FYI: LinkedIn Is Not a Dating Service

Ahh, don’t make that face. You’re too beautiful to not smile,” said the man intently watching me in the Autodesk gallery photobooth.

After awkwardly looking around for a (nonexistent) curtain, I retook the photo, uncomfortably smiling as a CGI dinosaur loomed over my shoulder. As the photo printed, the man peered over my shoulder and signaled his approval. “My boyfriend will like this,” I hinted, before following up with, “My bag is really heavy. I should find a seat before the talk starts.” He asked for my LinkedIn, and being that I was at a professional networking event, I hesitantly gave it to him. In total, we spoke for about five minutes. The next day, this happened.

Crazy LinkedIn Message

Some Context

A few months ago, I attended Tech in Motion’s Data+Design panel discussion. The topic – exploring the interplay of data and design in determining split decisions regarding UX, project management, and product delivery – is particularly relevant to my career, so I was especially excited to learn from the experiences of the panelists and mingle with relevant industry folk. Since I was alone, I wanted to maximize my time by meeting fellow design-driven business wonks and debating the merits of rapid prototyping and A/B testing (or if not that, literally anything else that related to the topic of the night).

Instead, I met several men who would verbally corner me, step far into my comfort zone, compliment my looks, ask me where I’m from*, and then tell me how beautiful they think Indian women are. I of course appreciate a well-intentioned compliment, but in these instances I can’t help but recall a famous Demetri Martin punchline: “Location, location, location.”

If you don’t already understand how this behavior is problematic, here’s a summary. The aforementioned men – and I want to emphasize that I don’t think all men are like this – probably think that they’re being friendly and forward, “networking” as the event encourages. But when the basis of their small talk is not “What’s your experience in this field?” but more “What are you doing later tonight?” it can feel predatory and disrespectful.

Think I’m being overly sensitive? Believe me, this is not an isolated event. When I handled programming and events at a coworking space, I was constantly approached by inebriated middle-aged men, leering and making suggestive comments referencing their interest in a Bollywood queen. The fact that I don’t even watch Bollywood movies wasn’t relevant to them – they would just find another track to stop me from circulating the room (in that case, doing my job).

This attitude minimizes the legitimacy of professional women at tech events. It takes away from our power as contributors to the discourse, reducing us to meaningless banter about our personal lives. It creates “an undercurrent of condescension that leads to a feeling of isolation,” as noted in a recent TechCrunch article “Women in tech: What’s the real problem?”

It presupposes that we should be so glad to hear such comments about our appearance, instead of meeting the type of people who could actually give us a leg up in our careers. Not that it’s important, but I should note that I was wearing a wool crew neck sweater, jeans, and a scarf – hardly the magnet for horny tech bachelors (or worse, married men).

How Does This Fit Into the Overall Narrative?

Women have a hard enough time advancing in the tech world, as the Harvard Business Review illustrates. “Our research findings show that on the lower rungs of corporate career ladders, fully 41% of highly qualified scientists, engineers, and technologists are women. But the dropout rates are huge: Over time 52% of these talented women quit their jobs.” While the standard explanations might surface – women begin to have children and lose momentum due to maternity leave and enhanced need for work/family balance – anyone who has been following the Lean In movement knows that the challenges to advancement are far more insidious than the biological clock.

Take the example of startup incubators. Though there are plenty of women in prestigious accelerator programs – an accomplishment that Y Combinator and 500 Startups both tout – men still primarily seek kinship and support from their male counterparts. That’s not to say that they don’t treat their female batchmates with respect; in my experience, they do. But when you’re a young bachelor in a new town, which is the case for at least half of the batch, you’re not likely to hit up your new female friends to join your night of debauchery and drunken hookups.

The exclusion isn’t intentional, but it happens. Male/female relationships** are mostly limited to the office, or if not are the subject of gossip. For budding entrepreneurs, that’s drama that can derail their attention during a high-pressure period for their companies. But as anyone who has developed an insta-friendship over a bottle knows, sometimes all it takes is a memorable night to build a lifelong bond – and while women are included in some of those nights, the number of non-sexualized invites are far fewer. Plus, the discomfort (for a woman) and disappointment (for a man) of a perceived/real rejection can disintegrate what otherwise would be a healthy friendship and a source for future support, connections, and opportunities. Limited chances to build social capital can have significant ramifications, especially in the Valley where “who you know” seems to take precedence over “what you know.”

