Category Archives: Cultural Trends

The Ambition of the Go-Giver

This sentiment stopped me mid-scroll. It sums up a mentality I had growing up and reminds me of the perspective pivot that I (and perhaps we all) so badly need now, particularly when applied to the context of women and motherhood. It rings true in the example of my own mother and many I know. And in the kind of mother I task myself to be one day.


I wholeheartedly believed (and propagated) the feminist undercurrent of the past that said working moms were more heroic and more valuable than stay-at-home moms because they never submitted to gendered limitations, battling inertia and complacency to get what was rightfully theirs. They were in the trenches of a male-led workforce, on the front lines of a movement. They were moving forward themselves! They were crusaders of gender equality! I held on to this notion with an unrelenting grip throughout my teens and early 20s, etched more deeply in me perhaps because I came from Indian parents and a conservative community upbringing, juxtaposed against a progressive American world. One foot in either place, it felt crucial that I pick a side.

At the time, being a stay-at-home mom was typical of the Indian women I knew; it felt exasperatingly but expectedly primitive. I didn’t understand the choice, and I judged. If she wasn’t a go-getter, if she was content without employment, without enlisted projects, without contributing skills to society, her value was lost on me. She was stagnant, “staying” at-home, not moving. Spending days not achieving felt wasteful; her talent felt nervously close to slipping away. I couldn’t see past all the visions of strong women I had conceived to recognize any other manifestation of strength; I was blind to any other definition of “working.” So, I condescended the notion of staying-at-home and dismissed the women who chose to.

Today, I regret that dismissal and those assumptions.

Today, I understand feminism. I think! It is about choice, choice free of judgment or penalty. In this inclusive brand of feminism, membership is extended to women of diverse heroism – now inviting in many more of the women I grew up with and have met since. I am learning that women come as givers or getters, or both – just as men do. That choosing to give your time and your talents to your family, free of charge, makes you a defender of gender equality just as much as anyone else. And that fostering positivity, inspiring creativity, and making better humans beings are as vital contributions to society as any other.

The stay-at-home mom who shares so much of herself – her intelligence, her optimism, her presence of mind, her innovation, her resilience, her leadership, her creativity (all traits that companies covet and promote in their employees) – with her loved ones instead of her clients, decided at some juncture that giving was a worthy path. I think it is with this belief, armed with this mission, that my mother gave all of herself to all of her own. Putting everything in my upbringing set me up for success in a way she had always intended; I see now it was a purposeful choice, not a serendipitous turn of events. She selected this path for herself out of all her options, and thus gave me mine. Still, her choice wasn’t valued by the world or even by women like me, who were direct beneficiaries of it. Go-getters earn accolades and validation from our society – working towards the next promotion and award as a marker of their success. But our go-givers with as much ambition and as many proof points of success, see their choices as a silent sacrifice. Go-givers are praised for “never needing thanks,” which is an outright injustice and a shame.

I regret that it took me so long to see this disparity, but even more that I perpetuated the disparity for so long.

We need more go-givers in this world! Especially in a sociopolitical climate like this one. But for that we need to start to value the ones we already have, those that chose to give where it all begins – our stay-at-home moms. Because how successful, how valuable, how powerful is she who gives herself to the growth of others! And how important that we celebrate her choice to do so.

Find other vocal change-makers of this cause, here: The Pregnancy Pause

 

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“Put in Her Place”

clinton3Why has the first female presidential nominee also been one of the most disliked candidates in history? That is no coincidence. I’d argue she’s earned a disproportionate amount of hatred for actions that pale in comparison to some of her political compatriots. (See the Mitt Romney email scandal, Colin Powell Blackberry scandal, and the Bush Administration email scandal. Email scandals would appear to be a rite of passage).

What we are seeing here is a deeply intrinsic and pervasive bias against her, stemming from a core audience of men (unaware that they are only faux-progressive) and participatory women (unaware of the harm they are doing) for whom Hillary hits a nerve they cannot explain. This is not everyone, of course. These are specific tribes that span across the partisan divide, planted within communities around the country, upholding a bias that is neither Republican nor Democratic. Just sexist. This bias has become normalized, so much so that we almost cannot make this argument overtly. Because no one wants to admit that this record dislike for Hillary is truly sexism at work.

