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‘Don’t Date The Nerd.’ What Mark Zuckerberg Advises Instead Is Way More Important

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Over the last few years, Mark Zuckerberg has become a household name. For some, he was just one of many IT guys. For many he’s probably just Jesse Eisenberg with a new haircut. For everybody in the know, he’s the creator of the biggest social media platform ever. Facebook isn’t just one section of the internet. To one in seven people on the planet, it is the internet. Early science fiction must be crying its eyes out in admiration, or terror. Or both.

Achievements aside, Zuckerberg is a complicated figure for our generation. Facebook has been a crucial tool for innumerable social justice efforts and networking between them. It’s also one of the companies, along with Netflix and Tesla Motors, to offer gender-reassignment surgery as an employee benefit. At the same time, the man and his ‘Free Basics’ service have come under fire because it could potentially violate the principle of net-neutrality, or an ‘open Internet’. There’s a whole lot of things a whole lot of people wish the Facebook CEO hadn’t gone and done, but there are times when the guy hits the mark (pun intended).

On Sunday, Zuckerberg had the best response to this woman’s comment:

zucky

In the face of what must look like an innocuous wish, Zuckerberg points out to her that women are not meant to simply hang off the arms of rich and successful men. His response seems basic enough – I mean, we should all know this right? – but too many of us don’t, and it really does mean something when a public figure of his stature feels the need to counter obsolete attitudes about women.

There has been a long tradition in American pop culture to place the ‘nerd’ at the bottom of the food chain. Remember Brian Johnson from The Breakfast Club? That tradition was slowly changing by the time Lizzie McGuire’s Gordo, or NBC’s Chuck rolled around, and then BBC’s Sherlock came and made “brainy the new sexy“. Nerds are getting a whole lot of love, these days. But what hasn’t changed so far is that nerd culture and ‘nerds’ themselves are predominantly male.

This links up beautifully and disappointingly with the widely held belief that STEM fields (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) are male fields. Why? Because of that other belief that nature (and not us) is sexist, and made women incapable of ‘nerdery’. The history of science – that part which is most easily accessible to people, plus the part which makes it to our textbooks – has done a great job masking the contributions of women in STEM, since physician Merit-Ptah began practicing 5,000 years ago in Egypt!

Even though women have been a huge part of science, there isn’t much to show for it. The ‘gendering’ of even professions has built an attitude against women in science. This is supported by casual remarks and so-called jokes by the many Tim Hunts of the world. So even if material conditions appear to be conducive for women’s larger entry into STEM, social codes of conduct control not only what women wear and eat, but what they study as well. The Huffington Post reported that “less than 20 percent of the bachelor’s degrees in computer science go to women.”

But does getting an early start make it any easier? Nope. The American Association of University Women published a comprehensive study of the gender gap in these fields, showing that while girls consistently outdid their male peers in these fields in school, there was a sudden dip in the number of women in STEM higher education or jobs. Part of the reason for this is, as USA News has shown, the way sexism affects “hiring decisions for lab positions, selection for mathematical tasks, evaluation of research abstracts for conferences, research citations, invitations to speak at symposia, postdoctoral employment and tenure decisions.”

With all of this weighing against women, Loretto’s remark is not just a cute thing grandmas say to embarrass their grandkids. It’s part of a larger and unquestioned system that doesn’t think women are good enough.

We’re all free to question Zuckerberg’s politics where it errs – but credit where it’s due. We need more of his “be the nerd” advice, and less of Tim Hunt’s sexism. So ladies, don’t date the nerd. Be the nerd!

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Image Source: Tech.eu Photostream/Flickr
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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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