How One Female CEO Sees the Glass Ceiling

Iranian-born *Afsaneh Beschloss rose through the ranks at J.P. Morgan and the World Bank before becoming CEO of her own investment firm, RockCreek. A woman of boundless energy — no, really, she led the World Bank’s energy investments — Beschloss stopped by The Carlos Watson Show to discuss her life in business and the economic impact of the coronavirus on different countries. Read on for some of our favorite cuts from the conversation.

On Countries Getting the Jump on COVID-19

Carlos Watson: Here in the U.S., you’ve seen several companies not only not struggle but actually do better [during the pandemic]. Apple’s picked up probably a trillion dollars in market cap, literally. And Amazon and Tesla and others have done unusually well, in addition to DoorDash and Peloton and Zoom and the rest.

But what if we thought about it in terms of countries: Which countries at the end of this will likely end up being stronger economically, and which countries are going to be most impacted economically?

Afsaneh Beschloss: From what we’ve seen so far is basically if you go into the East Asian countries at the wealthier end, you have Korea, Taiwan and then you have a country like China. They were very fast. They have had pandemics before, and people did not think it’s a stigma to wear the masks. And so that mask wearing started pretty early compared to the West, right? And the governments were also up to speed in moving fast to put a stop to things, and have been much better with tracing and having the technology. 

And since the issues with private information is not a big deal in some other countries, the whole tracing part of having a better situation with COVID happened faster in those countries.

But even Vietnam has done really well, the cases of COVID in Vietnam are really low, and again, part of that was that they have an autocratic political system that worked. Now, Korea does not.… Each of these countries has different political systems, so obviously autocratic systems could in a positive way or a negative way do good or do bad. But a lot of the countries that have very good systems also have been much better and the kids are going to school. 

Right now in Korea they’re jumping ahead, they’re trying to see how should kids’ schoolbooks be delivered now that you have some kids learning from home, some kids coming to school.

Here we are in the U.S., reading that in certain states the whole education system came to a standstill and a lot of schools could not open the last two weeks because the technology was not there, the kids don’t have computers, but also the systems that we had were set up such that they were not sufficient. The other side is you look at East Asia, Singapore, Korea, and they are doing so much in terms of jumping ahead. So it’s almost like they are, I don’t want to say taking advantage, but they are going to come out, when you and I were talking a little earlier, in 12 months or whenever the time is, and be far ahead of other people.

On Being a Woman in Banking

CW: Was it challenging for you, as a woman and as an Iranian woman, to rise up [in banking]? Or was there something about that environment that actually was more welcoming, more inclusive? 

AB: I think finance became less and less inclusive, and now hopefully we have a very recent decision to have the first woman CEO be the head of the bank at Citigroup, as you know. So I think what I was not fully aware of was, while the World Bank environment was inclusive, how hard it was. Because, I think if I stopped and thought about it, I would have stopped doing what I’m doing. 

I think a lot of people who worked at the World Bank were born in the U.S., a lot of people were born in other countries. So the fact that it was diverse was a normal thing, so where you came from was a little bit less important, but certainly gender was an issue, and there were very few women who were reaching the higher levels at the World Bank. By coincidence, I told you that one of my first jobs was in energy. My boss was a woman, and now she’s on my board, Dame DeAnne Julius.

CW: It got a little tougher, after she was gone?

AB: Very different. Very, very different. And, I had bosses who were male who were very supportive and very helpful, and they treated everyone the same, and others who didn’t. So I’ve had both experiences. 

At different countries at different times — I think if you went into China and it was a woman now, it would be probably no different, absolutely fine. But I think having worked in these different countries at different points in time, I saw the change, and I saw how many women started becoming involved, let’s say, in the energy sector. Many more in some of these countries, especially in Asia, compared to the U.S. We do have women as ministers of energy, like secretary of energy, you have women running big energy companies. One of the biggest hydro companies in Brazil is run by a woman. We don’t have that as much in the U.S., so we might assume that they are behind in some of these ways, but in fact a lot has happened over the last 20 years, where women have risen in some emerging markets and are doing quite well.

On Advice to Her Younger Self

CW: You go back and talk to young Afsaneh. What are you going to tell her? You’re having tea with her, give her a little advice. 