Women have a number of hurdles to overcome in getting ahead in their careers, including the attitude that they should settle for less while men consistently overstate their abilities, or the notion that they should fill in as secretaries or notetakers while men are allowed to dominate the conversation. How we dress, how we talk, and even extremely personal decisions like how long is the appropriate time to stay home after the birth of a child are up for discussion. It’s frustrating, and it’s endemic of a larger sociopolitical climate, one that both men and women might not even know they’re exacerbating.

But there is one simple thing that men can do: when you meet a woman in a professional context, please treat her like a professional, not a potential Tinder match. After all, there’s an app for that.

* (“Where are you from?” “I’m from the South Bay.” “…Where is your family from?”) is a conversation I have almost every time I meet a new person. I’m happy that culture is important, but not so happy that it seems to take precedent even in scenarios where my professional accomplishments are the only things we should be discussing.

** Speaking only about heterosexual relationships, since I am straight. Would love to hear from a lesbian about their experiences with startup accelerators though!

*** Update: Just a week after I published this post, a woman posted a similar screenshare on LinkedIn that garnered over 25,000 likes and a Huffington Post article. Those who say that women are being “overly sensitive” to point out such instances of harassment clearly don’t understand how sexism works.

Planned Parenthood: The Republican Final Frontier

After today’s announcement that House Republicans had passed a bill proposing to defund Planned Parenthood, a community resource millions of women depend on, I went a little ballistic. Here’s a censored version of what I posted to Facebook:

“Are you f—— kidding me?

Women’s health is so precious and complicated that it requires its own department, and yet women are still singularly responsible – emotionally, physically, and financially – for their birth control, prenatal health, pregnancy, and abortions.

House Republicans need to wake the f— up and realize that a poor single mother (because her deadbeat boyfriend ran out or because her miserly boss refuses to pay her at the same rate as a male counterpart) needs certain key services to provide quality care to her children, the same kids Republicans refused to let her abort or let a gay couple adopt because of “family values.” With the middle class shrinking and the upper class a total sausage fest, more and more women are experiencing frightening wage stagnation despite the uptick in their cost of living, making Planned Parenthood an increasingly necessary function.

I’m so sick of the misogyny that blocks the research of male birth control and strips low-cost healthcare options from women, so that women are forced to get painful birth control treatments or side-effects (because men don’t like wearing condoms) and if not, it’s the woman who pays by getting pregnant. I don’t want to bleed money (in the form of outrageous co-pays) for getting birth control – I want to GET paid for not contributing to increasing demands on the earth’s diminishing resources and allowing men to relinquish any responsibility for being half of the equation.

F— that. Republicans have never made me as infuriated as they have now. If you want to make a difference, don’t just watch the debates – PARTICIPATE IN THE NEXT ELECTION. America might be going to s— but that doesn’t mean we can’t course-correct.”

The post was received by an outpouring of support, with several friends chiming in with their own thoughts on what we, as a generation, could be doing to increase resistance to neoconservative ideology. I am grateful for my community, several of whom are employed in actively pushing society in the direction of progress. But I’m a Berkeley grad who lives in the Bay Area – my statement might be read as preaching to the choir (though “ranting” would admittedly be a more apt description).

The Republican proposal is extremely troubling, as it’s emblematic of the poisonous attack the GOP has waged on everyone who is not a rich, white male. However, more alarming than that is the fact that much of the country remains firmly on the GOP’s side, soaking in the battery acid that is FOX News and spewing out vitriol at anyone who questions pre-conceived “American” ideals. Deemphasizing education and community-building, Republicans have sequestered their followers in a cone of ignorance, fortifying mental resistance to rational and empathetic responses.

