The Day I Found God And The Female Future Of Our Species
My Indian grandmother was born in Punjab. She was promised to be married at 11, married at 13, had her first miscarriage at 14, her second miscarriage at 15, her first child who passed away at 16, another child who passed away at 17, and then seven children who survived, the middle of whom is my mother.
She was educated only through the sixth grade before she had to leave schooling to be a child bride and to raise a family. She wasn’t Lean In, she wasn’t Lean Out, she was Never Had a Chance to Be Anything But What Men Decided She Should Be.
When asked what age she would have gotten married if it were up to her, she said 25.
In 1913, one hundred years ago, women in the United States couldn’t vote. In 1971, only 9% of bachelor’s degrees were going to women. In 2013, as of the the 113th Congress, the Senate still only has 20 women. This 20% of the current Senate is almost 50% of the total number of women who have ever served in the Senate since 1789: these 44 brave women.
Fast forward and the majority of graduating seniors from college are women. Those female grads go out and earn only 82% of what their male counterparts do, and their trajectories further diverge over time, which indicates we still have miles.
Pan Paniscus And Homo Sapiens
For years primatologists and the people who follow them have imputed much about our species from our closest living relative, the chimpanzee. We have talked less, as a society, about the chimpanezee’s cousin the bonobo — who we are equally closely related to. The bonobo stands alone amongst the five great apes (humans, chimps, bonobos, gorillas, orangutans) as having developed a matriarchal society.
While famous for their use of sex as a means of conflict resolution, what I find more interesting about the animal is how their males behave better as a result of female empowerment. While bonobos are not at all entirely peaceful, they show a stronger sense of empathy than their chimp cousins, and as a result they have a much better record of non-violence than any of the other great apes.
Why is this? As a man raised in a strongly matriarchal family — the five family elders were all women, and my mother and sister are forces of nature not to be messed with — I have a straightforward take on this: women make men better. As a society, my belief is we are gradually empowering our women, and becoming much better for it.
The education and empowerment of women could be considered the top priority for the advancement of our species. The happiest and most prosperous societies in the world are ones where women are the most empowered. Some of the most regressive places in the world are where we are, as my dad puts it, are wasting half the talent of our population.” Think of Saudi Arabia.
In 2010 my sister got pregnant. My grandmother told us that if my sister’s baby was a girl, she would bring with her great wealth. I dismissed this thinking as superstitious.
The first three years of building my Bonobos — the brand, not the animal — were a grind: we raised $8 million of equity capital over three years from over 100 courageous angel investors. The company was almost ninety days from being out of cash for most of our first three years.
Then something stunning happened. The day my niece was born, I was in Palo Alto. Fulfilling my grandmother’s prophecy, two venture capitalists committed to investing $18.5 million into my company that day. The date of Isabella’s birth? The same day my grandmother — Bella’s great-grandmother — was born, 88 years earlier. The prediction of the prosperity that Isabella might bring with her came true, and it came true on the birthday of the woman who made it.
When I see my niece now, I think about the world she was born into and how much it has changed since her great-grandmother was born. In the look in my grandmother’s eye, who closed her eyes forever in 2016 in Valparaiso — a town in Indiana which translates in Spanish to valley of paradise — I joy, hope, and harbinger in her life story for the accelerating and bright future for human females.
The Acceleration Of Female Freedom
It is a future my grandmother helped make. She moved to the US when I was five so that my mom could Lean In, and return to work. Without it, my family would not have been able to provide the education that they did for me and for my sister, Isabella’s mom.
She sacrificed much of her own life to make a family, and emigrated to India as a refugee from what is now Pakistan. She came here to watch me. She came from her home in India to help her daughters’ raise their children. She saw — from her daughters collegiate educations in India and the unlock for their careers they found as immigrants to the United States — far more options to be self-actualized and free then she had ever had. She took care of me when I was young so that my mom could work. She and I were peas in a pod every day after school. I can still see her standing on our doorstep every day, waiting outside for me to get back from school and to watch me walk down the street.
My mother came from India alone at the age of 20. She was brave, coming here alone to send checks back to her dying father. Without him, my grandmother would have no source of income. She emigrated to work for the family — sacrificing her own post-graduate education and her trajectory to be a doctor — to send money back home to keep things afloat while your dad, the sole breadwinner, could no longer make money. She is still shattered to not be with her dad when he died, to see his cremation and to get closure. She is still not over it, and she never will be. Gratitude wells up to think of what she did for all of us. She worked forty years, hard, and became an amazing leader in radiology: tough and kind, empathetic and fierce, the rare mix that unlocks decades of loyalty in employees. I dream one day be as good as her. She is the best mother that a son could dream of.
In this life we take credit for what we accomplish. The reality is our success rests on the shoulders of giants, on the sacrifices of our forebears. We should never take the credit for what we have done, when the majority of it is to the credit of our ancestors. The work behind us is what enables us, both of our families and all of human beings who built the world we live in.
My sister ascends professionally from the world built by my mother. She herself is the best mother Isabella could dream of, and an entrepreneur building her own company now. She is built on the rock founded by our mother and our grandfather. She is the best sister that a brother could ask for.
To all of the moms in the world today: you have the most important job on the planet. You are the architects of empathy for sons and daughters alike, and it is empathy — our ability to understand the world from the perspective of others — that offers hope for our species to bear what it may. You are securing more freedom every day.
It is still not enough.
“I Saw The Sign — And It Opened Up My Eyes I Saw The Sign”
Back to the evening that Bella was born — the same day that Bonobos, the company named for a matriarchal ape, secured venture capital funding for the first time. That night, I was invited to dinner with one of the angels who had saved the company’s prospects the previous year by investing at a time when we were out of cash. We had a lovely dinner at his family home, which just around the corner from where the company was launched, a home where our cofounder and I had lived in Silicon Valley at the time of the company’s inception. Though I had run past the street many times, I had never noticed the name.
It gave me chills when I saw the sign brought chills down my spine. The sign was not just a street sign, but the kind of sign that Ace of Base sung about. In retrospect I realize it was the moment I converted to belief in God. This year, 2017, I convert to Judaism not for conventional purposes, but for spiritual reasons and the conversion I felt when I saw a street sign.
Not only were Isabella and Parkash born the same day, eighty eight years apart. Not only did my grandmother’s prophecy come true. It was more than the moment could bear. Tears streamed down my face when I saw that sign, my body tingling with the fire of belief. The street had a name that could not be yet another coincidence.