AB: Life is about love and relationships, and love is about doing what you like doing. And the most important thing, which I did not necessarily do when I was younger, which I really believe in right now, is that sort of balance — because work always came first. And I think, all the other questions you asked me, if you’re a woman, you had to be really good at what you were doing to be taken seriously. And I think if I had done 20 percent less, it would have been equally good. So that extra 20 percent, that really puts a lot of stress and takes away from love and family and other things that we love doing, is really not necessary, I think in retrospect.

I don’t want to call it life-work balance. It’s really balance, and having some sort of balanced whatever’s right for you, not what other people tell you, but whatever’s right for you. I really believe in that now.We’re proud that Afsaneh Beschloss is a minor investor in OZY Media, Inc. the producer of The Carlos Watson Show. Enjoy the episode.” 

* Disclosure: OZY is proud that Afsaneh Beschloss is a minor investor in OZY Media, Inc., the producer of The Carlos Watson Show.

Guess Who’s Not Wearing Their Face Masks

In mid-June, Lincoln County, Oregon, required its community to wear masks in public as part of its fight against the coronavirus. Well, not the whole community: Kids under 12 were exempt, as was anyone with a disability or medical condition that made a mask unviable, and people of color who felt vulnerable to harassment due to the mask.

It didn’t last. After an explosion of what the police department described as “horrifically racist commentary,” it rescinded the exception due to concerns that it could make the Black community in Lincoln County, which accounts for less than 1 percent of the population, even more of a target for harassment.

After a summer of viral videotaped incidents in which white people — and yes, it’s pretty much always white people — scream abuse at anyone who tries to get them to follow masking rules, it’s obvious who the problem is. But this particular instance of white privilege flies in the face of scientific consensus that masks help slow the spread of the virus. And it’s not just a few bad apples. In fact …

White people are 30 percent less likely to wear masks outside than people of color.

That’s according to an early-August Gallup poll, which found that just 42 percent of white people wear masks indoors. Democrats were almost three times as likely to mask up outside as Republicans, and women were far more likely to so do than men. While senior citizens — a high-risk group — were better about wearing their masks outside than younger people, when it comes to wearing them indoors, 89 percent of 18- to 44-year-olds say they cover up compared with 88 percent of those 64 and older.

Overall just 47 percent of Americans say they always or usually wear a mask outdoors — a stark contrast to a late-July AP poll that found 3 in 4 Americans approve of masks being required in public. But the lack of concern for public health doesn’t stop at masks: 2016 data on vaccinations found that unvaccinated children were more likely to be white, although a Pew Research Center survey this month found that Black Americans were by far the least likely to say they would get a COVID-19 vaccine if one became available.

This example of white privilege may be a function of risk calculation. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention calculates that death rates from COVID-19 are twice as high for Black Americans as for white ones, and a poll in April found that Black people were four times as likely to know someone who had died of the disease. According to Gabriel R. Sanchez, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, “We believe that one of the driving factors behind the racial and ethnic differences in mask-wearing is that whites are less likely to know someone who has been infected by COVID-19, which is driven by the large inequalities in infection rates based on race.”

Ironically, white people can generally wear masks without being harassed — unlike people of color. In the pandemic’s early days, association of the virus with China led to an increase in attacks on people of Asian descent who were wearing masks, while Black men have found themselves a target of abuse and intimidation for wearing masks. Two Black men in Illinois were not only forced to leave a store by a police officer because they were masked but he also told them, falsely, that face coverings were illegal. In many states they’re required — and there’s no exception for white people who just don’t feel like wearing one.

The Trip Abroad That Awakened RBG to Feminism

In 1961, Ruth Bader Ginsburg had already lived through a lot. She was part of one of the first Harvard Law School classes to admit women, had nursed her husband Martin through testicular cancer and had given birth to a daughter, Jane. She’d been rejected from a clerkship on the Supreme Court due to her gender after graduating tied for first in her class at Columbia Law School.

As her career progressed, she became a professor, an activist attorney, the second woman appointed to be a Supreme Court justice — and, in death as in life, an icon to the American left, a fighter to the end. But first she had to go to Sweden.

