As A Man In A ‘Man’s World’, I Often Fail To Look At Things Through A Feminist Lens

Writer’s block can be the worst thing. And for a person like me, who cannot begin writing until sufficiently inspired (read “utterly bored with the rut of life”), it can mean the death sentence for an already existing writing career.

So yes, I’ve taken a rather long break. I’ve been on a literary sabbatical, so to speak. Except that I don’t get paid. Nor was the break planned or intentional. But that’s the beauty with long, unexplained silences. They give a lot of room and time to ponder. The way your mind hop-skips-and-trots during silence is the universe telling you to think of things that you normally would be too busy to think about. Think of the things that never made sense. Think of all the little twiddledeedums that make you smile, and think of why they do so. Think of what drives people to do the things they do. Think of atoms and attraction and alcohol.

And when you’re done thinking outside the rather rigid rucksack that we call our own “comfort zone”, take a deep breath and think about the kind of rigid rucksacks other people have knit around themselves. The key here is to not focus on what they’re comfortable with, but instead, to look at why they are that way.

I’ll give you perspective as to why I’m suddenly feeling all preachy and philosophical. Flashback to a month ago, when a certain friend of mine belittled a certain achievement of mine because I had it easier than she did. And she drove her point into my extremely fragile (and by then, shattered) sense of self-esteem with a hitman’s precision, when she said:

Of course, you had it easy. You’re a man in a man’s world.”

Now normally, arguments like these are my thing. My tongue would be doing chin-ups against the roof of my mouth for the carnage that was ready to be spewed on that poor unsuspecting soul. Armed with pages of carefully curated research and some extremely pretentious filler words like “First of all” and “Umm, Newsflash” thrown in for good measure, just so I don’t seem like an uneducated zealot.

But instead, what she said, for some reason, made me think. Not about the atoms and the attraction and the alcohol. To be honest, it wasn’t even the words that she used, but rather the dead-pan tastelessness with which she delivered the phrase. This wasn’t a person trying to win an argument. This wasn’t somebody looking down upon my hard work. This wasn’t a woman trying to hurt me or put me down. This was a woman who was so used to getting put down; it didn’t even matter to her anymore.

I’m pretty sure that all of you reading this right now have definitely been on either side of this conversation; either the man or the (woe)man in a man’s world. And yes, I’m also pretty sure that a tonne of you are contemplating going back to your newsfeed and scrolling mindlessly down infinite pages of Unilad and 9Gag and Tasty Videos (Nobody cooks like that. Cooking is messy, tiresome and more often than not, disastrous. But hey, yes, choose to live in your vile virtual world where sprinkles fall cleaner than photoshopped confetti.), because this post just took a feminist turn.

You know what, it’s okay. It’s okay because we, as men, are almost never taught to listen. Or understand. Or care. It’s always wham-bam-paisa-banao-scam with us. It’s only ironical that I’m trying to tell you how wrong our mindset is when it comes to men and money, especially when it’s set against the backdrop of domestic abusing, drunk driving alpha men playing hopscotch in and out of jail. I know it’s unconvincing. People like them tell us that a man with money is the most powerful thing there is, and so we quite often lose sight of the people walking beside us and conveniently forget what they have to say.

And that is simply not okay.

That’s why it has been easier for me to go ahead with what I wanted. It probably will be much easier for me to get further in life. I fully understand that. And while knowing said fact, I also admit, maybe I’ll exploit that as well. Not on purpose, but I’m pretty sure I have played my cards unknowingly, to elbow a very deserving woman out of my way.

It’s easier for me. Because as a man in a man’s world, nobody will judge my character by the words I use, by the songs I listen to, by the clothes I wear or by the brand of cigarettes I smoke.

Nobody will dare to put a label on me unless that’s a label identifying me as inferior. And more often than not, that label will have something to do with “being a girl”.

Nobody will look at me with utter skepticism after I deliver a ground-breaking idea. Nobody will question my capability to make decisions that aren’t clouded by emotion. Nobody will ever shrug or smirk while saying “(S)He’s good, but ultimately he thinks like a (wo)man.”

And god bless, nobody (most likely) will ever ask me to sleep with them to get a job or a promotion (For a moment, we will conveniently not address the fact that this is because I’m not the most good looking man on earth).

Nobody will call me a slut, a skank or a whore, except for my friends—who can call me anything they want. And honestly, that’s the only time it should be okay for people to call you names because they are friends and not strangers putting price tags on your self-worth due to the cut of your pants or the number of buttons you’ve left open on your shirt.

Discussions on feminism always tend to take a rather bleak and hopeless turn. That’s because when the girls are doing the talking, it’s always “angsty” and “triggered” and “hormonal” even though they are, in fact, talking perfect sense, about the difficulties they face every single day of their waking lives. When boys do the talking, it’s often gross misinterpretation, slight paranoia mixed with a hell lot of attempts at diverting the attention back to themselves.

As a man in a man’s world, I don’t understand feminism. I try very hard, but there are so many nuances and niches to understanding and deconstructing the way our society thinks, all of which I, as a man, try very hard to comprehend and contribute towards.

And yet, nobody is going to question my authority on this topic, because apparently only men are allowed to have an opinion worth listening to.

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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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