Fact: For many women, Planned Parenthood is a critical piece of the reproductive cycle, a cycle for which men deny responsibility, despite the very real biological fact that women don’t impregnate themselves. But for fundamental conservatives, who eschew birth control, women’s health, and common decency, it’s a harder sell to convince them of the efficacy of the program, which, as a prominent healthcare provider, shouldn’t need any extra proof of its functionality. That being said, while rhetoric and clever logic can satiate the liberal’s need for justice, the most effective persuasion is in case studies.

Though I once volunteered with Planned Parenthood, I don’t have any PP stories of my own. What I do have is a deep discontent with the way the medical community treats women’s health. For example, when I first got birth control (and for the two years that followed), I was under my parent’s – then employer’s – insurance. At $50, my co-pay was still higher than anyone else I had spoken with, but it was manageable. I’ll admit: I took healthcare for granted, because thankfully I was relatively healthy during that time.

This January, though, I switched to my own plan, and therefore was responsible for both the mounting co-pays and premiums. I have medical insurance through Kaiser Permanente, a “luxury” that is somewhat subsidized by the state government. Even so, my plan only allows me three hospital visits a year at “just” $60 a visit, after which I have to pay full price for any treatment I receive. To put that into perspective, that means that I could go to the hospital three times in the entire year and still be on the hook to pay $1668, or $556 per visit on average. And that’s the cheapest plan.

Recently, I began having severe and unrelenting pain in my stomach and abdomen. Having used up two of my three visits (both on gynecological issues, because having birth control comes with its own bag of surprises), I had to make a choice: do I make my final appointment with internal medicine or ob/gyn? I opted for the ob/gyn, but after a mixup in scheduling (partially my fault), I was rescheduled to meet with a nurse practitioner, not a doctor as I had originally intended. I love nurses, but with my problem lasting more than six months at this point, I wanted as experienced a physician as I could find. After all, isn’t that why I paid the same amount for the co-pay?

In explaining this to the receptionist, and certainly feeling her resentment for having to do extra administrative work, I was on the verge of tears. My health is incredibly important to me, but I had to delay treatment for this long and juggle priorities because healthcare is just too expensive to “indulge” in regularly. My financial situation might not always be as dire as it is now, but it’s very telling to know that the second I slip into questionable liquidity, I could lose both my health and my insurance in one fell swoop.

Of course, the tests came up inconclusive, meaning if I really want to know what’s happening, I have to schedule yet another appointment, which from now on will be full-price. My doctor was very empathetic and shared a few other low-cost resources, but she too shook her head at the futility of the healthcare system at actually addressing long-term health.

And that’s why Planned Parenthood matters. When nearly 100% of your doctor’s visits relate to your vagina, you shouldn’t have to make a choice about whether you can afford to go to the hospital. When you’re forced to be solely responsible for our civilization’s reproductive health, you need to have peace of mind that you can get quality care regardless of your insurance plan. It’s a compounded injury that a man makes more money, doesn’t have to birth a child, and also doesn’t have to spend all of his annual hospital visits on birth-related issues. Men aren’t even beholden to pitch in for his girlfriend/wife/mistress’ care; let’s not even get started on child care and alimony. But it’s one slight that men can help remedy, by not actively defunding organizations that provide equal treatment for women.

I demand that same freedom of options for women, and in case you haven’t been listening, freedom is Planned Parenthood. 

Bay Area Public Transit Needs Tech Solutions (a.k.a. Why Uber and Lyft Win)

I’m a die-hard public transit advocate. I travel cheap and as such pride myself on the various (sometimes creative) alternatives I’ve taken in order to avoid taxis. Living in the East Bay and traveling to San Francisco frequently, I rely on a combination of BART, MUNI, AC Transit, biking, and walking to get around. With the exception of a few police-related brutalities, I’d say public transit is worth the wait and hassle in the long run.

However, with Uber and Lyft providing (relatively) low-cost and on-demand services, the argument for public transit has weakened. While I used to gently berate my friends for jumping in a cab instead of taking a convenient bus line home, I now must hold my tongue, as splitting a car can sometimes be cheaper than the $2.25 MUNI fare. With the frequency of breakdowns and delays on BART (not to mention the unintuitive hours of operation), it’s not inconceivable to justify a $40 Uber to the airport. While cost might still be an incentive to take public transit for now, the business trend of racing to the bottom indicates that more affordable options might well be on the horizon.

