

The blowback also targets women: following the rape and eventual death of the young woman in New Delhi last year, some offices banned women from working overtime, while others barred women from certain kinds of jobs including at call centers, which may require working night shifts. Women are being unfairly discriminated against at the workplace and denied equal opportunities, and they have no one to turn to, not even the police or lawmakers, who rather than pledge to address the security issues, have said women should not stay out late, dress provocatively or take public transport.

India has a lot to lose should its women be forced to quit work because of concerns over safety. Already, despite rising levels of female literacy, labour-force participation by women fell to 16.8 percent in 2011 from 22.4 percent in 2005, according to data from the Asian Development Bank. In the World Economic Forum’s ranking of gender parity in economic participation, India languishes near the bottom, ranking only above Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and Yemen, a gap that “will be detrimental to India’s growth,” WEF said in a 2011 report. This is not progress.

Since the attack in Mumbai, women journalists – and even visitors to India – have been speaking out about their own experiences with sexual harassment and violence on the job. They are not the only ones being targeted, clearly.

I fear for my young niece’s future. What good is having your country counted among the economic powerhouses if she must one day make a career choice based on how late she must stay at work or whether she will be required to travel? When women across the world are debating issues including the glass ceiling, leaning in and pay parity, women in India are worried simply about getting home safe from work.

How I finished “The High Cost of Opportunity”

When Stacy-Marie sent me this article of nifty infographics politely pointing out how native-born “low-income” New Yorkers are lagging behind the entrepreneurship curve, something struck a nerve… and I became incredibly angry. I moved to New York City two weeks after Hurricane Katrina with two freelance jobs and a dream waiting here for me. I quit both jobs and spent my FEMA check trying to be “all in” starting a clothing line and ended up broke as broke could be, in one of the most expensive cities in the world, eating hot dogs and ramen noodles and wondering what on earth was to become of me… when on the day I was going to take my last $300 and buy a plane ticket back home to my family a crazy group of guys gave an equally crazy, PTSD little black girl from New Orleans a chance at a full-time gig and my fortunes turned. It wasn’t until I was getting a check every two weeks that I was able to plan to survive. As someone who went from making $12K/yr as a “working” artist at 20, who has spent nearly all my savings and free time over the years in various failed entrepreneurial projects to becoming solidly middle-class, I can promise you that getting a salaried job with benefits is the only way to “pull oneself” up out of poverty. The risk inherent in entrepreneurship is one that the poor frankly cannot afford. Why? Because theyre trying to EAT! How insulting that at the most vulnerable juncture of my life I would be expected to make my own “opportunity” magically appear, when I could barely keep a roof over my head.

So I’d been sitting on bits and pieces of this article for the last few months, my thoughts unclear and stifled… when this righteous anger brought it all together. Here’s what I came up with, and posted today here:

“… while we need safety nets, the focus should be instead on creating opportunity — and, still more difficult, on creating an environment that leads people to seize opportunities.”
– Nick Kristof, “Profiting From A Child’s Illiteracy”

When discussing poverty and the distribution of wealth, two views typically emerge. Conservatives, fond of bothRandian self-accreditation and those proverbial bootstraps we’re all supposed to use as leverage, tend to hold the single individual responsible for their own destiny, regardless of where they started. Liberals, fond of blaming the system and clinging to the “entitlement programs” that seek to alleviate the stresses of said system, are more likely to forgive the personal missteps that often hold individuals in poverty. So it was refreshing to read textbook-liberal Nick Kristof turn a critical eye to a welfare program’s unfortunate misuse. However, the quote above struck me as worthy of inquiry. How, indeed, do we create an environment that leads people to seize the opportunities that we will ensure are there?

The definition of an opportunity is a favorable juncture of circumstances and a good chance for advancement or progress. People who are born wealthy have access to the best doctors and educators in the world, and are nurtured by not only tutors but by family members whose business ventures and financial savvy are constantly accessible. At the opposite end of the spectrum, people who are born poor often have working parents with less time and resources to give, poor health, and are raised by themselves or the television. The only proven route for the poor to the hallowed middle class is for poor individuals to seize positive opportunities — the most accessible of which are education and jobs — to build their skills and resources and avoid the negative, short-term opportunities (i.e. using drugs, committing crimes) that will prevent growth. But how will they know how to recognize said opportunities and in turn teach their children if no one taught them? How will they maintain their resolve to stay a difficult course that leads to success when life’s inevitable challenges present themselves?

