I don’t need more confidence

Another round of research from the “lean in” crowd.

This concludes that women “don’t know” that minimum qualifications aren’t minimum, and that breaking the rules (as in, applying for jobs where minimum requirements are not met) is what we need.

Except I’ve always done that and known that.
Some people, not all, but more than you’d imagine, don’t realise that they react differently to different sorts of people for the same behaviour. I can’t say it’s a “man”/”woman” thing because that’s not been my experience. A lot of times, it’s women enforcing the ideas.

When I apply to Campus Madrid to host talk I’m more than qualified to give, which I know has a lot of interest, in a venue advertised for as being open to anyone in the startup community, I was almost asked to provide enough papers for a job application. And I was turned down and told that only people involved with groups already presenting on campus were allowed to speak.

That info does not appear anywhere on their site, so I assumed it was a polite way of saying no to me.

When I tweeted about looking for a venue, I got a few high profile retweets and replies. Then Campus reached out this time asking for me to apply again.

I explained to them I wasn’t already a member of a group speaking at campus. This didn’t seem like it was a block. They replied, “please, apply and we’ll work it out”.

Rules are entirely discretionary.

In another instance, I saw an email for a remote working product designer on a product that seemed ideal for me. The application process was really user unfreindly and the video attachment function wouldn’t allow me to upload a 1 minute video recorded on an 18 month old android. So I emailed in the video.

Breaking the rules. Showing initiative and creative problem-solving. Pointing out a usability problem in a low key way.

Of course, I got lectured by email that they wanted someone “smart enough” to work out how to edit their video before uploading.

Maybe they really wanted someone with a bar of problem-solving so low that editing a video instead of fixing an application form is the best they can do.

but..maybe not, eh?

Some people are just held to different standards, depending on who the gatekeeper is and what their biases are.

I don’t know why it is I run against this more frequently from women than men, but I suspect that experiencing bias against you in one dimension of your life may provide a moral licensing effect. They might think “I’m from marginalised group X so I can’t be part of the problem and I would know problematic behaviour if I saw it.”What bothers me is wondering to what extent I manifest this behaviour as well.

It also might be that guys are just happy to break up the sausage fest that they are less picky about who applies, while women benefit from being the only or one of a few girls on the team, so don’t want to give out those spots too easily.

Either way, the solution isn’t having guts and speaking up and leaning in. I’ve been doing all those things since I was a teen.

We live in this weird world where people tell us what we need to be to become palatable (I’m sure this applies to men in different ways, drop a comment if you have examples). Then that those things make us unfit to progress.

I want to message you and say that your profile photo with you beau is the most heartwarming thing I’ve seen today. It makes my heart swell. I hover over your profile on WhatsApp.

But I don’t message you. I know you know I see your updated icon and I hope you know my joy for you.

But I also I know a big part of your happiness is from actively changing how you see the world, and I know I’m contagiously cynical.

It’s like how they tell junkies to distance themselves from their old junkie pals.

And you’re ‘clean’ now.

All I can do for you is drag you backwards.

So it feels more supportive of me to keep away.

I hope you know I’m always here.

“Everything happens for a reason” and Spiritual Bypassing

Spiritual bypassing is

“using spiritual ideas and practices to sidestep or avoid facing unresolved emotional issues, psychological wounds, and unfinished developmental tasks . . . trying to rise above the raw and messy side of our humanness before we have fully faced and made peace with it.”

Excellent article by Chris Wallis explaining how “Everything happens for a reason” is ..not so lit.
I had a girlfriend who had this perfectly – I don’t want to say ‘rehearsed,’ because that would imply intentionality –  story of how her life fell apart.

It was honestly a devastating story, which I think she confided within maybe half an hour or our reunion.

Over the months I’d hear that same story many times, each time with new information added in, context and re-interpretations and explanations of various people’s possible motives and even her own motives re-examined. And with each re-telling it became more and more obvious that her story of “awful fate” as she saw it, was largely because of impulsive outburts and choices on her part and their ramifications. And yes, there was untreated mental illness and childhood trauma that needed treatment behind those choices, which she was working on. Sometimes, she would quietly voice that she could see the part she played in series A or B of her “downfall”, but it was always summed up as “fate” or “luck”.

I think that’s why I find these kinds of quotes on facebook so annoying. It’s ok when it’s said or posted by someone who’s been passed over for a job interview but has a bunch more on the way and isn’t really thinking about things too deeply, but some people really buy into this kind of “the universe has a plan, and that plan is to hold me down no matter what I do” narrative and keeps them stuck or angry, and that causes all kinds of other behaviors and choices that eventually push people away. Or worse.

That’s my little story on why I hate quasi-spiritual platitudes and Dr-Seuss-as-a-Zen master, style quotes.

