Thursday, May 23, 2013

Back To School Lessons

Gender discrimination is a social parasite.

“An ounce of practice is worth more than tons of preaching.” - Gandhi

As a social activist, I spend most of my time speaking out and leveraging social media to influence change in the workplace and society. I am truly a social animal—but when did it all begin?
Let me take you back to my first day at school. The first time I walked into a classroom, I had a choice: take the middle seat in the first row all on its own? Gravitate towards a group of seats at the back around kids who seemed “cool?” Or will the teacher take this pivotal decision out of my hands and allocate a seat arbitrarily?
For many of us the first day of school presents us with our first real opportunity at such independent decision-making. Away from the protective realm of our families, we are presented with the opportunity to offer our identities and needs to our peers for the first time.
What else happened that first day of school? The green lunch box my best friend had, but my parents simply could not find in the supermarket despite my many pleas, became the object of envy. The blue and white pencil case I cradled delicately in my hands acted as the only way to get the attention of the prettiest girl in class. I tried to flaunt my burgeoning linguistic skills by inserting so-called “cool” words into the lexicon in the hope that they’d help me stand out. These are all examples of influencing and being influenced. 
As we grow older these experiences and choices tend to shape our dominant personality traits. We grow up following diverse trends while only a small minority ever set these trends (true leaders are rare even at such a tender age).
We see in actors, sports personalities, religious leaders, and maybe even certain politicians, the clothes, behavior and trends we would like to emulate. More deeply, we see in them the men and women we would like to become. On a more intimate level, we look up to that cool guy in the corner seat of the classroom or the girl with the natural talent to stand at the forefront of every social situation. Eventually they end up wearing the most stylish clothes, sipping cocktails at the coolest bars and waking up every morning to the most enviable jobs. Their decisions indirectly influence the lives we yearn for and think we want.
The modern norms of social behavior and the way in which we build our aspirations are not built according to our natural needs, but based on our psychological desires. Our social interactions are dictated by a variety of social feeds which keep our appetites satiated at all times. When we look into our wants and desires at least half of them are to attain social acceptability. This also translates into social behavior with the opposite sex.
I could never figure out the transition that men take at some point into aggressive primates when in a group amongst themselves and discussing women. Why do we decide to adopt such behaviors? Are we modeling our behavior on certain movie scenes starring Matthew McConaughey or George Clooney in the role of the dominant Alpha Male?
Do we really enjoy these conversations where women are center stage and often berated? Or do we participate in them in order to gain some social acceptability? When we look into most cases of gender discrimination we often see it propagated by men in order to advance their own social stations and obtain some form of deeper social acceptability. 
Working as a domestic violence counselor, I interact a lot with the husbands of the victims. In nine out of ten cases, I will hear someone worry about “what people will say.” The social pressure of patriarchy is so intense and magnified by the media that people go to extremes to fit into a hoax definition of how we should behave as men.
I’m sure a majority of readers would agree that gender discrimination is a social parasite that should not be propagated. However, when it comes to our daily lives, we often find ourselves cutting corners, waiting for another opportunity to speak up against what we hear and constantly delaying what our “better selves” would deem an inappropriate comment, view or argument. This constant delay comes at a cost that we must all bear.
Working as a gender activist, I am constantly bombarded by accusations that I get "carried away" with concepts of gender sensitivity, but I firmly believe that when we stick to our convictions we’ll know which fights to pick and stand up for. On the whole, I believe in being influenced and influencing others by practicing what I preach. I am a social animal and words without action just don't carry enough meaning for me.

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