This past weekend I attended AngelHack’s Lady Problems Hackathon in Berlin. It was fantastic. The event brings people with different skills together to tackle issues facing women.
Christina Lila, AngelHack’s Middle East Regional Manager, tells me that each country approaches different topics. In Pakistan many projects were centered around safety, in the West Bank it was mentoring and childcare and in England it was Imposter Syndrome.
In Berlin, there were a number of teams that created incredibly clever and intuitive ideas, like ChoreZen, a game that lets you swipe away your least favourite chores to your significant other (or flatmates if you are still single and ready to mingle). But there is a catch: If you swipe away a chore, you give your competitor the chance to earn double points if they buckle down and scrub the toilet. Whoever wins at the end of the week can cash their points in for prizes.
Another app, Routiny, lets parents document their baby’s schedule and share it with a network of caretakers. What time is the bottle? How many milliliters? When should the baby nap? All of these questions are answered by simply taking a look at the app. And then there was Mirru, a piece of hardware for smart phones that would let men and women take a look “down there,” to check for any number of issues in a way that saves one’s sense of dignity.
But then there were other ideas where I tilted my head and thought to myself, ‘Women came up with this?’
Take for example the well-intentioned app Strive. Strive is a “platform with inspirational content strictly for women.”
It works like this: Let’s say someone is nervous about speaking in front of a crowd. The subscriber would take a look at their Strive app for a video lesson, where they would learn to stand tall, speak slowly and gesture with their hands. The Strive app user would then film themselves trying out their new tips – choosing either to send it to friends or to upload it to the Strive community for feedback.
There are several issues I had with this concept, but the biggest and most obvious is why do women need their own platform for career advice? Do men not have trouble with public speaking, salary negotiations or leading a team? This is clearly not a women’s only problem.
The soft bigotry of low expectations
I find the gender distinction completely irrelevant, unnecessary and shows women falling into the sticky fingers of the phrase, “the soft bigotry of low expectations.”
The soft bigotry of low expectations was first coined by Michael Gerson, a Washington Post columnist and speechwriter for former US President George W. Bush.
It is an interesting phrase: “soft bigotry” meaning the ever-so-slight attitude, state of mind or behavior characteristic of a bigot, which is characterized by intolerance.
Or possibly worse, unwitting bigotry, by well-intentioned people conditioned by their own societal roles and conventional ways of thinking.
To some, the phrase is pure political rhetoric that implies that judging people – of different socioeconomic backgrounds, race and gender – by different standards, or simply having lower expectations for any group, is the result of bigotry. Whether that extends as far as to mean that any variation in expectations is evidence of bigotry?
And as some have put it: “The negative stereotyping of a person’s predicted performance based on their gender, race or other demographic.” Which begs the question as to whether being guilty of “soft bigotry” differs from racism, ageism or sexism?
The Strive app, and its creators (four women, one man), imply that women are so bad, so intimidated and so meek, that they need another way of accessing content already available via TedTalks, YouTube, Lynda or dozens of other services. This content does not exclude women, nor does it exclusively cater to men. The notion is baffling to me!
The same can be said for the mentorship app Athena, another brainchild from the conference. Athena, similar to Strive, is exclusively focused on women for no reason. The principle idea, a mentorship service that lists an individual’s expertise is great, but there is no reason for it to exclude men. Men need mentors, too. Or am I missing something?
Unfortunate side-effects and inadvertent insinuations
It is clear to me that the ostracization of men, intentionally but without malice, is an unfortunate side-effect of solutions that encourage female exclusivity. As are the inadvertent insinuations about women that also result. Yet I found myself turning up my nose and thinking to myself, ‘If you want to solve lady problems, start by choosing problems that really impact women.’
If anything, the event showed me how differently women choose to empower other women and the stark differences in what tools are needed to facilitate feminism. And even more fundamentally, how lady problems (and their solutions) are defined.
So kudos to the other ideas, like Curatrix, which shows women (and men) the safest routes to take at night by analysing streetlight and foot traffic. Thanks for realizing women don’t need or want to be pandered to.
And for the rest? Keep on keepin’ on, but remember to set the bar a wee bit higher. You can’t solve lady problems, if you expect so little from us to begin with.