(I’ll be focusing on San Francisco for the purposes of this article, but this problem is evident throughout the rest of the Bay Area as well. Despite growing up in the suburbs of San Jose, I rarely took any form of public transit until I moved to Berkeley, and only then because I had a free AC Transit pass subsidized by the university. CalTrain was prohibitively expensive, the closest BART station was 40 minutes away in Fremont, and the local bus lines were eschewed in favor of carpools and bike rides. While urban centers should certainly be the first to adopt widespread transit lines, suburbs should be taking note as well.)

The city understands this. Programs like SFEIR (San Francisco Entrepreneurship in Residence) provide an opportunity for startups to bid for government contracts, applying tech solutions to areas of bureaucratic inefficiency. Innovate SF has a whole section dedicated to efforts by the SF Mayor’s Office to draw in subject-matter experts to resolve persistent bugs in the system.

Third-party consultants are also getting involved in this public-private partnership. Bayes Impact commits data scientists to studying and consulting on major infrastructure problems, then translating those findings into actionable items for governments and NGOs. Design consultants IDEO created OpenIDEO to apply design-thinking principles to global humanitarian issues and crowd-source relevant solutions from around the world. With all of these powerful minds at work, shouldn’t we see some drastic improvements to the infrastructure problems that plague tech’s heartlands?

And yet, it’s impossible to book a court date to appeal a CalTrain fare evasion ticket. It takes a week of waiting to begin to contest a hand-written MUNI ticket, which needs to be submitted within the three-week window. Meters and scanners are routinely broken, trains are habitually late, buses break down in the same busy intersections time after time. The experience of riding public transit has become one of unpredictable adventure, which isn’t amenable to the older, younger, or more affluent – which is becoming a larger subset of the population, due to increased rent and decreased low-income housing in the Bay Area.

I constantly encourage friends and family to take public transit, but recently it hasn’t been as effective. When my family from India visited, they were uncertain about the safety, route, and timings of the bus lines, opting to take Uber around the traffic-plagued city instead. To put that decision into perspective: taking autos, trains, and buses in India is actually an adventure, one that I feel unsafe embarking upon without another member of my family onboard. If my relatives feel an equivalent level of concern with San Francisco’s buses, which belong to one of the most progressive and tech-friendly governments in the world, isn’t that alarming and indicative of a larger problem?

With fewer riders and higher costs, administrators are failing to make their product compelling or adaptive to today’s environment. I understand that governments, particularly those in California, are operating on limited budgets. But that strain also comes from crippling inefficiency, loss of potential profits from land tax, and a horrifying amount of waste in resources, time, and management. Subcontracting tech companies, or better yet encouraging tech founders to invest in programs like Marc Benioff’s 1:1:1 Model, is a good start in highlighting the need for innovation in these critical spaces.

But it’s not going to happen if the public and private sectors fail to work together. In a fight between the two, the private sector will unequivocally trounce its opposition, a result we’re already seeing with the declining quality of public goods and increasing privatization and individualization of everything else. As East Bay Express explains in this must-read article, “BART’s Big Gift to Wealthy Corporations:”

…Experts say the biggest beneficiaries of the BART system — large corporations and real estate owners around the stations, especially in downtown San Francisco — have paid virtually nothing toward BART’s costs during the past several decades. It doesn’t have to be this way, though. BART has the authority under California law to seek revenue from more progressive sources, such as taxing the increase in land values its system has helped create. If BART tapped into this major revenue stream, it could reduce fares for riders, build out the system, minimize its dependence on difficult-to-obtain federal grants, and avoid the labor-management conflicts over the budget that precipitated the strike.

According to Robert Cervero, a professor of urban and regional planning at UC Berkeley, BART has failed to tap into potentially enormous streams of funding since it was built in the early 1970s. One of the biggest funding sources for the system’s initial construction and expansion should have been special real estate taxes levied on property owners who then experienced enormous land value increases after BART stations were built. BART, a publicly funded transit system, created huge windfall profits for the owners of land and buildings near train stations, particularly in downtown San Francisco.

