What will you feel when you are the only guy surrounded by around 70 or so immensely gorgeous and stunningly beautiful ladies all of whom are achievers in their respective areas? Well, let me confess I was a bit intimidated being the only male attendee barring two other male speakers in the Sheroes Bangalore summit this year. All other men who were present on the occasion were either technicians or cameramen.
It was not a surprise to me that everyone was surprised to see me in my carefree casual attire attending the Sheroes conference and vigorously taking notes. Questions were many, especially after my genre of the blog was made public. Eyebrows were raised but I was able to explain that empowered women could play important roles in achieving gender equality and thus my invitation to this summit was marked as a significant step towards men’s causes I write for.
If someone asks me to summarise the Sheroes conference in one sentence, I will say it was the no-nonsense summit that I have ever attended. Well to put it in correct perspective, let me confess that there were only two occasions that had made me uncomfortable but those were relatively insignificant incidents. At the outset, let me confess that I was expecting a lot of feminist myths to float around and was truly surprised to see the only business being discussed there, apart from some women issues that the industry needs to address in any case.
But before I delve into the positives, let me talk about two negative incidents that kind of showed Indian men in bad lights and both came from the two male speakers in the sheroes meet, first, from Anurakt Jain, Director, New Initiatives, Inmobi when he started his conversation by mentioning about crime against women. It was completely not needed and out of place. When he did that I felt that he wanted to gain some brownie points from the gorgeous women present around. Every time a man does that I feel that he doesn’t have anything positive to show and hence he is demeaning himself in order to get noticed.
The second incident happened from another male speaker Manav Subodh, Global Manager of Corporate Affairs group at Intel. when he mentioned to Sheroes about the recent news of the rape of a girl student in a Bangalore school and asked the attendees to create a business around that social cause (well, we understand that post-trauma care is needed for victims) but what surprised me was that he spoke only about girl victims of rape. Surely, he tried to touch upon a subject that he didn’t completely know. He had surely not seen news like this where boys are raped by their female teachers –
He also didn’t know that a 2007 WCD ministry survey on abuse of children found that it was the boys who were sexually abused more compared to girls and that survey was repeated afterwards.
Men like Manav creating hype around a topic they don’t know, made me think if he too wanted to earn some brownie points from the ladies present there, but then he revealed his secret. He told that he was working on UN projects related to women empowerment. I understood that probably he was a messenger of UN that wanted to create a business around women-related crimes in India.
It was shocking to note that in a business conference of Sheroes when women were talking about new technologies, innovations and business strategies and discussing some complex business issues, the only two male speakers of the conference unnecessarily brought women safety issues and one of them gave an idea of doing business out of it. Immediately I remembered women NGOs like Shakti Bahini that encouraged women to file false rape cases and charged money for their suggestions. A great business model indeed, propagated by men like Manav and affected by thousands of common men who lose everything on the simple accusation.
Two other names came to my mind, 1. Tarun Tejpal and 2. Khurshid Anwar.
Thankfully this was not elaborated further and people present in the conference didn’t take this note as seriously as I have seen in any other conferences. Probably the Sheroes audience knew the reality or they thought it was irrelevant. In any case, this kind of slow poisoning our minds only create deep-rooted gender discrimination against men and boys who are denied justice today.
Other than these two small incidents of spreading misandry by the only two male speakers present, the conference only meant business, even when women issues were discussed.
For example, Facebook India MD, Kirthiga Reddy discussed gender discrimination. But she actually discussed gender stereotyping that happens in our mind. She gave examples of her children understanding gender stereotyping and reacting to that. It was never about workplace gender discrimination. In fact, when she answered a question on gender discrimination she clearly stated that she had never faced that issue in her working life.
In the discussion of gender discrimination at workplaces she also debunked the popular feminist theory of the gender wage gap and stated that one’s pay is decided by how much negotiation one can do. From her experience, she found that women don’t negotiate much on their salary and hence they don’t get paid as much they could have got. On the contrary, she said that a man would negotiate till the end and hence he would get higher pay.
In any case, it was a well-known fact to the CXOs present in the conference that in today’s knowledge economy where the workforce is evolving continuously, corporate India can’t be biased to any gender. But this is what common people need to understand today.
Earlier the day, the Sheroes conference started on a very positive note with Sairee Chahal from Sheroes.in setting the right context for the day. She mentioned that in today’s technology-based knowledge economy the jobs are evolving and that is very important for women as they are in caregiving roles. She mentioned that only 5% of women are in CXO roles and only 17% of women are employed in the corporate sector.
Well, even though it is an individual’s decision to work or not work, we as a society can’t put the blame of women not working on so-called patriarchy and Indian men.
However, I will say this was one conference where such blame game was never attempted. These figures were taken at their face value and women were encouraged to come out and be successful entrepreneurs.
It was a pleasant surprise to me when Sairee told that “marriage and career are married to each other”, that in a way set the context of the conference that Sheroes wanted to find a solution to problems within the framework of our social constraints and keeping marriage and caregiving role for women intact. Once again I felt good to be an Indian and privileged to attend a conference where women don’t just blame everything on men and pass the buck to the so-called Patriarchy. This is the attitude I am fed up with when attending meetings of commoners and watching debates on TV. This positive attitude towards life told me that today’s feminists are probably thousands of miles away from real women and no wonder why feminism is turned down by the majority of women today.
In fact, Sairee’s opening speech also gave us a clear picture of bringing men in the conversation of women empowerment and women to make the difference themselves. Her mention that “we are not going to be treated differently” showed me a new ray of hope contrary to all popular feminist speeches where they feel proud to get alimony in-spite of being well educated and well paid and in spite of getting all benefits they end up blaming men.
Unfortunately, we don’t find such empowered women appearing on TV debates and thus our idea of Indian women reduce only to the portrayal of some greedy, unscrupulous women who want to screw happiness of some men in order to get empowered. In fact, I felt that it is in the interest of all women such sheroes need to come out and regularly take part in all open discussions so that greedy women who hide under the masks of feminists can be exposed. I realized why Sairee mentioned that she intentionally avoids all women’s day speeches she gets invited to.
There was another good conversation that I would remember from this conference. One entrepreneur while presenting her business mentioned a solution for the mothers. One of the female jury members who were also a mentor for start-ups corrected her saying – ‘say, parents’. Well, the message was clear, today no one can segregate a mother and a father based on their role and hence the solutions need to cater to both. In a modern knowledge economy, the gynocentric approach is no longer acceptable. That had forced me to think that feminists who appear on behalf of all women actually make fool of themselves and they are taking the generation further away from reality and unless real sheroes come up strongly in debunking such feminist theories Indian women will never be truly empowered.
The Sheroes conference also had a business case presentation session by different startup entrepreneurs. It was an amazing experience to hear out stories of how those women became successful without blaming patriarchy or men around them.
In short, if I were not invited to attend these Sheroes meet, I wouldn’t have known the real Sheroes around us. They don’t appear in popular TV programs and so we think they don’t exist. The greedy women who represent women in all forums, in fact, misrepresent women. It is a new challenge to these sheroes to show the world what women empowerment really means and how that can be achieved without blaming men. I feel privileged to hear and meet so many extraordinary women who I thought never existed in the modern feminist world.