The fact is that those who oppose her reach for policy reasons yet point to her dishonesty as the chief cause. But we are forgetting that lesser men, more dishonest men, have walked the same path before her – some with weaker policies, grayer ethics, and more flagrant scandals. And now, when her opponent is the clearest winner of the scandal-immorality-lack of policy-general degradation of the American people-battle, she is still seen as dishonest standing up there next to him. All of a sudden her detractors portray her as the first person to have ever behaved in a self-serving way. As if now our moral bar has been raised because we have a woman to evaluate.

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It is too convenient and too instinctive for some men to want to see women punished for self-centrism or ambition, because it goes against the classic, nurturing (Mary) stereotype this country and much of its politics was built around. Men, when standing alone and striving for success, are driven and ambitious to any end, comforted by the fact that that is their God-given role in the world. Women, when standing alone, when not in service of men, are suddenly a cesspool of scandal and immorality. Unfairly judged against their opponents because their role was always meant to nurture their male counterpart and they chose against it; they chose themselves instead.

“In truth, the Hillary haters seem to resent her more than disagree with her. They demand to be humored and catered to. They hold her to wildly different standards than her male counterparts. They regard her with an unprecedented degree of suspicion. Above all, they really, really want to see her punished. And an aggressive male presence—even if dangerously incompetent—seems to comfort a great many of them.” – Larry Womack, HuffPost

This is what our election has come down to. Those of us that consider ourselves progressive but do not support her may want to believe gender equality is possible – – just not via Hillary. But let’s not fool ourselves. What we are actually saying is that we will not vote for a woman who chose herself. And we will put her down until she, and all the women watching, remembers that she has a place.

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#100happydays

Sometimes you’re too happy to stop and take a picture, and sometimes the most memorable happiness is the kind you #share with no one.

Silhouette of young woman sitting on sea front fence at dawn

 

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TV: The Renewal of Intelligence

After many decades of complaining that TV is rotting our brains, and many (many) seasons of sitcoms, adult cartoons, and trashy reality TV, we’ve finally seemed to turn a corner when it comes to our beloved home screens. However you like your TV (live, DVR-ed, streamed, on-the-go), the fact remains that what we’re watching today is significantly different, and I’d argue improved, than what we were watching 10, 5, even 2 years ago.

Of late, many TV series and broadcast dramas that premier on syndicated channels are offering a more selective, dare we say, more intelligent array of content. We’ve heard TV is the new cinema, and if we surveyed the landscape ample examples arise. Mad Men, Newsroom, House of Cards, True Detective… to name a few on specialty channels. Suits, How to Get Away with Murder, White Collar, House – more mainstream but still steps away from the usual couch-friendly sitcoms that flooded prime time slots in the 90s and early 2000s.

Part of this widespread popularity and repeated success seems to be derived from their common theme: a plot line centered around an intelligence-driven skill set. Law & Order, CSI, and others like them were initial attempts at this genre – but held on to a slow, long-form, soap-opera feel that is thankfully missing in popular content today. Let’s look at a team of doctors who diagnose illnesses and identify the not-so-medical cause, lawyers who find brilliant and often less-than ethical solutions in airtight cases, and ex-criminals that piece together forensic clues and decode the cryptic psyche of the fraudulent, to name a few. All these complex skills distilled down into pithy language and quick plot twists that are just-difficult-enough so that you end the show feeling part of an elite, discerning audience, with a nose slightly turned up. Whether you then switch back to Family Guy or Keeping Up with The Kardashians, is irrelevant. In that moment as the credits roll to some wonderfully apt indie tune, you’re reeling in the deliberate and stimulating triumphs of Don Draper, Annalise Keating or Frank Underwood.

