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From One Man To Another: Male Privilege Is Real And Absolutely “Toxic”

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By Devang Pathak:

Editor’s note: Over 92% of women in India experience some form of harassment, yet, we hesitate to speak up. To help create safe spaces for conversations around these experiences, Youth Ki Awaaz and Breakthrough India have come together to encourage more individuals to speak out and support one another. The piece below is a part of this collaboration. We ask people everywhere to come, #StandWithMe.

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The time has come to pick up my friend as we go for the routine reunion at some suburban resto-bar. But as I call to ask her if she is ready, I mumble a silent request, “I hope she isn’t wearing something fancy.” I personally couldn’t care less what she was wearing. But you see, she did. If she had worn a dress or a short skirt, I would need to escort her from the gate because she would be too scared to walk even till the end of her lane. When viewed it from the lens of my annoyance and personal inconvenience, I find the entire exercise to be futile.

I end up spending a large part of our journey together explaining that she shouldn’t be wearing these clothes, inadvertently sounding more of a patriarch than I intended to. “If they make you feel uncomfortable, don’t wear it,” I say while still firmly believing that I am a feminist.

These kinds of statements come very easy for the liberal man, steeped too much on his deck of privilege to ever be truly empathetic. He will be scandalised when you tell ‘it feels like they are raping you with their eyes’. He will feel concerned for your safety as groups of men give long stares on your night out. He will even sympathise with you when you tell him the resistance at home to your clothes and going out. But he still won’t get it.

“Don’t wear that”, “Ignore them” or “Don’t go to that place”, will be his standard advice to you; layered with good intentions and patriarchal in tone. This bewilderment for your safety doesn’t just stem from his care for you but from the knowledge of what men do. Men ogle and he is one of them, too.

It always seems innocent at the start- “That’s a pretty girl”. The twisted brain of his will rationalise his behaviour to assuage any guilt. “I am just looking because I don’t see that many girls in shorts”. “If it were me, I would be flattered that someone is paying so much attention”.

The rabbit hole of such rationalisation soon leads to “the fault lies in what she is wearing”, finally arriving at slut shaming where the object of your stares is deemed to be perennially at fault.

But these stares no longer stop in the real world. They live a phone away now. The photos and the private comments on a WhatsApp group may seem new but the patriarchal judgement they bring is an age old tradition. I wonder then – what clothes should women wear on their online private profiles to escape such lechery?

Men can sympathise, but our privilege will never let us imagine this world where your identity and value is reduced to your gender, where every connotation of your appearance is deemed a secretive annotation of your character and sexuality and where gross objectification ensures that you cease to matter as a human being altogether. A world where men are reduced to the caricatures of their appearance and sexuality. If you ever hear any of the following statements on a daily basis – “I hope his dick is as long as his feet”,“Do you think he lasts longer than 10 seconds?”, “I would like to spank that butt mercilessly?” or “Do you think he goes down?” – how long do you think you can keep your sanity intact then?

But perhaps I am over-exaggerating and it’s not something as explicit as those statements but much subtler. Like an unforgiving, unashamed long stare, which is immune to your disapproving looks or protest. How would it feel when every inch of your masculinity is turned into a mere object of lust? “Don’t wear that V-Neck”, “You need to not wear those shorts” and “Women see us as pieces of meat. Get used to it” – will be the diktats we will need to hear.

I am certain that there are many men who find this atonement amusing, and absurd, thereby proving that the male privilege we refuse to believe, exists. It’s kind of a whole truth, that religious leaders, ministers and governments refuse to take into account, when they pass patriarchal orders on what women should wear and what they shouldn’t.

The whole truth that if beauty is said to lie in the eyes of the beholder, so does perversion. That men can be seen leching at women in all public spaces without any consideration for what they are wearing. That one gender has entirely dehumanised the other to just an object of their whims, desires and subversion. And finally, the truth that unless we have a serious conversation about male privilege and the toxicity it has bred, no real victory for gender equality is ever going to be achieved.

If you’d like to share your own experiences – from dealing with everyday sexism and gender stereotyping, to period shaming, harassment and abuse, do share your stories using #StandWithMe, and help take this important conversation forward.

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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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