If San Francisco wants to truly combat the deleterious effects of skyrocketing COL and forced emigration, it needs to protect the services of the underprivileged by encouraging community buy-in. When you see people of all ages, colors, status, and wealth, riding public transit won’t be a symbol of poverty or a method of last-resort. Rather, it’ll be a signal that San Francisco cares about its residents enough to provide a low-cost alternative to getting around, to reduce the number of cars on the road (and relatedly, the incidences of lung cancer and bike/pedestrian fatalities), and to break down barriers to accessing the rest of the wonderful, dynamic Bay Area.

The Danger of Hyperpoliticism (a.k.a. “No, Macklemore is NOT to blame for all of your problems.”)

Reposted from Medium (1/27/14), posted to this blog on 6/24/15.

A POC Profile

I’m a woman of color. (Brown, to be specific.) I’m technically a minority, though that’s a term that’s laughed off in the Bay Area, dominated as it is by Indian immigrants. I’ve been lucky to be born into a loving two-parent household with a stable income and a beautiful house in an increasingly expensive region. My childhood was pleasant, and within normal boundaries, I was given broad freedoms. I developed a cavalier sense of adventure that perhaps stemmed from annual trips to India and my dad’s frequent foreign jaunts, and I took advantage of my parents’ support through college to pool my savings into a free-wheeling trip around the world.

I am a woman of color, but I do not fit the socioeconomic profile of those generally discussed when debating the harms of white capitalist patriarchy on minorities.

So, apparently, my opinion is invalidated. Because so much of my upbringing falls into the vision of what a white family would experience, my peers view me as whitewashed. To be fair, what is considered “white culture” to a great deal influences my identity. I don’t celebrate Thanksgiving or Christmas, or crack beers at barbecues while meat marinates on the grill, but I do listen to the Lumineers and wear multicolored skinny jeans and support my local libraries and drive a Prius. These, I’ve heard, are stereotypically white things.

“White Culture” Is…?

It’s time, though, that the dialogue about what defines these “white” things changes. Instead of the (frankly insulting and condescending) assertion that those who subscribe to stereotypically white behavior are being “brainwashed” into white culture, can’t it be that white culture — as it’s being generated — is being diluted by the introduction of minorities who are more and more appropriating stylings that suit their changing personal tastes? The Lumineers, and other indie music, appeals to me because I can empathize with the lyrics and the beautiful simplicity of the songs (“It’s better to feel pain, than nothing at all /’The opposite of love’s indifference.’” …Oh, partial credit to Elie Wiesel, another white “oppressor” [who, eh, just survived the Holocaust and won a Nobel Prize for being a badass human being, because, oh, not all white people are the same].)

But I blast Lauryn Hill when I’m feeling down, and Mos Def, Common, or the Roots when I’m feeling politically outraged, and whatever the hell I want whenever the hell I want because I have an iPod and Spotify and the entire internet to download. My music might reflect my mood, but sometimes there’s no thought involved beyond what sounds good at that minute. While that might be racially influenced — if I were more Indian, would I prefer more “ethnic” sounds to the acoustic guitar? — I don’t subscribe to the notion that one must be acting their race at all times. I’m not a very good Indian, but there’s a reason for that — I live in America, not in India, so obviously “nurture” is going to have a huge influence in how I construct my identity.

Maybe I’m Lucky Because…

On the flip side, white people love India. Or at least, they love the idea of India, but have little tolerance for Indians being Indian outside of India. As an Indian (a POdarkC), this perplexes me. For starters, Americans are still calling indigenous peoples Indians, which is wrong on so many levels, and shows a basic misunderstanding of the importance of nominal identity. If you’re fine lumping two completely distinct groups of people together under one moniker, even knowing that you’re perpetuating a mistake, you obviously don’t care about the unique characteristics that define those groups. You might say you do, but you reveal your ignorance when you have to clarify, “Indians from India..?” or worse, “Dot Indians?” No. We’re the only Indians. Clarification is unnecessary.

