By Amrita Roy:
You can attribute it to patriarchy practiced by earlier generations but the truth is that gender inequality is prevalent all over the world. We have been brainwashed into believing that men are the supreme creatures created by God because they have qualities than women supposedly don’t have, namely: muscular strength, superior cognitive skills, or just the very quality of being a man. Women need to be “protected” as they are the weaker sex. They need to be protected from all the harm in the world and thus “need a man in their lives.” While with free media and relatively more open discussions with friends and family, we talk about rapes and domestic violence and the brutal domination some men shamefully display, we tend to forget the implicit side of the story.
With more sensitization, male domination has taken a new spin. Male domination can take many forms — sexual assault, subordination of women and even chivalry. All of them are targeting women in the same manner. They all try to “show women their place.” Instead of attacking the institutions of patriarchy and masculinity, campaigns have begun to glorify these institutions in order to eliminate violence against women. Take the recent horrific abduction of Nigerian school girls. As the news spread worldwide, posters sprung up with the slogan “Real men don’t buy girls.” Through the skillful manipulation of language, this changes the place of the man from the assaulter to the protector while keeping male dominance over the female intact. While the language itself is not the criminal, it is definitely a tool that has been skilfully employed to help maintain and justify status quo.
The posters have gone viral (also thanks to the endorsement from celebrities). I agree that this has brought up the issues of women’s rights out in the open and in this case created more concern for the school girls in Nigeria, but these posters and messages are not progressive enough to reach out or truly bring about change in the lives of women. In these campaigns, the man is kinder and gentler and has feelings. But he also has the muscular strength that women (supposedly) do not. What they do is they tell men to not use the strength to abuse but instead protect. This still keeps the man in the driver’s seat in the gender status quo and the woman is in the back seat. What these messages say is that men can rape, they can hurt women, they can buy women, but they shouldn’t. They shouldn’t do any of this not because women also have rights, but because this may happen to their women. The man is still a free individual while the woman is a man’s mother/wife/sister/daughter/girlfriend. So, the superiority of the man is re-defined from the strong reckless individual who is the owner of his will, to someone who is still all of that with the added quality of benevolence, leaving masculinity unchallenged.
What these campaigns do is that they give masculinity a privileged place in feminist movements where men are praised for not being terrible. The bar set for males is tremendously low when compared to the protests, sacrifices and daily fights women and the LGBTQI community put up in order to achieve equality. All men have to do is not buy people, abuse them or rape them. If this is the progress these campaigns, then I am afraid there is a very long road ahead of us, longer than what most of us would imagine, before we reach justice and equality in our society. We need to take out the “real man” from these campaigns and become more vocal about being good humans.
The author tweets at @amritaroy95