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Men And Feminism: Here’s How You Can Do It Right!

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By Sakhi Nitin-Anita:

First of all, let me clarify that I’m a woman. Also, that I’m a feminist; these two terms are not necessarily interchangeable.

The reason I’m writing this article today is because, since last year when I started taking feminism seriously and started talking about it, most men in my peer-group started being very defensive about being men. After having long arguments with practically every male friend I have, being labelled as a ‘female chauvinist’ by some (in jest, apparently!) and trying to decipher the reason behind such a strong and vehement resistance towards feminism among men, I have finally decided to write this article. As an assertion that we’re not here to steal the golden throne on which you men sit perched upon so proudly. We just want you to shift a little and make space for us to sit as well. Or better still, get rid of the throne and let us both sit on the floor and celebrate being together.

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Most people, I’ve realized, have a problem with the word ‘feminism’. It comes from the word femininity which, according to many, refers only to everything women do and are; it is ‘womanliness’. But what if it means more than that? It is, after all, an abstract concept, an idea symbolizing something, just as masculinity symbolizes another diametrically opposite idea. Traditionally, the feminine or the ‘yin’ symbolises fertility, creativity, nurturing, compassion, emotions, passivity, fluidity, empathy, tolerance, the moon and a holistic view of the world. Masculinity, on the other hand, symbolizes the ‘yang’, determination, passion, action, goal-orientation, logic, steadfastness, inflexibility, linearity, the sun and an individualistic view. Although, let me clarify that these are merely contextual representations; the concepts of masculinity and femininity can be perceived differently in different cultures, times and contexts.

The earth is feminine; receptive, compliant, has the power to create life. The rain is masculine; penetrating the earth to create new life. But the earth has masculine qualities as well; it is hard, solid and steadfast. And the rain has feminine qualities as well; it is fluid, tempestuous, nurturing as well as destructive. Just like that, all of us have within us both masculine and feminine qualities. A woman can be extremely determined and action oriented, like Rani Laxmibai, just as a man can epitomize qualities of compassion and tolerance, such as Mahatma Gandhi.

In the ancient times, both these masculine and feminine energies of the world were worshiped. Hence, during those times and even in contemporary tribal cultures which live apart from civilized society and in harmony with nature, women and men were (are) accorded equal respect and status in the social structure. However, perhaps due to the advent of monotheistic religions, the world has moved towards a reverence for the masculine (a single male God or ‘His’ Messiah), progressively eliminating the importance, and thus the appreciation, for the feminine. Subsequently, we see our society becoming increasingly masculine; goal-oriented rather than process-oriented — the pot at the end of the rainbow is always more important than the rainbow itself! We are becoming competitive, individualistic, and consumerist, while ideas such as compassion, co-operation and tolerance are disregarded–be that in areas of work or in our personal lives. They’re becoming words that are glorified, idolised and put on pedestals, but of no use ‘out in the field’, much like how society perceives and treats women!

Feminists argue that the system of patriarchy that is omnipresent in society today, and has been for centuries, imposes many restrictions on women. I’m not denying that. Even today, the condition of women is definitely worse than men. Women have to deal with threats of violence and abuse, both inside as well as outside the house. They have no say in governance of the home or of the state, and whatever little they have is mostly nominal. They have no property rights, even now after so many laws and policies on joint home ownership and women’s share in heritable property. Basically, most women are not aware of their rights or not bold enough to demand them. They are conditioned to be compliant, docile and subservient. Men, on the other hand, have a sack full of privileges that patriarchy has gifted them, right from their birth. The women’s movement, since its inception a century ago, has been fighting for women to not be denied those privileges and choices that are available to men.

Behind this, what fails to be recognised by both men and women is that patriarchy has also put restrictions on men, although so nicely gift-wrapped and falsely glorified that many don’t even understand they are restrictions. These limitations are basically regarding the expression of or inclination towards the feminine. In earlier times, this was controlled through religious teachings and had a framework of ‘dharma’ or morality attached to it. The worst part is, this notion of ‘masculinity as a virtue’ is so deeply rooted within us, through conditioning while growing up or the influence of mass media, that we start regarding it as natural. I remember in primary school when the sight of a boy crying made me so uncomfortable that I would have a fit of awkward giggles. Never did a girl crying leave me feeling like that. I still wonder what it was that caused this discomfort. Crying is a natural phenomenon that is triggered by pain caused to the body or mind. Everybody does it; we don’t observe male babies not crying because they are males. So obviously, it isn’t ‘unnatural’ for males to cry. Why is it, then, that society hammers this “men do not cry” ‘fact’ into our brains?