After completing a U.S. District Court clerkship, Ginsburg signed on for a role with Columbia’s Project on International Procedure, which explored the legal systems of foreign countries in order to increase American understanding of them. Ginsburg’s role would be to write a book about Sweden’s recently rejiggered code of procedure. The catch was that the 28-year-old Ginsburg would have to learn Swedish and move to Sweden, where she’d mostly be a single parent given that her husband, working to make partner, would only be able to intermittently join her.

This is RBG we’re talking about: Of course she went. The project hired a strapping Swedish ballet dancer to teach her the language, and by the spring of 1962 she was on her way to Sweden on her own — Jane would follow six weeks later after finishing first grade.

Over the next year, she and her colleague worked together on their book on civil procedure. But more importantly, Ruth Bader Ginsburg woke up to what feminism meant for women in Sweden — and what it could mean for women in the United States. “Between 20 and 25 percent of the law students in Sweden were women. And there were women on the bench,” she reminisced to the New York Times in 2015, “I went to one proceeding in Stockholm where the presiding judge was eight months pregnant.” That was when, Ginsburg explained, she started thinking seriously about gender equality. “It was that same summer I read The Second Sex,” she said, referring to Simone de Beauvoir’s influential work of feminist philosophy.

Sweden’s brand of feminism had spent a decade working to create a more balanced society, both for women in the workplace and for men in the home. A liberal attitude toward abortion had prompted an Arizona kids’ show host who had taken thalidomide, Sherri Chessen, to terminate a pregnancy in Sweden in a highly publicized 1962 case. And Swedish newspaper columnist Eva Moberg was the talk of the nation for her columns demanding why women, having gained some measure of workplace equality, were still forced to have “two jobs,” one in the office and one taking care of home and children. It was a debate that hadn’t yet reached the U.S., though Ginsburg and her husband had worked out a way to share chores equitably by then, she would later say.

Before the trip, according to a 1993 article in the Washington Post, Ginsburg “was nothing she would call feminist.” Afterward, everything changed. She returned to the states and got a job teaching at Rutgers University before founding the first U.S. law journal to focus on women’s rights in 1970. In 1972, she co-founded the ACLU’s Women’s Rights Project and threw herself into a series of landmark gender equality cases.

For the next decade, she spearheaded multiple gender equality cases, including Reed v. Reed, which successfully extended the equal rights clause of the 14th Amendment to apply to gender discrimination. She was known for her cleverness, choosing cases where she could prove discrimination against a man (such a s a 1972 case in which a caregiver was denied a tax deduction simply for being male) in order to create precedent that could knock down discrimination against women. Justice Antonin Scalia would later describe her as “the Thurgood Marshall of [women’s rights].”

In 1980, she was appointed to the federal bench, and in 1993 to the Supreme Court, where she sat for 27 years. Her status as an iconic feminist only grew: Her Millennial and Gen Z fans were legion, nicknaming her Notorious R.B.G. Her feminist activism continued on the court: She authored the majority opinion on a 1996 case striking down a military school’s policy against admitting women, and her dissent in Lilly Ledbetter’s case for equal pay led to the Lilly Ledbetter Act, which eased legal routes for workers making claims of pay discrimination. She was also a champion of abortion rights, even as pro-life activists across the country sought to shutter clinics and criminalize doctors.

The Swedish stuck with her too. Decades after her stint in Scandinavia, she still watched Ingmar Bergman films without the subtitles — and wore a small top hat, conferred on her along with an honorary doctorate by the University of Lund, to academic occasions.

The New Happiness Guru Says It’s OK to Be Unhappy

  • An academic in Wales, Ashley Frawley is causing a stir by questioning why everyone is so focused on individual happiness rather than challenging society.
  • The 34-year-old is tied into a network of influential U.K. conservatives, even though her ideas have a Marxist twist.

Ashley Frawley grew up in what she calls the self-esteem generation. An Ojibwe teenager who spent summers on a First Nations reservation in Canada, her family was poor and troubled. “Not the worthy poor, not the romantic kind of poor,” she adds.

As a teenager, she poured out her feelings to her high school counselor — and was told she had depression and her emotions could be chalked up to her brain chemistry. “I felt this sense of relief,” she says, “‘Oh, it’s not me, it’s my brain.’ And then I thought, ‘No, my life is very hard. I think I have a right to feel bad.'”