Conservatives want to privatize the solutions, which only works if you have the money to pay, the whole problem with which is that poor people don’t. If my tax dollars are being invested in a necessary social safety net, the goals of said safety net should not only be to meet urgent needs but to provide a plan to help individuals exit the system. We need to eradicate the “case worker”/paper-pusher mentality (starting out by paying higher wages to our service providers) and invest in more life coaches, career advisors, teachers, childcare professionals and financial advisors. Create programs that make the outcome of a healthy family the product the agency is responsible for, not just the child in isolation. Government as a whole should not escape the scrutiny of accountability, and can benefit from more influence from the business community: not lobbying to maintain tax loopholes and other corporate-personhood benefits, but cooperation to help spur process improvement, trim bloated bureaucracies and create a better product in service of the American people.

Poor parents need to be educated first of their own opportunities to earn money and build wealth through setting goals and being disciplined enough to budget, prioritize and maintain legal employment — skills they may be learning or trying out for the first time. They become empowered by choosing a path of action to follow and achieving the goals they themselves set to pursue. Only then can they do the same for their children. If the system of incentives we’ve provided to alleviate urgent physical needs is counterproductive and keeps families in a generational cycle of poverty, let’s create new incentives such as guaranteed access to physical benefits (e.g. free metro cards, cell phones, gym memberships) when parents in the programs gain employment, meet savings goals, attend counseling, keep the kids in school and achieve goals of their own. Develop a long-term follow up system with resources people can access in the months after leaving assistance programs when things might get hairy.

recent report by the Center for an Urban Future laments the lack of “low-income” entrepreneurs in New York City. The entire premise of the report is strange to me, the concept that our most vulnerable populations should be responsible for creating opportunities for employment. The very definition of poverty is to be lacking the money to cover the basic needs of food, clothing, shelter and healthcare. If you can’t do that, how can you choose to spend money to start a business when it will ultimately mean yet more physical sacrifice, possibly at the expense of your health, sanity, and what little stability one might have? The risks inherent in entrepreneurship are such that the poor frankly cannot afford it, evident in the questionable success of micro-lending programs worldwide. These pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps perspectives are short-sighted products of the privileged, relieving governments and policymakers of the responsibility to abandon austerity measures and private interests and invest in the types of WPA-style projects that created the American middle class in the first place.

No taxpaying American should go without food, shelter and access to medicine for simply failing to succeed in the game of life. Success is laudable and learned through trial, error, and perseverance; but an opportunity is only a chance at success, not a guarantee. Our approach to poverty and raising people out of it should be encapsulated within the larger strategy of reducing global waste; reusing and repurposing infrastructure to create green economy jobs and sustainable, affordable housing; and re-investing money currently used to build prison and war infrastructure into schools and programs that will break the cycles of poverty. Only then will we be able to provide good chances for advancement and progress, not just to kids, but to their parents as well.


Then another friend in response sent me this op-ed piece today, “No Rich Child Left Behind” that I felt further validated my thoughts. What say ye?


What should I do with my life?


I had an epiphany this morning while thinking about the ways in which people choose careers.

Every vocation answers some human need. Doctors answer people’s health needs. Architects address problems of community and shelter. Media people share information and facilitate communication between large networks of people. Engineers create solutions to various kinds of design problems. I could go on. But you get the point.

I think therefore, people choose fields that answer the questions that matter most to them. So for me, the questions that fascinate me most are problems of design, aesthetics, space and community. Because of this I’m in Architecture. My boyfriend recently went into Economics, because he voraciously devours information regarding politics, markets and wealth distribution. Environmental designers and researchers are consumed by the need to discover more sustainable ways for us to live. Picking a career therefore is kind of like an individual quest for answers to the questions that are most meaningful to us.