Let’s have a round of applause for shows that make you feel intelligent, entertained in a way that requires your participation, and disallows you from sitting there, trance-like, staring into an alternate universe. In reflecting on these strides in TV content, it becomes clear that the mass audience’s interests are evolving; we are shaping ourselves into a more discerning group with standards we want, no demand, to be met. Granted, we’re not there yet, but we’re moving towards a new, intelligent consumer of TV. 

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Monica Lewinsky on the ‘Culture of Humiliation’: Her Incredible Story

Monica Lewinsky’s self-reflection, coming-out-of-hiding piece in Vanity Fair is incredibly poignant and insightful. She looks back and evaluates the cruelty of the media and society for putting a “24 year old girl through the wringer.” And she’s so right! She talks about what that shame looked like, felt like, how she dealt – and didn’t deal, the feminists that didn’t show up to the conversation, and how tied her life became to the political calendar. She says:

Monica Lewinsky photographed by Mark Seliger in her Los Angeles home

Monica Lewinsky photographed by Mark Seliger in her Los Angeles home

“When I hear of Hillary’s prospective candidacy, I cannot help but fear the next wave of paparazzi, the next wave of “Where is she now?” stories, the next reference to me in Fox News’s coverage of the primaries. I’ve begun to find it debilitating to plot out the cycle of my life based, to some degree, on the political calendar. For me, it’s a scenario in which the personal and the political are impossible to separate…I turned 40 last year, and it is time to stop tiptoeing around my past—and other people’s futures.”

This is the first I’m hearing of her, and definitely FROM her, since my kid-self saw her face all over the news and didn’t quite understand (and was, I gather, purposely not told) what “she” had done. She explains how she became the object of fault, a scapegoat, forever symbolic of  “That Woman.” Yet she never bashes the Clintons, never points a finger anywhere, and firmly states that it was always “a consensual relationship.” Monica Lewinsky proves in this piece, she’s a woman of integrity.

She made an interesting point about being defined by the media:  she didn’t let the “Interngate” scandal define her, but she was so young, she didn’t have an identity to fall back on. And that is what she hopes to prevent in her efforts against cyber-bullying, a voice of sympathy and reassurance that one event, however public, does not define you.

Impressed, to say the least. And excited for what she’ll bring to the anti-media-bullying table. I hope its not the last we hear of her. Her story is incredible, and one of strength and resilience.

 

 

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Gender Equality is Confusing

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A few weeks ago I rode in a yellow NYC cab driven by a woman. I opened the door, slid in, and said I needed to go to La Guardia Airport and I needed to be there as soon as possible. She replied, “Ok,” and I couldn’t help but tear myself away from my text conversation and peek across the sliding glass frame, surprised. ‘Oh, it’s woman,’ I thought to myself, ‘Hmm.’

15 minutes later, when we got to La Guardia – woman drove like a crazy person – I put away my phone and pulled out my wallet to pay her. As I did, she hopped out of the car – and I say hopped because she literally sprung out, she had a wiry frame and couldn’t have been more than 90 pounds – and headed to the back of the car to open the trunk. And a thought struck me… ‘She’s going to grab my bag for me,’ I realized. ‘That’s weird.’

I hurried out with the money in my hand and handed it to her before she could grab the handle of my 2-ton, over the limit, suitcase. I reached over and dragged it out, and dropped it – wheels down – with a loud clunk. I couldn’t let her carry my bag out for me – she was a woman! Older than me. And definitely weaker than me.

Totally baffled, I stood in line for United’s self-service kiosk. What do men do when they’re driven by female cabbies? Do cabbies usually help you with your bags out of chivalry or out of good service? What if the woman is super strong and bulky? Then is it okay to let her get your bag? And would I have let a skinny, weak-looking male cabbie grab my bags? What is the overlap between gender equality and chivalry?

The Spectators

Screen Shot 2013-04-11 at 5.52.40 PMThe stadium started to whir with excitement as the first of the graduates filed in, slowly and surely, with an earnest awe. Parents craned their necks to find their grown up child, now more darling than ever. Grandparents whipped out the smartphones no one knew they had, wanting to #insta it all. The easy, low, discordant hum of the band grew into a tremendous, rising crescendo and suddenly, the magnitude of the event became too much to ignore. A graduation ceremony, a rite of passage, the start of something big – hopefully. And something meaningful – ideally. It could go any way from here, really. All we knew for sure was that it was,  if nothing else, the end of something.