Today, Frawley, 34, an author and a senior lecturer at Swansea University in Wales, has made happiness her profession — or rather questioning why everyone is so fixated on it. Self-esteem, mindfulness: These themes, she argues, are largely variations on the same fad, focused on explaining to people how they can control their own happiness … all without challenging the society whose policies may be making them unhappy in the first place. A focus on happiness can feel empowering for people, but it won’t materially change their circumstances. And, Frawley feels, it re-centers the individual’s internal lack of happiness as a problem to be fixed with medication or meditation — turning them into a patient rather than someone exercising agency.

Young woman meditating while sitting at home

Are self-esteem and mindfulness really the answer?

For her, it’s not that individual happiness isn’t important. It’s that happiness as a metric isn’t particularly useful for changing or measuring society, and is instead popular because it sounds good and appeals to people across the political spectrum. “To the left, it had this vaguely anticapitalist ring to it: ‘Money doesn’t make you happy,'” she explains. “But on the right, it was also very powerful, on a deeper level … this idea that people should be happy with less actually fits very, very well with a conservative ethos. It has a Protestant ethic to it.”

Frawley is suspicious of ideas that seem good but may be more complex in reality.

The idea of measuring happiness more analytically was initially popularized in 1972 by the Kingdom of Bhutan — though critics point out that the positive publicity around Bhutan’s Gross National Happiness Index conveniently distracted from an ethnic cleansing in the country. Now several other nations, including the United Kingdom, Dubai and Australia, have begun to collect national statistics on happiness and well-being. The United Nations even issues a yearly World Happiness Report, ranking Finland No. 1 this year.

In general, Frawley is suspicious of ideas that seem good but may be more complex in reality. For example, she’s been involved with a campaign fighting against the anti-smacking movement, which seeks to ban hitting children in places like Wales. Though she says she doesn’t use corporal punishment on her two children, she also thinks such rules are apt to target poor and indigenous families, and that people are reluctant to oppose them because nobody wants to seem like they’re in favor of hitting kids. Similarly, nobody wants to seem like they’re against people being happy.

Not everyone buys into Frawley’s take, though. First of all, while “happiness is a bogus metric” is attention-getting, some think it sounds a bit too familiar. “A lot of [Karl] Marx’s time in the 1850s was spent trying to understand how people are blinded politically to what’s going on,” says Dr. Mark Cieslik, a senior lecturer at Northumbria University who also studies happiness. “And all contemporary sociologists like Ashley Frawley are doing is reworking these ideas.”

Sociologists have long attempted to explain why the working classes don’t organize or vote against their own interests, and each generation blames its own opiates of the masses. “I think people are a lot brighter and more creative than these writers give them credit for,” Cieslik says. Still, he notes, Frawley is part of an increasingly powerful coterie: Her Ph.D. supervisor was academic Frank Furedi, whose site Spiked — which Frawley has often written for — has been described by The Guardian as “an influential force in shifting the Overton window to the right in the U.K.” Another Furedi disciple (and sometime Spiked writer) is Munira Mirza, head of policy for U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

Still, Frawley’s complaints about wellness resonate. Mostly, she’s critical of an industry she feels makes a lot of money off peddling solutions like mindfulness. “They make these humongous promises to solve a huge range of social problems,” she says, “and then inevitably they fail, because social problems are not caused by people’s lack of self-esteem, and then they drop off the radar.” Even then the happiness schtick won’t lie dormant for long, Frawley says: “There’s always some new fad waiting in the wings.”

Gen Z Really Wants to Get Back to the Office

  • The most tech-savvy generation in the history of humanity, which grew up with smartphones and apps, is the least excited about working remotely.
  • The novelty of the workplace for this young generation coupled with space constraints might be fueling the trend.

It’s only been a few months since most of us switched to working full-time from home, but it’s already hard to believe everyone ever willingly gave over huge chunks of their day to commuting when their jobs were doable via an internet connection.

Surveys earlier this summer found that 77 percent of people want to stay at least partially remote even after it becomes safe to commute again. According to new data from LinkedIn, though, that desire isn’t spread evenly across the generations — and it is the world’s most tech-savvy generation ever that’s also the most eager to return to the office.