Feminism sought to show the world that women could be ‘equal’ to men. But in that process, I feel, it asserted something that patriarchy was already doing for so long. It exalted masculinity and shunned femininity. For my mother’s generation of feminists, discarding make-up, hair and traditional women’s clothing was a sign of protest; a liberation from stereotyped notions of femininity and beauty. Today, what with ‘lipstick-feminism’ and SlutWalks, women are acknowledging that it is empowering to ‘embrace one’s femininity’, but when will men start embracing it as well, and appreciating its value? And again, is femininity only about wearing revealing clothes and lipstick? Or is it about also nurturing the values it symbolises, values that men and women both have been steadily rejecting over the years?

Hence, feminism isn’t only about women trying to step ‘out’ and prove their place in the world, or ‘show’ men how they can do everything men do, it is about men accepting the feminine within themselves, and not being afraid to express it! That doing the work traditionally done by women, or expressing tendencies traditionally associated to women, can be as empowering as women stepping out of the house in trousers, to earn a living. Being able to care for one’s children, cooking, looking after the home, expressing strong emotions, showing care, compassion, empathy, sensitivity, being able to just listen to someone, are all needs that exist within every human being, but which have been denied expression by the patriarchal society for too long now. This denial and belittlement not only creates a sense of false superiority within men and women who portray strong masculine tendencies, but also puts a burden on them to follow rigid patterns of behavior  communication and choice of work. Instead, by nurturing these feminine values and traits, not only can men (with some help from women, of course!) rein in a new kind of revolution but also develop themselves as more holistic and humane beings!

Ultimately, what feminists have been advocating for the last century is this freedom of choice. The choice to live, work, behave and just be according to our own potentials and dreams, rather than according to our sex, caste, religion, skin-colour, or any other such categorization that we have no say in. The earth needs rain just as the rain needs the earth, both are interdependent. Masculinity and femininity, both abstract concepts — values and ideals —co-exist, just as men and women, imbibing both within them, co-exist. And what the world needs today is a shift towards femininity! It needs compassion, empathy, tolerance and authenticity. It needs people who can talk about their feelings, but more importantly, it needs people who can listen. It needs a sustainable, holistic, we’re-all-in-this-together approach. It needs people who care — for each other, for their children, and for the environment. It needs the sun and the moon both, although there are times when they do eclipse each other!

As the pendulum of time swings towards a masculine pull today, can the men of the world help swing it back towards a harmonious balance?

You must be to comment.
  1. sachin kumar

    you haven’t understood men ,men r ur brothers n fathers n a doting husband ,the attitude u call male chauvinism or patriarchy is nothing but d love which is a responsibility towards his daughter/sister/wife ,u r restricted to move freely cuz ur father or brother wont b everywhere to save u ,its not male or female, criminals have a different cast it has nothing to do wd male or female ,even female exploits male ,it depends on position of d person .u r asking for equality but in fact women r adored ,they have special status in family n society ,u must have seen a female child gets more love in respect to a male child ,males r always taken for granted but female r always cynosure of all eyes.In fact all d men’s efforts in every form of relationship r concentrated in making women happy n dey always have freedom in choosing d life dey want to live ,if nothing works she gets married .A man doesnt get any attention cuz of being only a man however he may be smart n strong ,but a female gets attention only for being a female n her achievements adds another feather in her cap ……………a man doesn’t tolerate misbehavior of a man however d latter may b bigger in position but he tolerates misbehavior of a women even inferior in position or looks or in both, he doesn’t reply to her. ,even in mahabharata bhism sacrificed his life but he didn’t tauten his bow towards arjuna cuz an eunuch (half female ) was standing before Arjuna on chariot,despite d fact of being invincible vhisma gave up before a female ,this is d respect a female fosters in india . Exceptions r everywhere ………………

  2. Anon.

    ‘..responsibility towards his daughter/sister/wife”? Which responsibility? To ‘save’ them from ‘other men’ ? Do you understand what you mean when you say “u r restricted to move freely cuz ur father or brother wont b everywhere to save u” ? So women should be restricted? They should not go out and realise their full potential like men because other men are criminals? ..and ”males r always taken for granted but female r always cynosure of all eyes.” Yeah right. That’s why million of females are killed right in the foetal stage. That’s why many mothers leave their newlyborn daughters to die in garbage bins. Her husband, in-laws give her a hard time her if she gives birth to a baby girl. “..but a female gets attention only for being a female” Whose attention does she get? Men’s. And you bring Mahabharat here? Bhishma not killing Shikhandi? !!!!

  3. sanober desnavi

    Its not about feminist and muscularity its about in search of respect an identity of being fearless tear- less and being dignified as mans deserves their impromptu the same way stand up and say no to crimes as in every man their is an hunger for woman just like stray dogs barking in road’s for their hunger the same quality man has if not self controlled the self controls come automatically if you belong to good family who teaches you too be humble with woman right at a very young age
    but many people fails on parenting and treating the general dis-pale of humility, patience,generosity. It becomes Spenglerian if the general principles of human extinct are missing .
    our holy peoples have been taken place of god and because of these holy peoples many woman’s have end up their life fore their self dignity .

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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