Another White Man Saving Brown Women from Brown Men?
(Disclaimer: I adore Tom Hulme and I would love to intern at his company. But after this article I’d imagine it would have slipped away naturally)
In complete contrast to his dishevelled hair – this gentleman’s list of achievements is as breath-takingly linear and long as they are well documented, in another word, world-class. Carrying the charisma that sets himself apart from other entrepreneurs who utilizes pretension for a conspicuous cause to establish status, Hulme – in check shirts and trainers talking to a podium-ful of work hungry students playfully.
Founder of OpenIDEO, a project that enables “anybody” to contribute ideas usually for a specific seasonal task is currently burgeoning a campaign aiming at Indian women’s safety in low socio-economic areas, extending the social debate that gained worldwide attention due to the number of cases of rape, gang-rape in India last year, coinciding with the biggest election that the world has seen in India where 800+ million voters participated last Saturday certainly has got all eyes on him.
His hour-long talk at London College of Communication ended with a Q&A session where I had the privilege to ask the final question:
Me: “Post colonial cultural theorist, Gayaki Spivak is known for her criticism of “Western” doctrine’s interest in the debates on post colonial states, like India. She once famously criticized the ‘West’ for ‘White men saving brown women from Brown men’, do you think that your challenge on helping indian women could be a bit indulgent.”
Probably not as indulgent as my question.
It was the journalist in me that made me want to stir up the otherwise homogenous agreeable applause applause talk. Branded as an open innovation platform, OpenIDEO serves as a levelling tool to democratize ideas. Slide after slide of empirical data and research findings narrated in his non-threatening and yet authoritative tone, Hulme had smitten the room with the look of an Australian surfer and the backlog of jaw dropping credentials, as well as saint-like proclaims of the non-profit driven nature of his work. The question on my mind was, has he really discovered the ultimate levelling platform for ideas or is he just an amazing motivational speaker?
India, with its roots lying in a culture built around hierarchies of gender, religion, caste and colour produces the most number of millionaires in a country in the world but is known for the human pyramids built on travelling trains and “slum dogs”. Dealing with the issue of women’s safety in India is comparable to dealing with cocaine use in Hollywood, Indian men’s disrespect towards women is justified by the disregard of women’s identity as a whole. From the time a brother is sent to college whereas the sisters are left running errands to accompany the mom, to the criticism of a western tourist showing cleavage inviting a gangbang, to me woken up by a penis on my face that belongs to a married Indian friend of my housemate’s that was staying over who was told that I was gay, all these evidence suggest that sexual crimes can all be justified because the victims have all “asked” for it. (Possibly not all) Indian men live by the rules that the patriarch structure can be taken for granted and sexual offenses are the reward of sexually deprived women and gay men. Where can I send my “thank you for your penis” card?
From the country that brought you Kama Sutra, which features not only the 100s of sexercize positions (some even include horses, probably as props) but also the depictions of gay and lesbian sex to a society that bans prostitution as well as homosexuality, the change is held accountable by one country – UK. It was during the Victorian colonial period did the British labelled the Orientals “the oriental vice” during its “Fanatical Purity Campaign” – meaning the “West” didn’t like it that the Indians expressed their sexuality freely whose gods include hermaphrodites and androgynous beings.
Centuries later, the repressed physiological needs of men (sex) are compensated by the compromised safety needs of women, due to the very fact that it was the colonial Victorians who initiated the increasing imbalance. We are brainstorming ideas globally to help with women’s safety? Something’s got to give. And solving the problem one-sidedly will only create future imbalance. If men were to blame, help THEM first. After all Marslow views sex as a more basic form of needs than safety. Shouldn’t we be thinking about how to feed the wolves?
An Indian girlfriend once said to me, “look at the UAE, if someone steals, they chop his hands off. That’s why their crime rate is so low, why can’t we do something like that?” Obviously we can’t, coz we are the “West” and they one thing we take pride in is the discourse of human rights. In cultural theorist Spivak’s essay “Can Subalterns Speak?”, long story short, subalterns can’t speak. Coz when they do speak, how are we going to listen with an ear that only takes in what fits in the western discourses such as feminism and human rights?
Solving a third world problem within the Western doctrine is very likely to lead nowhere. But if Hulme’s challenge is aimed at raising awareness and showing concern or goodwill, he certainly has accomplished that. After all, as of today, 585 profiles have contributed to their research, a research according to my question to him, could be of western problem-solvers’ indulgence.
My question for him certain got him interested. Having distinguished the contributors to OpenIDEO from the Westminster suit and tie white middle aged men, he gave a convincing answer that OpenIDEO users are of wide demographics which include victims themselves. However, my scepticism remains as my enthusiasm continues to find out how big of an impact could this challange manifest.
N: is there any personal reason that made you consciously choose a path that’s not necessarily guaranteed to generate great revenue?
H: “My dad was an entrepreneur so I’ve always admired entrepreneurs. And I spent a year in Africa before I went to university the first time when I was 18 and that had a huge impact on me. I promised myself that I’d create businesses and do start ups that will have positive social impact so I combined the two things. That why I never went to work for a big company I never consider it.”