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Can A “Feminist Men Calendar” Tip The Scales On Gender Equality?

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By Shambhavi Saxena:

In feminist news this month, third-year NYU law student Marcella Leininger Kocolatos has created a kickstarter project to crowd-fund her “Feminist Men of New York Calendar” (FMNY2016), which will feature a photo and profile of a dozen men “who actively oppose gender-based oppression and other manifestations of social inequality.

Photo Courtesy: Feminist Men Of New York/ Marcella Leininger Kocolatos
Photo Courtesy: Feminist Men Of New York/ Marcella Leininger Kocolatos

Talking about the inherent bias against or downright disbelief in feminism as a social and political movement, Kocolatos says, “Too few women identify as feminists; even fewer men do.” Reconceptualized by garden variety patriarchs as a synonym for PMSing, alimony-hungry, fat, ugly women, feminism is stripped of its revolutionary character and hauled up as an example of non-conformist behaviour. Not only that, but feminists and their bodies become sites for punishment of said non-conformism, the most recent incident being Grace Mann’s murder.

Dismissing feminism only cements power structures that favour upper class/caste, racially ‘superior’, cishet, able-bodied and neurotypical persons (but particularly males) in society. To have more or less the same power-group representing the feminist movement, even in as limited a form as a calendar, feels a bit too White-Knight-rescue-mission, because us feminists haven’t been able to market ourselves in a desirable enough way.

Backlash from Men’s Rights Activists is to be expected, but the response to the project from other feminists ranges from tepid to unimpressed. NYMag’s Jessica Roy didn’t find “men [demanding] recognition for the work women have been doing for decades” particularly ground-breaking. It takes us back to the question of whether men can be feminists (since they don’t experience systemic oppression the way women do first hand) or are better off being feminist-allies. Derrick Clifton’s piece for male feminists shows men can “help [the movement] while remaining cognizant of how their identities may limit their understanding of women’s struggles”. One wonders if Kocolatos’ subjects, who are not hyper-sexualized calendar girls to be ogled at, are sensitive to said limits, and if so, does that still qualify them as the ideal subjects?

Emma Watson’s well-intentioned #HeForShe campaign was followed by valid criticism of how new feminist projects were tailored to be acceptable to men before they could be of any use to anyone. Historically, women’s rights had to be run by men before they could be claimed legally, and it’s easy to see why anyone would be apprehensive about male approval being attached to women-specific issues. Is FMNY2016 seeking said approval? More than anything else, the calendar is concerned with the visual realization of an oft-vilified political identity. Kocolatos’ provides one of an infinitude of answers to that stupid old question “what does a feminist look like?” and rubbishes “the tired stereotypes you hear is that all feminists hate men”, by conflating the identities of ‘man’ and ‘feminist’ in a single body. As progressive as that sounds, kicking the “no boys allowed” sign off the tree-house of gender justice battles can be an oversimplified tactic to achieve inclusivity.

Does Kocolatos’ project seem like it’s trying to convince men of feminism’s worth? Or does it have more of a bell hooks’ Feminism is for Everybody ring to it? Clearly, the politics are in place, but the execution could do with some work.

As “a small, symbolic gesture toward combatting long-held misconceptions about feminism”, FMNY2016 bears no ill-will to the movement, but Kocolatos’ choice of subjects is problematic.

Her objective was to demonstrate how “advocating for gender equality through words and actions is part and parcel with being a compassionate, intelligent man,” but would the calendar have been any less effective if it had featured female-identified feminists? And I’m not talking about monochrome side profiles of Gloria Steinems and Maya Angelous. I’m talking about young bloods who walk among us, struggling over term papers like we do, and mix drinks for flatmates, people who’ve never set foot outside their home state, but whose blood freezes and boils at the mention of gender injustice anywhere in the world and who stand at street corners handing out flyers or shout themselves hoarse at public rallies.

Would it have been less effective with wheelchairs and hearing aids and different body types and ethnicities? The effect the calendar might have on buyers can only be estimated. I wonder about the likelihood of a straight non-feminist male (a) purchasing the calendar, (b) actually putting it up in his home, and (c) being moved to action by these dozen men’s feminist politics. Not as likely, I think, as the calendar going the Ryan Gosling Meme way to become a diluted attempt at reversing the male gaze.

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  1. B

    There is no such thing as gender equality and there can never be, until we stop giving women preferential treatment, just because they are women. Equality is only applicable when it works in favour of women. What a bunch of hypocrites, full of double standards.

    1. Lifeboats are reserved for women.

    2. The media only focuses on women’s issues.

    3. World’s most dangerous jobs are worked by men.

    4. Seats are reserved for women on public transport.

    5. News channels announce deaths of ‘women’ and children.

    6. Juries discriminate against men in domestic violence disputes.

    7. Women have special quotas in the parliament, companies, and colleges.

    8. Women receive lighter sentences for the same crimes committed by men.

    9. Child custody is given to women is divorce courts, in the majority of cases.

    10. Men have to earn for women, but women are not under any obligation to earn for men.

    11. Domestic violence and dowry are seen as women’s issues, while men are the prime victims.

    12. Men give women child support and alimony, not the other way around. Men are ripped off their life savings.

    13. Men are used as ATMs. Women always marry men who are richer, earn more, ‘well-settled’, and better educated.

    14. Men die on jobs daily. 95% of work related deaths are of men, but that is neither an issue, not something that women and children are grateful for.

    15. Draconian laws where women can land men behind bars with little evidence if any, giving a rise to false cases of dowry, rape, and domestic abuse. Police readily believe women, even though they lie more.

  2. ItsJustMe

    There are no misconceptions about feminism. People form their opinions based on their experience with a movement. Not by what their leaders say or what its definition. Feminism has been a women’s is movement, it has never been gender equality movement. It has never taken up men’s issues. It has also consistently induced victim complex in women by focusing on things that no women ever considered oppressive before. Even when trying to rebrand itself and market itself to men, it has the arrogance and selfishness to never include men’s rights in its agenda. It has failed to be apologetic about its huge number of radical leaders who are largely the reason why the movement is hated so much (even by women)

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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.

Read more about his campaign.

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.

Read more about her campaign.

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.

Read more about her campaign. 

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.

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.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

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.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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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.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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