Twisting Gender Norms: Why Should ‘Protection’ Be A Man’s Burden?

Posted on September 3, 2015 in Masculinity, My Story, Sexism And Patriarchy, Society, Taboos

By Prerna Gupta

Hey, is it an off on Rakhi?” asked my friend, questioning about whether or not the college would remain closed for Raksha Bandhan.

No, I don’t think so. Besides, we are better off without a sexist holiday,” I replied, the feminist in me, quietly shaking her head at the casual everyday sexism we have come to live with.

What? It’s not sexist. Anyway, I tie rakhis only for gifts,” said my friend, laughing the matter away.

raksha bandhan
For those who don’t know, Raksha Bandhan is a Hindu festival that celebrates the bond between brothers and sisters, wherein a sister ties an ornate string (rakhi) on the wrist of her brother, who in turn vows to protect her, the sister then feeds the brother something sweet and receives a gift as a token of love.

I had been dreading the arrival of Raksha Bandhan this year, because growing up in a middle class Hindu family, I knew I would have to tie rakhis to my brothers. I had done so for years, but had somehow failed to realise the sexist implications of the festival. This time, however, realising the consequence of my actions, I wasn’t going to just give in.

I came up with an idea: I told my mother that if she wanted me to continue the tradition and complete the rakhi-tying, all my brothers would have to do the same. They would have to tie me rakhis too. What took me by immense surprise was my mother’s reaction to my demand. She not only helped me pick out the rakhis for myself, she told all my brothers about my wish, and everybody happily resolved to oblige.

No, my brothers did not say no or nudge the idea. No, my brothers did not see this as a threat to their ‘masculinity’. When my aunt implied that it was a given that I was going to be there to offer unconditional support to my relatives, my elder brother said, “It is also obvious that we are going to be there for her, whenever she needs us, yet she has tied rachis for the last 19 years; it’s time we made sure that she is going to be there for us.

It left me feeling a little proud.

I think a large majority of youngsters realise that one particular gender, today, doesn’t need to be protected by the other, which is also, not coincidentally, the more privileged one.

On the day of Rakhi, all my brothers, conforming to my request, tied me rakhis, making me one happy sister. My 9-year old cousin, on whom all the truths of the world were yet to dawn upon, naively asked me, “Aap boy kyun banna chahte ho? (Why do you want to be a boy?)” I couldn’t say anything. What could I have said that would have permeated the brain of a 9-year-old boy who has been brought up in a heteronormative fashion? I am, however, positive that he will come around as he grows up.

I felt like I had made a point, one that needed to be made. Raksha Bandhan is about celebrating the bond between brothers and sisters, isn’t it? I did just that.

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