By Satyam Shekhar:
My elder brother and I are great fans of action movies, particularly the ones involving covert operations. One of the things that always fascinates us is how the hero makes critical decisions at every stage of the mission. We have always believed that life is about making decisions at crucial junctions. Decisions make or destroy us. They define our lives in a real sense.
I have made several good and bad decisions in my life, none of which I regret in any way. However, I do sometimes wonder how many of my decisions were influenced by gender.
Consider the following – in class 11, I wanted to study biology along with the sciences, since I found it really interesting. When I told my friends about this, they didn’t seem very enthusiastic. Instead, they were deeply absorbed in their pride because they had chosen maths. I felt a bit alienated and started sulking. For a 16-year-old, dealing with such a dilemma was rather new. I voiced my concerns to many people, who did little to support my choice – apparently, biology was something that only girls loved! Maths was the ‘cool thing’ guys pursued.
I pictured myself living with shame and the identity of being a ‘secondary student’ if I didn’t choose the mainstream ‘guy’s subject’. And for me, living with pride was more important than living with my dreams, as nascent as they were.
I never wanted to be left out or segregated, let alone be a rebel. As a fat kid, I’d always struggled to become ‘normal’ and wanted to lose weight all the time. I knew the pain of being alienated and being considered the odd, ugly, weird one. Being seen as ‘not-masculine’ – that was the last thing I wanted.
So, I chose maths over biology.
It’s something we don’t realise – but at every stage of schooling, from the color and size of lunch boxes to the trousers one wears, the need to look masculine has affected the confidence of a lot of young boys.
Another thing that one needs to understand is the fact that conforming to gender norms and being accepted by your peers is not merely a choice but also a privilege. I had friends who used to spend a lot of money on bikes, clothes and accessories like hair-gels and deodorants to look ‘cool’ and ‘macho’. Not everyone can afford all of these things. Unwanted as they may be, gender roles are real – and they create social and psychological difficulties for many.
The need of the hour is to challenge and revisit predominant gender roles – so that a person’s individual choices are not governed by the need to please society but to add real value to one’s life. So far, it doesn’t seem like we think it important to address these issues in our schools. Whenever we have tried to talk about sexuality, we don’t really talk about gender. Maybe if someone said something to me about gender roles being stereotypes, I wouldn’t have chosen my masculinity over my dreams.
The author is a TYPF Peer Educator and Youth Advocate.
This post was originally published on www.theypfoundation.org.
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