42 percent of Gen Z would rather go back to the workplace than remain remote, far more than any other generation.

By comparison, 32 percent of baby boomers, 26 percent of millennials and just 21 percent of Gen X say the same. Gen Zers also report more excitement about the prospect of getting back to the workplace before 2021 than any other generation.

“Many in this generation are in their first jobs — in fact, Gen Z is the generation most likely to have started a new job in the last three months,” explains LinkedIn career expert Blair Heitmann. Nearly 1 in 4 have new jobs, compared with 6 percent of millennials. “It makes sense that they’d be the generation most eager to experience a ‘real’ workplace for the first time,” says Heitmann. Face-to-face interaction with colleagues is a part of that — and since Gen Zers are less likely to have kids, they don’t have stressors like figuring out child care while they’re at work.

Another factor may be space. One study of young Londoners who share living quarters found that 42 percent said they didn’t have enough space to work at home. The median size of their personal space was just 10 feet by 11 feet. Gen Z is more likely to be inhabiting smaller apartments or living with their parents, making the office a more welcome change than it might be for someone working out of their spare bedroom.

Gen X, the least excited generation about returning to the workplace, may also be saddling the experience with morose expectations. According to LinkedIn’s data, 23 percent worry that their boss will think they aren’t dedicated if they don’t go back in, more than any other age group.

While office camaraderie could be a perk, especially if many workplaces choose not to bring employees back into the same physical space even post-pandemic, it’s unlikely to continue unchanged by COVID-19. Most workers think employers should be adjusting policies to keep up with pandemic-era hygiene: getting rid of in-person meetings or allowing only a certain number of people into the building at any one time to allow social distancing.

Workplace camaraderie could be affected too, Heitmann says. Responsible employers will need to evaluate how to change rules around shared social spaces like kitchens and restrooms and potentially establish formal rules when it comes to group lunches and other friendly — and now potentially dangerous — bonding activities.

Why Cynicism Is Beating Hope on COVID-19 Vaccine

Investors have found a new way to make bank: the search for a coronavirus vaccine. The vaccine itself is unlikely to arrive before the end of the year, but senior executives who sell their shares in firms that are working toward a vaccine right after major announcements of progress are raking in millions of dollars, according to reports, while an estimated 17.8 million Americans were unemployed in June.

We tell you this not to make you mad. It’s to illustrate that the search for a vaccine, while aiming for a huge boon to humanity, is already overrun by people out to make a quick buck. And Americans have caught on there. According to a recent YouGov poll:

43 percent of U.S. respondents think the first vaccine doses will go to countries that can pay the most, not those where the outbreak is worst.

Just 28 percent think priority for a vaccine will go to nations needing it the most, the exact same percentage who say they simply don’t know how it’ll shake out. Of course, when it comes to the coronavirus pandemic, America — not used to thinking of itself as being at the bottom of the global food chain — is the country with the most infections and deaths in the world.

But the cynicism over who will get priority for the vaccine also reflects demographic and political differences. Those ages 25 to 34 (millennials) are 32 percent more likely than those over 55 (boomers) to believe that the first shots will go to those with the deepest pockets. And Democrats are 23 percent more likely than Republicans to hold that view. Independents outstrip them both, with a full 53 percent believing the vaccine will find its way to the wealthiest nations first.

Texas EMS First Responders Face Higher Caseload Amid COVID-19 Pandemic

YouGov’s tracker of American attitudes toward how the government is handling the pandemic has confidence at an all-time low. Medical personnel train to receive Covid-129 patients at the Austin Convention Center on August 07, 2020 in Austin, Texas.

Source John Moore/Getty

“The belief that the COVID-19 vaccine will go to the wealthy first, especially when held by millennials and Democrat-leaning sections of the population, may be in reference to the fact that health care in the United States is a for-profit operation,” says Danny Haiphong, co-author of American Exceptionalism and American Innocence: A People’s History of Fake News From the Revolutionary War to the War on Terror. “And if it is assumed that the U.S. is the global hegemon, then it can also be assumed that the U.S. will do everything it can to make the vaccine profitable to pharmaceuticals and insurance companies instead of prioritizing the health and well-being of the people. After all, this is what we have witnessed in devastating terms throughout the pandemic.”

