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Ooh, look, shiny Twitter!

April 22, 2009 Leave a comment

I was reading this post the other day and realized I’ve grown up, finally. My old boss at the fuddy-duddy-but-hugely-successful-global-CPG firm would heave a sigh of relief….

A few years ago, when I was there, all I could think of was ‘new media’, ‘interactive’, ‘internet’, ‘360 degree’. I was so caught up in the buzzwords – each time I heard of a new way to sell things, I was hooked. Excuses of top management didn’t make any sense to me – of low penetration, of mainstream moms not caring for high-technology, of low costs & high reach of TV, of lack of measurement tools, even of medium unsuitability (“oh, people don’t go to the Internet to buy detergent or paper towels” – WTF? they don’t watch Lost or 24 for paper towels either!). It took a lot of my ideas being shot down for me to start realizing I wasn’t going to succeed by putting those in front of management.So I stopped – but I never stopped following them myself, or caring for them. I even got my Twitter account back when they had ~5000 users. Oh, those days.

Half of my early excitement for new media was that this seemed like something I could ‘own’ within the firm as my specialization, and I couldn’t own say, rural sales because being a girl those things came with safety hazards and hoops for me to jump through. Second, the Internet, in its early days was completely gender-indifferent and seemed like a place I could finally forget what was between my legs and focus only on what was between my ears – and have everyone else focus there too (this was, of course, disproved pretty badly last year, with the uber-geeks and Internet gods being the worst sexist offenders every.single.day, and threw Hillary Clinton and Palin supporters out of mainstream online discourse and left us cowering in the deep dark ‘safe spaces’ that we could create for ourselves). Finally, it made me think I would help empower all those millions of Indian moms by giving them an easy way to network, connect, communicate and make their own Girls Clubs so that they would no longer fall for our silly, tall, often-asterisked claims.

But these last two years, I’ve grown up. I believe as strongly as any Proctiod that traditional marketing, – measurable, reliable, boring, designable – works. For consumers, and for us – marketers and advertisers, who, frankly, don’t know yet how to really use these new powerful tools. The people who seem to be winning in the new media are exactly the same people who won in the old media. People with power and money and clout in the bricks and mortar world are using their heft to succeed in the new world, too. The offline bullies are the online bullies, only now they don’t even use deodorants. A NYT reference gets your average political blogger-boy very happy indeed, because it means newspaper gigs for him, and maybe leading to a book deal. Most of the time now, new media is just an amplifier (see Anne’s predictions on what will be in the news tomorrow). The paradigm hasn’t changed, the patriarchy hasn’t been dismantled, and the paths haven’t shifted.

No wonder I’m disillusioned. So much so, that I can’t be bothered that my company blocks Twitter and FB and all of these new media. So much so, that I can only smile at Critical Mass’s Riot excitement and shake my head. I don’t mean that it won’t work – I mean I don’t care that/if it does because there’s nothing in it for me.

And seriously, who buys toilet paper on Twitter, anyway?

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Why the furore?

April 15, 2009 Leave a comment

So, yes, along with the rest of the entire planet, I’ve seen Susan Boyle’s performance in BGT 09 here. Go look already if you’ve been living under a rock.

I saw the video myself, and I have to be the only one human being who wasn’t shocked or totally shaken by the performance (there! I said it!). I liked her voice and loved how she sang that particular song, no doubt the performance was great. But nothing before she started singing had led me to believe that she would or would not be good. Unlike the audience there, and the judges (especially Piers), who seemed to expect her to fail – doing what, exactly? screeching? fubbing her lines? falling on her face? what??!!!?

Of all the various critiques and analyses I’ve read and seen, this one at Kate Harding’s by fillyjonk is what I recommend to crystallize half the world’s thoughts (the other half can’t articulate why they like the video). (S)he says in the above link:

In a culture that values youth, wealth, and carefully-maintained femininity, this woman is like a cheat sheet for “don’t take me seriously” signifiers. She’s over 40, she’s ungroomed, she’s on the fat side, and her accent denotes low class. As it turns out, she also has learning disabilities and has never been on a date. She flies in the face of what we expect out of a performer and what we, as a culture, esteem in a woman. The judges respond accordingly: they snigger and mock, and her confident posturing just makes her (in their eyes) more ridiculous, more dissonant. Dissonant because confidence and sass don’t compute from a woman who falls so short of the ideal.

So that was it – unlike everyone there in the video and outside who’d been writing about the performance, for me her doing well was no surprise, no big shock, no re-thinking of mental frames. I should give myself credit for this – not wonder what’s wrong – for not taking those external ‘signifiers’ so seriously. It should – and does – bring me pride in my judgment all over again (e.g. in not thinking Hillary was cold-hearted and conventional and even evil and would eat live puppies because she was old or short or ugly).