Of course this only relates to certain kinds of professions. There are other types of work that attract people who want to perform a certain kind of service or use a particular skill. Others still, do not have the luxury of choosing an occupation. In a very real way, the answer to what should I do with my life is primarily a ‘first world problem’. I’m also sure that there are many people out there who give much less of a damn than I do about what their career is.

I think this approach applies though, to the people who are virtually haunted by questions. Other people like me, who need to do yoga and aggressively manage their anxiety levels about the state of this world.

Hybrid Identities

I came across this competition post today called Hybrid Identities. The call is for Photography, Video Art, Computer Graphics, Architecture and Performing Art that explores the concept of hybridization between identities and urban environments.

This is perhaps the crux of my urban interests – the way in which people shape their cities through choice, time and habit. My particular interest is in the way that festivals shape cities, but as outlined in this competition, they’re looking for commentary on the way in which people modify and shape the physical and social infrastructure.

Deadline is February 25th, 2013 so it’s coming up quickly. For more info click here.

Colourful Woman Wednesday: LaurenAsh

This week’s Colourful Woman is LaurenAsh (Lauren Stephenson), a hip-hop artist (and fledgling blogger) based in NYC.  Her debut single, “She Is”, is available for download NOW!

What makes you a “colourful woman”?

I believe it’s more than my skin color that labels me a “colourful woman.” It’s my passion to create and be a voice for all women regardless of ethnicity, sexuality, etc. My drive and continuous fight to stand up for what I believe in and be who I am give way for all women to do the same.

LaurenAsh_She Is

Who are some of your colourful inspirations?

I have never really had a particular or go to person I’ve leaned on for inspiration. I tend to be inspired by life and the experiences it brings. My good friend and mentor Jerry has probably been one of the most influential people in my life. I’d also have to say Maya Angelou. Her book “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” gave me a whole new perspective on life.

What message would you like to share with our readers today?

Dare to be different! People are going to try and stop you before you can even get started but you must strive for excellence within yourself!

And check out my music video!

Credit where it’s due: Anne-Marie Slaughter

Critical, us? Yes. Absolutely. All the time.

Case in point: we flagged this piece in the Atlantic by Anne-Marie Slaughter on what Obama doesn’t get about gender inequality with no small degree of snark:

And then we were completely taken aback (positively so) when Slaughter replied to and engaged with us:

And then she updated the Atlantic piece to reflect the conversation. Examples in bold:

Equal pay for equal work certainly remains an issue for women, particularly women of color, but white women who do not have children earn the same or more than men.

One step at a time.

Did the NYTimes just call Michelle Obama an uppity negro?

Let’s just get this straight. According to Cathy Horyn and the NY Times:

many people, disappointed that [Michelle Obama’s] clothes get more attention than her values and leadership, hope that a second term will give Mrs. Obama more latitude to speak out on issues that are more controversial, like educational reform and work-life balance.

But it’s a funny thing: four years ago she denied conservatives the chance to vilify her as “an angry black woman” by taking immense pleasure in traditional first lady pursuits, like fashion, entertaining and gardening.

Issue one: if you’re into ‘traditional first lady pursuits’ [read: white first lady pursuits, because there’s never been a black first lady prior to Michelle Obama] like ‘fashion, entertaining and gardening’, you remove any fodder for critics to accuse you of being ‘an angry black woman’. Ok.

One designer, who doesn’t dress Mrs. Obama, observed, with some accuracy, “Her clothes are too tight.”

Issue two: Too tight? Too sexy? Too revealing? Too body conscious? Would ‘mom jeans’ and sweaters be more ‘appropriate’?

Even more astonishing is that Mrs. Obama’s spending on clothes has attracted little scrutiny. Clearly that’s because she is seen as helping the American economy. Still, she has spent tens of thousands of dollars on clothes and accessories. She was criticized for wearing $500-plus Lanvin sneakers at a food bank, in 2009. But at a time when economic inequality is a serious issue, you wonder why the first lady’s fashion spending hasn’t caused more fuss.

Issue three: Michelle Obama, high powered attorney, should be criticized for spending her own hard-earned money on clothes that have played no small part in making her palatable to ferocious critics. Got it.