And yes, I think most white people dressed up in Indian clothes, mispronouncing Indian yoga poses, and scalding their tongues with “medium spicy” Indian food look like earnestly pretentious fools. But I’m not going to drop the hammer on those who genuinely do appreciate certain elements of Indian culture, of which there’s so much (arguably the most in the world..) cultural wealth. The clothes are incredible, as are the food, music, movies, customs, jewelry, scenery, etc, etc. And yoga is damn good for you, whether you can pronounce the asanas or not. (Just, please, keep your naah-maah-stays to yourself.) Some white people even know more Indian mythology than I do, partially because I’m an embarrassment to my race, but also because not all interest in my culture is an attempt to recolonize it. (Been there, done that, amirite Brits?) I do have cultural pride, surprisingly, and that goes for both my Indian and American sides. But that pride doesn’t mean I have to spew vitriol — as a knee-jerk reaction — on anyone who attempts to understand or learn more about India or Indian people.

But at the same time, I do get upset when people “do” my culture half-assed. In Pondicherry, the French-dominated territory in southeastern India, I saw a girl wearing a ultra-mini-skirt made out of sari material. On one hand, I’m glad that she could appreciate the beautiful embroidery and detail typical of Indian saris. On the other hand, the older people in the temple were on the verge of a collective heart attack. If you choose to adopt one part of a culture, make sure to understand what role that piece plays in the overarching hierarchy. The more central and important, the more you should keep to the original usage.

Diversity vs. Ethnic Cohesion

I live in a relatively diverse region, but even this notion of diversity would be immediately attacked by hyper-politicized POC. My definition of a diverse community is that region reflects the national ethnic breakdown, both in terms of percentage and variation. A commenter in a Bold Italic article about gentrification in Oakland said it best: “..’Diversity’ doesn’t mean ‘lots of non-white people’. Diversity means having a good mix of all people, and white people are people. Oakland was less diverse when it was majority black, now that there is no majority here, the city is MORE diverse.” Defining diversity in terms of true diversity — cultural, racial, socioeconomic, etc — is different than defending ethnic communities, which are by nature not as diverse.

I’m more interested in living in a diverse community than an ethnic one, which is (one of many reasons) why I much prefer living in America — and particularly California, and specifically the Bay Area. People might say that this is a privileged white opinion, but… I’m not white. I belong to an ethnicity with a strong community, and I could cling to it if I felt my identity hinged on it. But it doesn’t. I’m well-traveled enough to know that the Bay really is something special, and this is an opinion shared across all races.

POC-on-POC Shaming

Amongst POC communities, it’s a huge insult to be called white, as though being white is to have lost all connection to your roots. Attempts to defend yourself will be met by fervent POC extremists, who accuse you of Stockholm syndrome and a lack of class consciousness. These radical race advocates will tell you how you should be and who you should like, in order to reconstitute your identity into one that fits their vision of their POC community, one of a righteous POC bent on destroying white patriarchy. Anything else is giving in.

That mission isn’t inherently bad, and I support alternatives to racist, male-centric power structures. I understand that the best defense is a good offense, and that reverse-racism isn’t a real thing because it’s impossible to oppress the oppressors when we still live in their highly segregated world. I do understand that. But what I don’t appreciate is the pomposity of ultra-feminist, POC class warriors who blame me (and other culturally-relaxed POC like me) for perpetuating a system which nurtured me, provided me with innumerable benefits, and shaped my identity today. What these people don’t seem to realize is that we, the atypical women of color, have unique opinions and interests that color our experiences in a way that splinters from the overarching message. However, just because it’s not as radical or as militant doesn’t mean it’s misinformed, or unimportant, or somehow buying into the system.

If everyone’s personal experiences influence their political decisions, shouldn’t it stand to reason that my upbringing — not as “white” but simply “privileged” — validates my more neutral tone regarding my membership to the POC community? Am I somehow “less” because I don’t think of myself as a victim? I understand the strenuous efforts of the militant POC, whose passion I feel when persuading ultra-conservatives to care about social policy, but disrespecting those in the community you serve to elevate isn’t the way to do it.

Instead of preallocating things as “white” or “not white” and prescribing those who appreciate “white” things as having bought into neoimperialist thought, can we take a step back and see that the cultural landscape has changed enough that not everything has a predesigned target audience?