YouGov’s tracker of American attitudes toward how the government is handling the pandemic has confidence at an all-time low: Just 38 percent of people think the U.S. government is handling it well, indicating that while many are predicting the vaccine will go to the wealthiest first, they may not necessarily be on board with that from an ethical standpoint.

Or maybe it doesn’t matter to them. As of mid-July, 1 in 4 Americans say they won’t get a COVID-19 vaccine if and when one becomes available (and less than half of Republicans say they’ll get the shot). That’s a significant increase from 19 percent who said they wouldn’t get the shot in a May poll. According to the Mayo Clinic, experts estimate that unless 70 percent of the population is inoculated against COVID-19, there’ll be no herd immunity to the disease. In other words, we could all be in trouble.

Will the Recession Rock Marriage?

  • American marriages went down dramatically during both the Great Depression and the Great Recession.
  • At a time when people are already marrying less, the latest recession could lend a crippling blow to the institution of marriage.

In a 1936 report published by the New York Times, two University of Chicago sociologists warned of an unlikely epidemic: people staying single. Americans were avoiding getting hitched so much the researchers warned that the country had a “marriage deficit” of about 750,000 due to the Great Depression. The year 1932, when unemployment climbed over 23 percent, saw the lowest number of marriages since records began in the 1880s, they calculated, estimating that more than a million children had gone unconceived.

And though the marriage rate bounced back after that year, the researchers warned of a lingering impact. “Many of the couples deterred by the depression will eventually marry,” they hypothesized, “but as couples become older they have few children.”

As the United States once again sinks into recession, a look at the past offers valuable pointers to what we might expect with marriages in the coming months. Historical statistics can also tell us something — though not everything — about what this moment may mean for our own solemnities.

The marriage rate dropped by 20 percent during the Great Depression, between 1929 and 1933.

A 2014 analysis of marriage rates during that period by Matthew J. Hill, a professor of economics at Loyola Marymount University, found that when male unemployment increased by 5 percent, the probability of marriage for both men and women went down about 4 percent. Hill cautions that the data is difficult to disentangle — but says both fertility and divorce also dropped during the depression. Not only are both related to marriage, but both are expensive propositions.

The Great Recession, too, saw declines in marriage and fertility rates — though not as pronounced as those during the Depression. The marriage rate dropped by more than 4 percentage points between 2008 and 2011, according to an analysis of American Community Survey data by researchers at the National Center for Family and Marriage Research at Bowling Green State University.

Whether we can expect a repeat of that in this downturn depends on how exactly the coronavirus plays out, says Dr. Orestes “Pat” Hastings at Colorado State University — who’s analyzed the effects of the recession on unions and births. “I think it’s very hard to say how the Great Recession applies to our current moment,” he says. “But … if this persists, then I would expect to see further drops in marriage and fertility, based on people’s financial concerns and the economic uncertainty.” Physical distancing, too, could affect how people form relationships.


Newlyweds Rachel and Sebastian Vasquez kiss while wearing face masks following their wedding ceremony in May 2020 in Rustburg, Virginia.

Of course, marriage and relationships have become increasingly decoupled in recent decades, so it’s possible that marriage isn’t as important as it used to be to a functioning society. And the pomp of weddings has, to many, gotten totally out of hand. The average cost of an American wedding in 2019, according to wedding site The Knot, was close to $34,000. The average household income is just over $63,000 — granted, The Knot survey’s respondents were likely more into weddings than your average human beings and thus the price may be exaggerated, but still that’s 53 percent of what the average U.S. household makes in a year. Surprisingly, weddings during the Depression took a big chunk out of household income too. One calculation from 1939 found that the average wedding then cost nearly $400, or about 25 percent of the average yearly household income. Not as bad as in 2019, but still a massive amount of change to blow when basic necessities were difficult to come by for many.

Still, even if people persist with courthouse weddings — or weddings on Zoom — the fact remains that marriages have already declined precipitously. In fact, a CDC analysis released in April found that 2018, the last year with recorded data, saw the lowest marriage rates in America ever, even lower than 1932. So perhaps a further dip will simply be a sign of continuing trends, rather than another recession drop.

