By Anju Anna John:
On the 29th of November, 2014, a 19 year-old student at a college in Hyderabad objected to a female classmate being harassed by a senior. Two hours later, he succumbed to the injuries sustained during an alleged assault by this senior. The encyclopaedia Britannica defines feminism as “the belief in the social, economic, and political equality of the sexes.” However, the truth is that even in the 21st century, women fighting for equal rights are generally looked upon as men-hating lesbians; the thought of a man standing up for feminism is almost unthinkable, and in this case, suicidal.
In the aftermath of the gang rape of 16th December, India became infamous as the home to multitude of rapists. Female tourists travelling to India started worrying about their safety around Indian men. Around this time, the Sunday Review of the New York Times published an article by Ms. Lavanya Sankaran titled ‘The Good Men of India’. The article praised the kind and caring nature of many Indian men. The world was content to know that not all Indian men raped. However, the very next day, Aman Sethi wrote an article for Kafila detailing the classism and the hidden promotion of patriarchy in Ms. Sankaran’s piece. He reiterated the fact that nine out of 10 perpetrators of rape were known to the victim. He questioned Ms. Sankaran’s notion that upsetting the traditional gender roles of men was the real problem, and mused whether she was trying to convey that the problem was not too much patriarchy, but too little. Essentially, the question here is, whether the concept of men believing in equality of the sexes really is so opposed to our traditional notions of men?
One of the things that struck me about the speech by the UN Women Goodwill Ambassador, Emma Watson at the United Nations Headquarters as part of the HeForShe campaign was the moment when she formally invited men to discuss the issue of gender equality and stated that ‘gender equality is your issue too’. She did not stop at women’s rights, but highlighted how the traditional gender roles prevented men from seeking help in times of need and demanded them to be ‘macho’ and aggressive. Towards the end of her speech, she quoted Edmund Burke who said that, “All that is needed for the forces of evil to triumph is for enough good men and women to do nothing.”
The truth is, men are rarely involved in talks on women’s rights. In the 1995 Beijing Conference on Women, only 30% of the participants were male. In March this year, the police in Scotland launched a series of posters as part of their campaign to raise awareness about rape . What was unique about this campaign was that its goal was to educate young men. However, most of the time, issues that affect women are looked at in isolation without involving the other gender in these discussions.
What is heartening is that Emma Watson was not the first person to identify this problem. In September 1991, a journalist named C.Y. Gopinath put up an advertisement in the Indian Express that called for men “who feel that wives are not for battering and they could do something to stop or prevent it”. One of the 205 men who responded to the advertisement was Harish Sadani from Mumbai, who went on to set up his organisation ‘Men Against Violence and Abuse’(MAVA). He realised that empowering women was not the only step towards gender equality. There was an equal need to liberate men from the shackles of patriarchy, and to deconstruct what masculinity stood for. He tried to do this by conducting week long residential camps for young men where they facilitated dialogues on male-female relationship. The organisation also conducts seminars and publishes material on gender issues, masculinity and sexuality.
Last year, Bollywood actor Farhan Akthar initiated a campaign titled ‘MARD – Men Against Rape and Discrimination’ after an employee of his was sexually assaulted and murdered. His efforts were recognised by the United Nations Women, who appointed him their Goodwill Ambassador for South Asia on 13th of November, 2014. He is the first man to be named as a Goodwill Ambassador in the organisation’s history. He will work towards the empowerment of women and girls and act as an advocate for the HeForShe campaign.
We need more of such people in our society today. We need more of the ‘He’(s) who will stand up for the ‘She’(s). And we need the good men of India to stand behind them and cheer them on!