Whoa, Man.

As a woman, though, I’m a bit more sympathetic. I recently went to a conference in which the disturbing stares and inappropriate touching of one of the other attendees discouraged me from contributing as much or dedicating as much of my attention to the workshop as to minimize my presence in the room. It was exhausting trying to avoid him as he repeatedly cornered me and another woman I had befriended. I grew increasingly self-conscious and uncomfortable as it was clear from his disturbing photo-taking and lascivious, creepy body scans of us that it wasn’t an oversensitive reaction to unwanted attention. In piercing clarity, I understood the weight of patriarchy and male dominance in the workplace. In theory, I knew that women were discriminated against for a series of overt and discrete reasons — but in practice, it was obvious that the problem was much more subversive.

But still, I wouldn’t consider myself too well versed on feminist literature, and though my experiences as a woman color my opinions on gender relations, I’m not very proactive in stopping discrimination. Though I’m sure I’ve missed hundreds of opportunities on account of being a woman, and I’ve put up with far more shit than I should have from immature, insecure boys, I have chosen to make the most of what I’ve been given and work the benefits. Though this is exploitative of the same system that routinely victimizes women, I try to balance it out by being the best at my job — gender-neutral. I’m open to suggestions on this topic, because it actively involves me, but I’m not willing to become part of a national movement that “represents” me unless I truly feel like the opinions espoused by the campaign are things I can get behind.

Girl on Girl Action

But the same problem of inter-community shaming happens amongst females as well. There’s a whole dialogue about slut-shaming, and why women should feel empowered to express their sexuality in whichever way they feel appropriate. Giving the women power, and not stripping away instances in which women are represented the same as men, is incredibly important. But by forcing the patriarchy to relinquish some of their power in order to prop up females, feminists are just drawing from the well and creating a zero-sum game in which opposition is always key and men are always the oppressors against which women are constantly struggling.

This is how allies of all sorts get confused. And frankly, it’s a very confusing topic. On one hand, the presence of allies invalidates the attempts of minority (or in this situation, feminist) groups to rise up using their own strength and prove in a head-to-head competition that they are equal. Allies will be credited with the success of any minority progress, which again links the minority to the majority in a subservient role. But on the other hand, without allies, minority groups are spinning their wheels, abandoned within the system they’ve historically been incapable to defeat. The conversation of alternatives to the status quo wouldn’t even come up, be it not for the gatekeepers who ease mainstream culture into the subject.

So in regards to male feminists, women are divided — and they turn on each other regarding everything from these allies to slut-shaming to lesbianism to the role of the mother. Some hardline feminists argue that women haven’t gone far enough, and these people hold moral superiority over all moderate feminists who think that Blurred Lines’ Emily Ratajkowski should be allowed to do whatever she wants with her body (because isn’t that the end goal of feminism?) instead of being insulted for being a mindless pawn in a sexist music video. When women can’t respect each others’ decisions regarding their own conscious sexualization, what is the cohesive message we’re supposed to send men?

Some More Thoughts on Allies

Allies are in a tricky spot. As a LGBT ally, I find myself oftentimes questioning whether I should get involved with Pride parades and protests, whether I should share my thoughts on legalization beyond the logical, rational ticker-tape argument that there’s no constitutional basis for a ban on gay marriage. Personally, I believe that marriage is a ridiculous religious institution that no one should have to feel pressured into pursuing, but this is the world we live in and there are only so many battles one can wage per day. But after reading so many vicious responses by bitter gays and lesbians angry that Macklemore and other famous straight allies have appropriated their struggle, I’m nervous about speaking out.

I understand the issue. Macklemore’s success is too little, too late, and it satiates demand for political progress without actually changing much about the current dialogue. Queer rappers and musicians should be elevated in Macklemore’s place, so that they’re the mouthpieces of the movement. In a general sense, allies aren’t speaking the truth of the oppressed people; they’re speaking their own truth in relation to the issue at hand and positioning “others” as a charity case. This can feel condescending and privileged to those who are truly suffering. I totally understand the sentiment.