For those still planning to tie the knot, Hill’s analysis also found some interesting wrinkles. Those who married just before the Great Depression were more likely to end up divorced than those who got married at other times, and those who married during the depths of the Depression were less likely to be divorced later on. “Essentially, your marriage is more likely to last if it began in hard times rather than good times,” he says. “In econ-speak, the people married during the Great Depression must have been well-matched on unobservable characteristics. In human-speak, these people must have really been in love to marry during the Great Depression.”

How Estonians Kiik Ass: One Extreme Swing Sport at a Time

Somebody telling you how exciting a sport is will never get you to love that sport regardless of how fervently or how long they try to sell you on it. You truly care about a sport only when you find yourself yelling at an athlete on your TV screen in the middle of the day while sporting a foam finger.

When that moment came for me not too long ago, it had everything to do with a giant swing. That’s right, the bane of parents of young children everywhere: a good old-fashioned falling-off-and-cracking-your-head-open swing.

Kiiking (pronounced KEE-king) is Estonia’s beloved homegrown sport. Participants are securely strapped to a huge apparatus while standing up. Practice usually takes place outside because there are few buildings available with high enough ceilings. And, you know: COVID.

Once strapped in though, kiikers swing back and forth in a movement familiar to most of us from our childhood playground exertions. Most of us, though, just dreamed of swinging so hard we went all the way over the top. Kiikers actually do it. 

More than half of the people who try [kiiking] can’t do it on their first time. Your whole body and brain have to think together.

Johanna Sooba, Estonian Kiiking Federation

Outside of Estonia, it’s almost impossible to find kiiking organizations, says Johanna Sooba, head of marketing of the Estonian Kiiking Federation. Within the country’s borders, though, there are 10 competitions per year.

The current record for the highest swing — the measure by which competitions are judged — is now approximately 24 feet and 2.551 inches. But kiikers who set up swings in tourist areas for demos put to bed any notion that all they’re doing is swinging and therefore anyone can do it.

“It looks so easy when you watch it on a smaller swing,” Sooba explains, “but more than half of the people who try can’t do it on their first time. Your whole body and brain have to think together and you get so tired.” There’s also the nausea, which Sooba compares to the stomach drop we experience in a fast elevator. An elevator that never stops plummeting.

Many people experience that stomach drop when watching kiiking, even in grainy YouTube videos. It’s not just the wooshing and the corresponding glee — it’s the lead-up, watching a person swing back and forth, back and forth, higher and higher each time, anticipating the swing that will take them over the top.

There are also nail-biting moments invested in figuring out whether or not the kiiker make it over the top, and when they do — why would you watch a video where they don’t — it’s a triumph. You have to watch it to get it. Which is just another way of saying seeing is believing.

Want to try kiiking or to see it being tried before it becomes an Olympic sport and all the kids are doing it? Well, you can’t. COVID has killed the entire 2020 season according to the Estonian Kiiking Federation, so no tours to demonstrate kiiking to skeptical bystanders. But in 2021? The goal is to entice people to try it, or at the very least get them yelling about it. Foam finger optional.

Dating Apps Finally Target This Ignored Community of 70 Million

  • A new wave of dating apps is emerging, focused on people on the autism spectrum.
  • Standard apps, while open to people with autism, aren’t tailored to their needs, resulting in uncomfortable experiences.

About a decade ago, Dutch web developer Douwe Boschma found out he was on the autism spectrum. One of the struggles that led to was in his dating life. “It was very hard for me to connect with people when they didn’t know that I was autistic,” he says. “So I got this idea of building my own dating website.”

In 2016, Boschma, now 50 and married to a woman who isn’t on the spectrum, launched Aspie Singles, a dating site focused on the autistic community. It’s become a thriving group of about 4,500 people, a side project to his day job that he hopes will help people experiencing the same problems he faced. The site normally gets about 15 or 20 new sign-ups per day.

Boschma isn’t alone in recognizing the unmet demand among people with autism for dating platforms that cater to their specific needs. The CDC estimates that more than 1 percent of the world’s population is on the autism spectrum, meaning more than 70 million people. Standard dating apps like Tinder are open to people with autism, but are designed for those who are neurotypical — people not on the spectrum. That makes them far from ideal as platforms where people with autism can sell themselves as a potential partner.