This incident reminds me of the time in our college physics lab when I had a surreal – and unintendedly honest – discussion with a friend about how I had no idea how to evaluate beauty: I didn’t understand what I was supposed to find pretty and what not. And she asked me, a bit disingeniously, “you don’t see any difference in me and Gauri ?”(Gauri was a not-conventionally good-looking classmate of ours, dark and scrawny and buck-toothed). I said – I know you’re pretty because you’re popular, because of the way the canteen guy looks at you when you walk by, by how strangers smile at you, and with Gauri, all of that is different. And that was true, I knew Gauri was smarter than her but badly lacking in self-confidence. I knew enough about beauty by then to know that the low self-confidence was probably a result of her not being pretty – and it also exacerbated the problem, because low confidence helps a beautiful girl be more accessible, but makes the ugly ones looks even less like they’re ‘worth it’. And I was beginning to personally discover how being full of gumption and charm and being well-spoken and bold and being groomed but also blasé about your looks can make up for not having any (and so’ve Mallika Sherawat and Rakhi Sawant, evidently in very different ways from me).

So, back to my friend – she was shocked, and repeated, “so you can’t tell the difference between Aishwarya Rai and KSG” (KSG was a professor of ours, who wasn’t supposed to be very pretty – and that’s putting it mildly). This time I said “I know KSG is a bad teacher and not smart or really competent, but that’s my quibble with her as a person, not because of the way she looks”. My frank admission then became a big discussion point for a long, long time and led to many, many sessions of ‘leg-pulling’ over warm winter chai discussions in the Hostel too. I believe it even found its way into my scrapbook at the end of college days. But no one really believed me then, and some parts of me didn’t believe myself either: I was smart enough to subconsciously pick up on who was conventionally good-looking and who wasn’t, because the non-beauty metrics (e.g. popularity, confidence, preening, clothes, etc.) are such good indicators of beauty and self-image of beauty in our world. I’d trained myself by then in life to quickly read everyone’s signals and analyses, and even if I didn’t have any bias I sure acted like I did. In other words – at the same time that I was learning what clothes to wear and how to behave so I could fake being pretty, I was also learning how to behave I could fake my knowledge of what “pretty” was.

Susan Boyle’s video brought me back these memories, and my pride in my own judgment. Even thirty-odd years on, evidently, my knowledge is still fake, I’m still pretending :-). I’ve not internalized expectations and stereotypes, and so, like everyone else is saying, I can say “Susan Boyle has given me pride in myself” – for entirely different reasons, and mean it.

Thanks, Susan!

Reverse growth

February 25, 2008 Leave a comment

Wow – never realized this whole blogger world of white-women-converts-to-Islam that I discovered today at Muslim Hedonist’s.

Funny, how when I was reading that post and some earlier ones of hers, I saw how the ‘American perspective’ of things, as Islam=east, burkha/hijab=conservative Muslim woman, and all of the above=non-articulate, is slowly seeping into me, becoming a part of my mental make-up.

Though I fight the ‘East/oriental=more sexist’ thought process everyday, I did note my surprise this last trip to India when I met strangers who spoke Hindi/Telugu articulately, but broken English, and were liberal in thought, or when I saw sophisticated tastes in people wearing ultra-traditional clothes. I’d allowed silly Western simplifications to overpower my own experience of a quarter century.

It is so scary to see that I can still grow down, not up, and move from a complex, rich world-view to one that is uni-dimensional. Maybe I’d reached the peak of my mental growth, and now I can only grow down. After all, older people are supposed to be more conservative – and maybe my recent birthday was my gateway to bigotry.

Organization

November 16, 2006 Leave a comment

This is a complete volte-face, but I love the Container Store. I could spend hours there – and I do, online, fantasizing about the various ‘things to help you organize’ as other women do of other things. Barely five months ago I was stridently criticizing P for his obsession with cleanliness & visual order. And spewing disdain for his mom for her eternal obsession with ‘maintenance activites’ like clearing, cleaning, classifying (as opposed to growth activities like creative conversation).

Why am I doing this now? Is this just ape-like learned behaviour from my last two months’ company? Is this merely the lack of any other outlet for creative tension? Will I change with occupation and revert? Or is this part of my regular two-year personality transformation – am I growing into a more orderly, mature person who doesn’t assume that clean = boring? Will I -gasp – look down on the untidy as I do now on the compulsively dark as juvenile? Will I learn to simplify my sentence structure so that I make sense in one reading?

Categories: diary, general, growth, housekeeping

Obstacle course? Curse?

April 13, 2006 Leave a comment

My new resurgence of feminism’s happened only because of my marriage.

It isn’t anything new, the whole world and all women have been through this, but everyone of us needs to learn it afresh. Here, Elisabeth Bumiller quotes Gloria Steinem on the important ‘radicalizing’ changes in a woman’s life:

‘The first is when she enters the labor force and discovers that men, by and large, still control the workplace. The second is when she marries and learns that marriage is not yet a completely equal partnership. The third is when she has children and finds out who is [sic] the principal child-rearer. And the fourth is when she ages, which still involves greater penalties for women than for men’.

Diametrically opposite in intent, but eerily similar, is a line from a corny, cheesy, parochial Telugu movie of the 1980’s, remade into the Anil Kapoor/Karishma Kapoor starrer Anadi in Hindi: “A woman is only 25% woman when she is born. She becomes a 50% woman when she has her period, 75% woman when she’s married, and 100% woman when she is has a baby”.

Obviously, men don’t do fractions, and are all man when born. Like they were all Veda Vyasas. And they don’t need no babies, neither. Womanhood is an obstacle course, being a man is like a 100m run.