But I do encourage you to read the article.

Other Women: the problem with Mona Eltehawi’s “Handmaid Tale” comment

First wave feminists told married women that sex was rape and that bras and girdles were oppression. The problem was the vast majority of married women did not feel they were being raped. Many had no strong feelings about bras beyond the trouble of finding a comfortable one that fit for various dress cuts. And so feminists was beleaguered by a lack of credibility from the start, even as it sought to capture the attention of women to get them to consider the more subtle, harder-to-describe ways they were being indeed pushed down, not by husbands in the bedroom but by systems designed by men like their husbands in the wider world and societal norms designed to capture and appease men like their husbands.

This is the problem with needing to get attention to get an issue talked about and the deeper problems considered. It’s the problem the facing Mona Eltahawi’s claim that women in Saudi Arabia are already living the Handmaids Tale. Telling Gulf women that the abayya is oppression often lands with the same confused expression – I know, I’ve done the former – as telling an average woman that her bra and heels are oppression. Trebly hard as a judgment on Gulf national women, since they wear all three. They can tell, just like married women in the 60s, that there is something on one hand disingenuous in the statement, something that treats them – ironically, since the speaker claims to fight for their autonomy – like dumb animals, not able to know their feelings or voice them, simply being herded by society.
They can only be speaking under the duress of some sort, the speaker will claim, and cannot be trusted to even see the reality in which the subjects live. Unless they agree with your assesment of them. These women know on one hand that their lives are being misrepresented to fulfill the speaker’s agenda, as much as the western women in Gadaffi’s audience knew that this was not the “liberator of women” he claimed to be when he claimed that the demands of working were a form of oppression that women in his country were well free off.

On the other hand, the women will know that something even deeper, wider, more subtle and much scarier is wrong and that the speaker of these overblown statements is trying, for whatever purpose to shine a light on it. Even as the speaker uses every tool in the otherisation toolbox to do it. Even as the speaker is blind of her own oppressions by the standards of feminists yet to come, or even by some standards of those in years behind (makeup, bra, heels, maybe even getting married)

For this reason, I don’t support Mona’s statement, but I can’t denounce it either, it simply follows a precedent set long ago in the form of discourse within activism.

The difference for me is the question of harm. Because when white women speak about white women, it is understood that each person is speaking as an individual whether they agree or disagree, have experiences that match or clash. When brown women speak about brown women, we are treated as representatives of “our people” and used to further the agendas of different political fractions whatever our views. Our clashing experiences are used as proof of brainwashing or mass jihadist thinking on one hand, or that feminists are crazy liars on the other hand. Our agreeing experiences are used, frustratingly, only to further bash us: showing us as complacent for lack of resistance – by the way, how well is that working out in Syria? Algeria? Libya? Egypt? – or being dangerous radicals for resisting, to place more personal interviews before granting a visa, more searches before boarding, more detainment in airports after landing for further questions, more barriers against immigration, work visas, sharper looks in the subway stations, being ranted at in trader joes, and landlords who can say no to us because they don’t want a “curry smell” in their rental flats around dinner time.

And we have to be honest. No one in power will cut ties with Saudi because of that article or any like it. No the UK, not the US. So far, the cause of women in Saudi is only championed by Sweden. Meanwhile, the people doing things like the landlord-curry clause are using articles like this as a moral cover for uglier motives.

I appreciate Mona’s spunkiness. her doggedness. Her refusal to back down, ever. Her speaking for those afraid to publish their name. I will always support her right to be noisy, opinioned, often dogmatic, sometimes wrong.  Her existence is proof against some of her most extreme claims. She didn’t rise up from seafoam on a shell to save us. She didn’t escape from the matrix. She was born in Egypt, not even in Cairo. Nothing, but nothing about her is special if you know more than a handful of Arabic women or any educated Egyptian women. She must continue as she has done. And because Saudi must never be normalised.

But- Saudi Arabia is best understood as the fullest manifestation of rape culture arguments I hear in ‘western’ countries all the time. Many Saudis feel arguments for advancement of women are just arguing for their daughters to be “put in the position” to be raped and it’s hard to argue that point when people in our own cultures –even judges– belive that where a woman is, what she is wearing, and how much she drank made her a target.

Saudis have acted like the AI robots in Dr Who’s “Smile” episode, implementing solutions to the wrong problems. They’ve solved what she wore by creating a standard outfit, who she was with by ensuring a ‘guardian’ at her side at all times, banned alcohol, and decided dating was way too much of a grey zone so ban that too. It’s hard to argue to change the symptoms in Saudi when the illness is still so prevalent in so many cultures. In world leaders, even.

Finally, to everyone involved in activism or social justice of any kind: consider where your words can further be used to harm, otherise and place more barriers on the people you are trying to help.