Hiki, launched in 2019, is one among a growing set of apps that — like Aspie Singles — is pointedly targeting people on the spectrum. Founded by entrepreneur Jamil Karriem, the app has 9,000 users already. Uneepi, an app launched in 2016, has coaches who help people with autism pick up on social cues and learn to communicate their emotions and desires effectively. It has 3,500 users.

“It’s often difficult for [people with autism] to read social cues,” says Elizabeth Mazur, a professor of psychology at Penn State Greater Allegheny, who has studied the use of dating apps by people with various disabilities, including autism. “They may not have had the social experiences many young adults have that build them up to dating, like good friendships and going out in mixed groups.”

Our mission is that all humans deserve access to social opportunities and all kinds of relationships.

Jamil Karriem, founder, Hiki

Though awareness about autism is growing, the condition is still stigmatized. It’s a challenge on traditional dating platforms to decide when to tell a potential partner you have autism. A 2011 analysis of U.S. data found that just 1 percent of people with autism spectrum disorder were married eight years after college graduation — the average age at which Americans get married.


Source Hiki

Hiki, which means “able” in Hawaiian, hopes to take on those challenges. It was designed by an autistic woman and tested by people who are on the spectrum, though Karriem himself is neurotypical. Most apps aren’t designed to address challenges around sensory processing that adults with autism often confront. “Our mission is that all humans deserve access to social opportunities and all kinds of relationships,” he says. “Unfortunately, the reality is that within the neurodivergent community, there historically has never been a medium to enable these sorts of relationships.”

Thomas Sheil founded Uneepi after watching the movie Hitch, which stars Will Smith as a professional dating guru who coaches men on how to romance women. He realized dating sites should have coaching services to help people present themselves to potential matches — and, inspired by a different film, decided to focus it specifically on people with autism. Sheil isn’t on the spectrum, but during college he built a computer game to help kids with autism better recognize emotions in others.

Such apps do risk the possibility that people on the spectrum end up looking for — or finding — love only within their own communities.

But the creators emphasize that people without autism are welcome on their apps too — and furthermore, the apps aren’t simply a tool to find romance. They’re also a way to find friends who will understand their experience. “More people are actually joining Hiki to find friends than they are to find a romantic partner,” says Karriem. That can be just as critical for a community often deprived of the social experiences neurotypical people take for granted. It’s all part of becoming “able” in one’s relationships.

The Science of Dating

For as long as love has existed — basically forever — people have been trying to perfect it. For some, that means following what seem like signs and fate; for some it’s arranged marriage; for others it’s “never date a Leo.” And for still others? It’s digging into the data to calculate odds.

In this original OZY series, we’ll introduce you to the apps, stats and studies that people are using to try to up their odds of finding happiness, and the ways in which, datawise, we’re all still stumbling around in the dark.

Dating Apps Finally Target This Ignored Community of 70 Million

People with autism often find connecting with others in traditional ways to be a challenge, and that includes dating. A few intrepid entrepreneurs — some with autism themselves — are creating internet spaces for people on the spectrum to find love and to learn what love can look like.

How Much You Hate Your Ex Might Depend on Your Gender

The data is in and ding ding ding women are more likely to hate their exes than men are. In a lot of cases, that has to do with who’s held responsible for the breakup — and with women more likely than men to be physically or psychologically abused in relationships, it’s no wonder they aren’t that fond of their former baes.

Will the Recession Rock Marriage?

A look back at history uncovers some startling stats: The Great Depression and the Great Recession both had a huge effect on marriages in the U.S., with massive drops in the number of people saying “I do.” Will that happen again, in the current downturn? It’s hard to tell, say scientists. Given that marriage isn’t as important as it was in the 1930s, people might not have chosen to get legally hitched anyway.

91M People Tap This Dating App of Destiny

Happn is a French dating app that uses geolocation technology to tell you if you’ve crossed path with other users — a 21st-century solution to connecting with that cute guy you locked eyes with on the subway but never spoke to. Of course, it’s had to adapt in the past few months, given how few people are crossing paths with one another these days.