As the rows of chairs filled up,  we could make out some familiar faces. Names and people that fit into the puzzle. Little brother, twin sister, mom, long-distance boyfriend. Old roommates, dance team members, the lab partner, the secret crush. As the crowd settled, more details could be made out. The roommate was taking pictures of her class, of the crowd, of the stage. The dancer stuck her arm out, remarkably without grace, way above her head to capture the bleachers of people; all of them there to watch her, watching herself, as the moment unfolded.

Here was a collisions of worlds where everyone was new and still familiar, every voice in the crowd important and still trivial. And all trying to capture a moment in time. It begs the question:  what is the spectacle here? Thousands of doting parents and family members watching their darlings find their place, taking pictures. Thousands of anxious graduates, fidgeting in their seats, watching the enormous crowd grow with excitement, absorbing the enormity of the occasion, also taking pictures. Who is the audience? Who are the spectators?

Digital Darwinism: Cutting Through the Clutter

Competition is fierce, killer instincts prevail, and your chance of survival is diminishing at an alarming rate. Unfortunately, you’re not a character in The Hunger Games. You’re a brand in the year 2014, with a strong history of profit, a stable consumer base, and an unblemished reputation. Yet you find yourself perpetually teetering on the brink of extinction and oblivion, wondering why no one’s listening anymore and your sales are plateauing. A quick look at the market around you and it strikes; growth and success in the age of Digital Darwinism takes much more than ‘strong, stable, and unblemished.’

Back when the first notably great, soon-to-be-legendary ads were launched, DDB’s “Think Small” and N.W. Ayer’s “A Diamond is Forever,” for example, we lauded the creative genius behind them, the courage to be different, and their spectacular ROAS. We look back and recognize the mark they made and trends they set in advertising history. It was, however, an acutely different era of content creation, with a meager fraction of the competition for consumer attention that brands face today. No doubt, the real life Don Drapers produced valuable work, but there is something to be said about the type of content that fights, survives and even thrives in today’s cutthroat environment.

The average consumer in 2014 gets hit with over 5,000 messages a day, across all channels. Which means that an enormous majority of those messages are ignored, the few that are actually noticed are not often remembered, and the ones remembered are seldom shared. If consumers listen, notice, and share – you can be sure that the content you produced was something meaningful, of substantial entertainment value, or stood out as supremely kick-ass. A re-tweet, share, pin, repost, even a basic copy & paste, are all activities saved for the content that consumers really want people in their circles to see. And let’s be real, nobody wants to be the one to share mildly funny, moderately entertaining, or borderline outrageous content. Old Spice “Real Man,” Kony 2012, and certain YouTube clips of Jersey Shore prove just so.

Digital Darwinism, or the weeding out of all mediocre content, thus dictates that only the funniest, most insightful, most disturbing and most likely to entertain, aka the most shareable content, will survive. We are left with a thin layer of content that is capable of slicing through clutter to survive and reproduce; thriving on social media networks, email threads, Pinterest boards and touted as iconic or the standard for what good content should look, sound, and make you feel like. What we are creating, is a display case of content that will stand to represent this era in cultural and advertising history. It will speak for this phase of content creation unlike any before it – where everything we save and share and archive is shockingly horrible or utterly hilarious or just the sweetest thing; an extreme of sorts.

Indeed there is clear cause for alarm here. The effects of Digital Darwinism requires one to step back and wonder, what will be said of this time period? What will the post-Golden Era of advertising have to show for itself, a display case collection of our time’s most extreme content? Is that an accurate reflection of our society? Are we setting a dangerous mold by asking for an industry in which only extreme subjects, personalities, and content fare well? If so, what happens to a society without mediocre content? Have we raised the bar or have we merely altered our perceptions of good quality?

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