When men in tech talk about helping women enter tec, or food bloggers talk about how time-pressed women don’t feel like cooking at the end of the day, there’s almost a feeling that they’re describing helpless orcas stranded on the beach that need manipulating for their own safety, and not people who can participate and maybe shift the viewpoint of the speaker to help in more meaningful ways beyond their pet passion.

When women speak about the rights of “other women” in “other countries”, whether they are holding up placards claiming not to need feminism or placards that emphasise that they do, whether they stood with her or wanted to make America great again, from where I sit, the language used to talk about us is all but indistingushable.

And when a boat of people is allowed to sink while the lifeguard ignores their multiple calls, it’s because of ideas, transmitted via malicious or thoughtless word choices, that Muslim refugees are too fundamentally, culturally incompatible with Europeans to be allowed in.


The Thinness of Our Emotional SPF

We live in an age of cognitive dissonance. Where things are what we say they are, yet also their polar opposite, and in which we are all the things we call others.

Liberals are simultaneously soft hearted, emotion lead hippies without jobs, yet also mean, non-accepting and media controlling elitists.

Progressives who detested the tea party are eager to act like them. People who supported the Take Back The Night and #stillnotaskingforit attacking a woman for posing nude with no sense or irony. People who are against marital abuse or blaming a victim making jokes about Meliana being held against her will, without ever thinking “but what if we’re making fun of an abused person? An immigrant, married to the most powerful man in the USA, to boot?”.
It should go without saying that attacking a child is beneath any decent human being.
But here I am, saying it.

We live in a time where conservatives boast of being pragmatic and tired of identity politics, yet have voted based on a collective white identity above all other issues in the USA and call liberals “obsessed with fact-checking”.

We live in a time where “triggered” is an insult from the alt-right, and “sheeple” is from alt left, but the same supporters are too mentally fragile to read news sources that contradict their pre-existing opinions, preferring their tiny (fiction filled) pool of naturalnews, breitbart, infowars and self-styled experts who think Birmingham is under Sharia Law and mushroom spores can penetrate the sun.

The alt-right think someone else complaining about a lived-experienced social problem makes them “a special snowflake”, but complaining about the complainer is “edgy”.

The alt-left think criticising the medical establishment is revolutionary and truth speaking, but talking about how a lack of timely vaccines and antibiotics being administered robs people of lives or physical ability (in my case, the latter), is oppression and we should stop to spare their feelings.

Their collective feelings matter more (to them) than -for example- black lives, or my ability to breath and walk at the same time.

What’s ‘snowflakeir’ than asking people not to talk about their lives because your feels can’t handle it? Or expanding your feelings of discomfort into a national “divide”?

It’s all about feelings. We vote for who makes us feel good and respected and smart. We read what does not ask us to change our mental frame of the world. We isolate ourselves from offence in our timelines but claim tiredness of people being offended “for the sake of offence”.

So my question is this: when did people become so thin skinned?

I’m genuinely interested to hear if this thin skinniness is new or if was always there and untested. If what we’re seeing now is like a collective psychological sunburn from too much exposure to news and ideas.

  • Was it when news stopped being hourly and started streaming in our phones in real time?
  • When unpopular opinions weren’t just slipped out in the office occasionally at lunch or by family members at Christmas, thanksgiving, purim, or eid, but posted every morning by all 300+ of our contacts? Did our Emotional-SPF just get overwhelmed?
  • Was it after ratings and click metrics became the gold standard around which content was designed? And click bait titles and non fact-checked stories took centre stage in respected newspapers and news channels?

Or was it developed from the ease of which it is today to connect to the opinion holders who agree with us and isolate ourselves from those who don’t? Before, we just had to sit with our discomfort and develop that thick skin.

For myself, I’m reading The Times and Telegraph more lately. And I find the tone of both less grating than my habitual read, the Guardian. At least when the tone does bother me, I can remind myself they don’t represent or pander to me, so it’s forgivable.

We have to agree on a few things if there is ever to be a discussion and one of them has to be that facts matter and legitimate, high-quality publications are not lies. And that they have more weight that niche interest publications. You don’t see me telling you to get your facts from “Green Haired Parrot Lover Daily” now, do you?

After that, we can agree that everyone’s lives do matter, but that in triage living and dying are a higher priority than living the dream. That people who go unpunished are a bigger threat to the public than the ones caught and put behind bars.

That yes, your feelings matter, whether it’s feelings of discrimination or discomfort or even alienation in your community, but asking someone to suffer discrimination in silence to spare your feelings is oppressive even if that’s not what you meant. I’m Arab. I walk around feeling responsible for everything from slavery, to 911, to the horn of Africa crisis, so I feel ya, brah. But I’m still able to read about those subjects and empathise with the victims, and not like, blame them.

