To The Future Dudes of GCIL
Four weeks ago, I was hit by a wave of inspiration to write a Facebook post with the purpose of recruiting more students to GCIL. I typed it up, and it read like this ,“GCIL has been an incredibly exhausting and incredibly rewarding experience. I have never learned so much in such a short period of time in my entire life. I have never felt this empowered before in my life. I have never felt this qualified and valuable in my life. I’m confident that I can lead a team using design thinking in any situation in the future, whether that be in corporate America, rural India, or anywhere else.” I excitedly sent this to my parents who were happy to hear about my development.
A week ago, however, I had a devastating realization and it left me disappointed in myself and my actions. During the blogs last Monday, Lorena told us about her frustration and sadness with her inability to be herself in GCIL’s brown free program. Lorena’s candor and vulnerability allowed people to address some of their deepest wounds about acceptance and prejudice. Thank you, Lolo.
I asked the women of GCIL to share about their experience of being a woman in India, because I had become increasingly frustrated what I had noticed. For instance, when people answer a woman’s question directed at a man. Or when male teachers put women down in an effort to make themselves seem more powerful. When women wear traditional clothes, and men wear whatever they like. When women get paid 300 rupees for a full day of agricultural labor, and men get paid 500 rupees. When women extend their arm to shake hands, and men take a step back. When men assault women without repercussions. When professional conversations always seems to flow away from the women and towards the men. And when men belittle women when they speak up. The women of GCIL offered helpful perspectives on the issue and explained how many of the same issues persist in the US.
It was in this moment, when the women were discussing their struggles, that I realized I had not achieved what I thought I had; that I was not proud of what I said I achieved in the Facebook post. I could not help but think that the reason I felt “empowered,” “qualified,” and “valuable,” realistically, had to do with the strong preference for men. In a system that so grotesquely favors men, I did not stand out as a leader as much as I stood out as a man. I felt bad because, although leadership is not a negative thing, I was reinforcing the biased social norms. It still stings when I think back to the bullying I participated in during high school as a bystander, and reflecting on my actions, or lack thereof, during GCIL stings in a similar way. I hate myself for doing nothing in high school and I want to make sure I am never a bystander again.
So to the future dudes of GCIL, I encourage you. Don’t be a leader, do something even harder, stand up to prejudice and bullying. This is your biggest opportunity to grow, and sadly, I missed it.