That being said, the discrimination these people face is the exact reason whythey’re not their own poster children. Homophobes are not unaware that gays and lesbians are treated as unequal — they just have no reason to change their behavior because their power hasn’t been affected and their lives haven’t been disrupted. They live in total isolation of these oppressed groups. The mutually exclusive attitudes of both the oppressor and the oppressed leave no opportunity for the latter to coexist with respect in a society with the former (which seems to be the end goal of the LGBT campaign).

Allies pop the bubble. They don’t have to do it — they could very well enjoy their position of power and look away from gross injustices in our social fabric. Many do. But allies do the humane thing; they give groups the support they honestly need to enter mainstream discussion. They serve as a bridge between the fringe groups and the audience they hope to influence, and they hold the door open for representatives of that culture to emerge. Yes, Macklemore is a straight white male who has received much (perhaps too much) attention and praise for his outspoken approval of LGBT rights. But the discussion about who and what Macklemore is allows for conversations about minority, queer rappers to take the main stage. Embittered LGBT advocates argue that these rappers have been around for days and listeners shouldn’t even waste their time with Macklemore. But they’re not giving credit where credit’s due: prior to his immense popularity, these rappers were spinning their wheels and preaching to the choir, and that got them exactly nowhere outside of their preexisting communities.

The Takeaway

What hyperpoliticized vigilantes fail to acknowledge in all of their rage is that social progress is a process. Fighting for your rights, in an arena in which certain social constructs are so deeply entrenched that micro-aggressions are part of our daily lexicon, is not easy. It’s not instantaneous. And it’s not coming overnight. I’m not saying that we should give up, or deprioritize political activism, but rather develop a more peaceful, constructive attitude towards a slow-moving (but moving) evolution towards social justice. Not all allies are oppressors, and no one — not the oppressed nor the allies—should be stereotyped according to their race, gender, or sexual orientation either.

Macklemore isn’t asking to be the face of the gay marriage movement, and he’s gone out of his way to discredit his contribution despite the fact that he has a better message (anti-consumer culture, pro-woman, pro-dance) and has earned his totally independent production success more so than most mainstream rappers out there. (Plus, to say that he doesn’t understand struggle is unfair; substance abuse is a struggle that cuts across all races and socioeconomic classes, and it’s not made more legitimate when someone from a rough background throws it into their ‘woe-is-me,’ racist, sexist garbage.) By the way, the criticism of mainstream rap is 100% true; the lavishing of conspicuous consumption and the denigration of women might have some “cultural roots,” and they might be themes explored in other styles of music, but it’s undeniable that rap plays them up big time.

It’s not easy to be discriminated against in every step you take, but it’s absolutely necessary for the acceleration of cultural acceptance to adopt a more compassionate, understanding, and demonstrative stance. One has to describe their situations without proactively pointing the finger; to be accessible so that people want to help/ support/ not stand in the way; to be respectable by showing respect to others. Radical feminists, race warriors, and militant LGBT advocates create a wall between themselves and everyone else when they begin to lock themselves into their hardened identities, all while pushing for a greater acceptance of all identities.

One of those identities is mine, a POC female. I understand that everyone has a different opinion on their own representation, so I’m careful to preface criticisms of race or gender with “I think…” or “in my experience,” because I know that my unique circumstances have shaped my views in a way that might be different to another POC female. But I honestly do feel boxed out, limited, or somehow condescended to more by other members of my so-called “communities” than by people outside of it. And while I can get upset when a man suggests that I might be more comfortable with menial tasks, or when a white person mocks me by saying that if I’m allowed to have two weddings (in the very likely case that I don’t marry an Indian) that they should be able to have seven (to represent every fraction of their ethnicity), I can’t say anything against fellow women or POC who scold me for my “surrender to the white patriarchy,” because it only bolsters their point.

It’s impossible to coalesce the various splinters of feminism, race consciousness, LGBT tolerance, etc. They splintered for a reason. But it ispossible to set a clear agenda, to define what each group wants and can see as a viable outcome, and to embrace others who are—with this clarification—supporting that cause. Macklemore isn’t spitting in the faces of black, queer rappers; he’s moving the conversation along (and in a wholly positive manner). I wish radical advocates would do the same.