That social healthcare is a real thing in many countries and guess what? They still support chemotherapy because there’s nothing else that works more effectively for the money. If there was, I promise the UK would be on it. This is a country with a government that sanctioned a man with a heart condition from benefits payments for failing to complete a fitness to work test. His reason of failing? Having a heart attack because- guess what? The heat condition clearly described by his doctor on his forms was exactly as described- disabling. This is a government that tells people in mandatory weekly seminars that their attitude is what’s preventing them from getting hired in reception or serving sandwiches despite having 30 years experience in car sales (attitude, not age and gender). This is a government that has proposed an obesity tax for the extra burden the obese will place on the NHS. If they could blame a person for getting cancer or tell them to juice, or think it away, they would.

Phew. Sorry for going off on one. This is extremely hard for me as a cell & molecular biology graduate, former NHS worker, and someone who gets tested for cancer on the regular, to ignore. Back to my point….

That speaking up and calling out stuff is important, but if you don’t agree with a muslim ban, then please don’t similarly generalise with signs about “white people” or “men”. Or even “conservatives”.

I promise to try, ok?

Rituals for the Dead

We try and hold the images of our departed in our minds, paranoid about losing the smallest details. We look at photos, tip the top part of the whisky bottle in their honour, maybe light a candle near their photograph. We remember how they smelt, how they laughed. That nasty fight we had where terrible things were said. Perhaps we name something after them or get their names tattooed on us. We run marathons or start charities in their name. We whisper goodnight to them before bed, and hate ourselves for forgetting their birthdays.

All the things we do and think while grieving are about not wanting to let go of what was and is no more.

As much energy as we put into building and sustaining it, the memory castle in our minds can never be solid enough for the living.

I’m not telling anyone how to grieve.
Everyone has to chose how much they want to try to hold on to the air.

I’ll miss you every day Hoshi. 

We’re human, wi…

We’re human, with every drop of beauty and ugliness that label carries with it. The angel and the demon, all rolled up together.

We cry and we crack, inside and outward. We stumble and fall and fail and flail. We simmer and seethe, and also we soothe. We give and forgive. We hold to each other and hold ourselves tight. We do what we can, as best as we can, as long as we can.

And when we falter, we patch the cracks as best we can, make our apologies, and try again. That’s what keeps our failings from making us failures. We try again, one day at a time.

TW: child illness. child death.

Erik Meyer is one of the gods of web design, and author of one of the few hardcopy books I still own.

Social Collateral Damage

At one point in Oxford I was known as the person who knew everybody. Oxford is a small city, and if you live there a while you will get to know pretty much everyone within your income and education level, even if those are two separate things. I had lived there a for well over ten years while many of my friends – the same people who were amazed I knew “everyone” – were expats or post doctorates who hadn’t yet worked out how tiny the non-migratory population in Oxford was.

Everyone I met, I introduced to everyone I knew. I would spend time after meeting new people running through my mental rollerdex thinking of who they might get along with at the next party- and if they were single, who they might especially like to meet. I didn’t care if they became my friend or not as long as they made friends: I’m an acquired taste, while loneliness is universal.

It never occurred to me this behaviour was unusual until I got here and realised no one was doing the same for me. The Mr’s friends would make sympathetic noises about me being alone while he traveled a lot for the first two months (he still travels as often as he is home. Some months, more often that he is home.), but for the most part, I’m not on their mental radar. Maybe it’s the language barrier. Maybe it’s cultural. I feel like people here just aren’t as nice as they are in the UK. Warmer at first meeting, sure…but nice is what happens when you’re not in front of someone. The Mr would say that people in the UK are only acting nice while not feeling inwardly in accord with that behaviour (my Caribbean ex-housemate would just call it ‘hypocritical behaviour’. Her favourite example was our housemate having a long, polite conversation on the landing with another housemate we all knew he loathed the sight of). Still, sincere or not, it serves a purpose and makes people feel like they are getting along and part of society.

By contrast, it almost feels like feudal times here: the Facebook pages for expats in spain and the english speakers in spain are filled with spammy ads, not community messages; many groups on meet up.com are adverts for paid for classes, the spanish equivalent of craigslist don’t have ads for rehoming poorly cared for pets, just ads for selling them for almost market price.

Maybe people have a very different relationship the internet here. My posts might be the equivalent of a spammy add in their eyes, asking people what they are up to this weekend. I think it’s vulgar that they post ads on a community page: maybe they think it’s vulgar I use the internet to make friends.

I don’t know if I’m cut out to live here. I miss living with people who believe in doing as you would be done by, in passing it on, in dharma.

My mom migrated for my dad. My grandma migrated my grandpa. My great grandma migrated with her husband. I have a picture of my family in my kitchen. I can’t look at it today.