By Lipi Mehta:
Growing up in India, I was no stranger to how my role was fixed in society as that of ‘being a girl’. I was expected to have long hair and dress in a certain way and I remember how neighbours and others in my society told my parents how, given my style of clothing, I always looked ‘boyish’. I also saw how my friends, boys who I grew up around, were expected to be tough. When we played games in our building complex, they were expected to run faster and bear the occasional fall and bruises with a smile, because that was a sign of their strength.
Recently, Youth Ki Awaaz, along with UNFPA India, tried to understand what people think of how masculinity is oppressive for both, men and women, and what they feel about the notion of ‘being a man’. We asked three questions to our audience and created a platform where they could submit their thoughts about the same in the form of blogs.
Here are some of our learnings.
A female responder said that usually, ‘being a man’ indicates being ‘strong’, ‘powerful’, ‘heartless’, ‘brave’. Another female responder presented a different view, stating that a ‘man’ is one who can “raise voice for equal opportunity for both male and female” and added that being physically brave is not enough until a man can “teach” the other sex “how to be brave instead of treating them as weaker section”. It was interesting to see a variety of answers for a question where one would otherwise expect to read one-word answers with ‘virtues’ or ‘qualities’ that define a ‘man’.
We also saw a dialogue taking place here. A male responder asked why women want to be like men when they are “not made to do what men can do.” A woman replied to this stating that women don’t want to be like men, they want to have the same privileges that men have in society.
On one of our articles about a similar topic, a male responder questioned as to why traits like ‘risk taking’, ‘competitiveness’ and ‘physical courage’ are considered as typically ‘manly’ traits whereas they have benefitted people across all genders. He further went on to question why femininity is not devalued by equating it with ‘bitching, jealousy, whining, neediness, vanity, clinginess, helplessness and over-sensitivity’ and other such stereotypes. He concluded by saying that instead of looking at these as gendered traits, let’s look at them as traits that a person of any gender can possess.
Most responders gave the same answer for this question: No. One male responder said that he thinks in rural India, girls are forced to get married soon after they are 18 and in urban India, between the ages of 21-24. He added that the only idea is for them to “settle and have children”. One male responder pointed out that men also face the pressure of getting married but probably at a later age, around the time they are say 26. One person said that men and can choose between marriage and career till the time they are 35, “whereas girls?”
Some of these answers drew a clear distinction between how marriage and career are considered as completely separate in India, where they can’t co-exist in equal capacities, especially for women.
We received a variety of answers for this question. A female responder stated very practically that regardless of the gender you belong to, one should know how to, at least, do basic household chores, especially if one is living alone. A male responder shared an insightful experience. One mentioned how it is ‘unmanly’ for men to be helping at home and how in his society, men are “not allowed in the kitchen”. The same responder mentioned how women look at men in a “condescending” manner if they help at home and how men are teased as being “tied to the wife’s apron strings”.
The purpose of this exercise was to ask some carefully worded questions to reflect on what people think about the mindset of ‘being a man’ that we are brought up with, in India. In some cases, while some hard truths were reinforced, it was also heartening to see our audience taking the discussion forward, thoughtfully questioning each other whenever needed. If there’s one thing that this exercise taught us more than anything else, it was that while masculinity is oppressive for both, men and women, we all need to equally take a stand against these patriarchal notions!
Disclaimer: The views presented in this article are the author’s, and do not necessarily represent the views of UNFPA.