One clue was Mrs. Obama’s decision, in late 2008, to accept an invitation to pose for the cover of Vogue. As Ms. Kantor wrote, her advisers were divided, with some concerned that Mrs. Obama, a woman of substance, would be seen as a fashionista. She argued, “There are young black women across this country, and I want them to see a black woman on the cover of Vogue.” In the end, there was little criticism of the Vogue cover.

Issue four: Oh, see what you did there. Dare not criticise her for appearing on Vogue and wanting to inspire young black girls, because then those social justice types might call you the r-word.Clutches pearls

Still, he hasn’t changed his view that Mrs. Obama can be a powerful voice on issues like equal opportunity and work-life balance, given her own background. “The engines of the American dream and meritocracy have slowed down dramatically over the past 20 years,” he said. “She is a person who has lived through that, came from the South Side of Chicago, went to Princeton and Harvard. It ought to be something she’s addressing. And the more she dresses in glamorous clothes, the more it looks like she’s cut off from her roots.”


No Pity Party here

I literally started this a while ago and just didn’t know how to end it. So I just left it. Then every so often, I’d return to it to add (and remove) another sentence. But with everything I tried, I just couldn’t finish it. Where would I leave off, on such a sensitive topic? So finally I decided to buckle down and hammer this one out through my own mind’s eye. Forget the rest, or I’d never get it done.

It doesn’t bother me that I’m single – it really doesn’t. What does bother me is that there are some who are bothered by my singleness. What bothers me even more than that is how bothered some seem to be by my not being bothered by it. Up to speed? Now imagine if I let that get to me what a staggered life I’d live.

As a single 30-something in the busy city of Toronto, it is very easy to feel the pressure of “getting up there” and not having settled down yet. There was a time when quite frankly that very thought had really terrified me.  What am I going to do, I would ask myself, if I get up there and I’m still single? But once I started to follow the path my life had laid out for me, I am more concerned about taking in the sights along the way. I’m doing so much that it makes up for the other parts.

Don’t get me wrong, singleness will always harbour some fear and doubt. But the fact is that times have changed. Independence is a commodity that we all strive towards. So who says you have to be “settled” by a certain age? So what if you don’t? I’d like to read the chapter in this proverbial Handbook of Life that states that you have a deadline to settle down.

As we evolve, we see that tables are turning; women are taking control of their lives in ways that would render our grandmothers speechless. And how many of us can say our grandmothers didn’t voice their malcontent? Many women are the sole or predominant breadwinner; we’re going back to school, taking on 2nd even 3rd jobs, travelling the world and learning different languages. But you know what the best part is? We’re speaking up and acting out.

The statistic of single 30-something women has increased because we are so focused that we don’t slow down to notice that certain areas of our lives remain unfulfilled. We see success on the horizon and would stop at nothing to get there. If there is an obstacle, it is viewed only as a slight delay as we iron out the kinks and handle it accordingly before we continue. Tunnel vision – that’s what it’s called.

So while you’re sitting there looking at your happily coupled-up friends and reflecting on your life asking yourself “why am I still single?” maybe you should ask:  “why can’t I still be single?” Or perhaps the question you need to ask yourself: “am I ready for a relationship?” Many of us think we are, or feel we need to and may even end up making the wrong choices. But being single means moving at your own pace, changing your direction when you feel like it and taking longer than you need to on things. It really is the ultimate selfishness. And I think with all the hard work I put in, I have earned the right to be selfish. And to add a cliché: if something isn’t meant to happen, nothing in your power will make it happen.

I’m happy with the way my life is going even with the unattended area, or void if I may. I’m content with knowing what I want and having the luxury of taking my time. Yes, I’m “picky” but I’m really tired of hearing that, because quite frankly I deserve to be. I have always taken my time on things, so I’m not going to start rushing now. And I really do believe that if it’s meant to happen then it will. Some things just don’t follow a timeline or are limited to a deadline. So I might as well keep doing what I have to do to enjoy my life; by myself, for myself. This for no other reason than I’m allowed to be selfish.