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Gendered Clothing, ‘Chick-Lits’ And Other Patriarchal Pet Peeves

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Why do men despise everything labeled for female usage but it’s perfectly normal or sometimes even aspirational for women to use products/services termed as male/”unisex”? And the irony is that this mentality is passed down as women empowerment.

Unisex Jeans, Anyone?

A few months ago, I visited some of the popular jeans brands. Despite being located in one of the most frequented areas of Bangalore, none of them had enough options for jeans in size 34-36 for female. Upset, I was leaving the store when the salesperson informed me that they have some unisex jeans which were available in all sizes. I tried some of them, and though they sat well on the waist, they didn’t fit well. Even after refusing, the salesperson kept pestering me that for a woman as fat as me; it’s not possible to get a pair of jeans in the popular mainstream jeans brands!

The only option I had, according to this person, was to accept what I was getting and get them trimmed from a local tailor. I realized that there is a new marketing term in fashion retail known as unisex clothing which is nothing but clothes designed for men. And then it dawned on me, isn’t this how the society works when it comes to women empowerment and gender equality?

The Game Of Quality

And this is not the only example of the role of patriarchy in clothing. The debates regarding why wearing a hijaab/ghoonghat is mandatory to why women don’t have pockets in their dresses have been there for ages now. The more I observe the clothes; I realize how the entire fashion industry runs on patriarchy. I see many of my female friends opting for “unisex” t-shirts, jackets, jeans, etc. They tell me that the quality of menswear is much better than that of women-wear.

The fabric used for women t-shirts is usually flimsier than that of unisex t-shirts. Formal shirts meant for men have so many finishing techniques to make them long-lasting. On the other hand, clothes for women need maintenance and have a shorter life. And what does the world say about women—high maintenance, materialistic, spendthrift?

The Five Yards Of Tradition

Remember the statement by renowned designer Sabyasachi that it’s shameful for Indian women not knowing how to drape a saree? Why? Because it’s a part of Indian culture. Well, it’s a different debate altogether, that despite women—apparently being the torchbearer of Indian culture and everything holy—they probably still constitute one of the most oppressed female populations in the world.

But, it was funny to note how the dhoti, the male equivalent of the saree, has almost lost its significance to kurta pyjama, sherwani and even formal suits (during traditional events), and at the same time, interestingly, clothes like the salwar kameez, the lesser revealing clothing option is deemed as blasphemous for women. What do you think might be the reason? Probably because it is low maintenance and easy to carry!

No Office For Women

Slightly unrelated but fun fact that happens in offices every day—the AC temperature everywhere is basically aligned to men’s body temperature. So, if you see a woman carrying a jacket to the office during summers, realize that patriarchy is behind it too.

Movies With Strong Female Characters? Definitely Tanking At Box Office

(Spoiler Alert: Spoiler for Mission Mangal in next paragraph)

Recently, I watched “Mission Mangal”. The only character I took back home was played by Vidya Balan. From handling a family to applying Home Science on Rocket Science, she was an absolute treat to watch. But what touched my heart the most was her ability to focus on her dreams despite the hurdles.

At the same time, I read articles critiquing the film, calling it a man’s story (Akshay Kumar) despite a strong line up of supporting female characters. And to top it all, Vidya’s (her character’s) achievement was subdued by the fact that it was her who screwed up in the first place, and was responsible for a multi-million dollar project failure. So, wasn’t it her duty to compensate by working so hard? Women’s dreams don’t matter. Whether “Dangal” or “Chak De India”, success is always a man’s dream.

Toxic Masculinity? Acceptable! Women Swearing? Tauba Tauba!

Honestly, I don’t blame the movie-makers for this. This is how the Indian market works. We have evolved a lot in terms of content quality. Movies like “Andhadhun” and “Badhai Ho” fare much better than movies like “Thugs of Hindostan” and “Kalank” these days. Thank God for that, but there’s a long journey ahead for movies narrated from a female perspective. Movies like “Kabir Singh” and “Rockstar” that normalize toxic masculinity are worshipped.

Movies like “Pyar Ka Punchnama” and “Sonu Ki Tittu Ki Sweety” that are full of gender stereotypes and female bashing are celebrated, whereas movies like “Veere Di Wedding” are criticized for all the wrong reasons—women using cuss words, masturbating, partying and going on vacation without family. As if all the other aforementioned movies are absolutely politically and morally correct. Who decides that?

Ever Heard Of Dude-Lit Or Lad-Lit?

It’s a legit term apparently. Even I got to know about it just today. I was curious—if chick-lit are books meant for women who are looking for some shallow, superficial, junk reading, then should not there be something equivalent for men as well? And then I discovered that all the bestsellers written by the popular male writers like Chetan Bhagat are actually chick-lit for men. The difference is that since chick-lit is considered derogatory, they never use this term. Do you also think chick-lit is dumb? Then you should probably look up the meaning.

When Would You Write For Men?

Last year, I attended a writers’ fest where a man asked writer Anuja Chauhan (the author of “Zoya Factor” which has been adapted into a movie by the same name), “Mam, I am a big supporter of women authors, but I have a complaint. Why don’t you write something for men?” It was an innocent question I suppose, but it left the author perplexed. She replied to the man with another question, “What makes you think I write for women only?” The question was valid, indeed! For instance, “Two States” is a novel written from a male perspective, but it has a huge female fan following, but the vice versa is unfortunately not true.

It’s A Man’s World!

Ever had the opportunity of being the only (or one of the few) girl(s) in an all guys friend circle? Do you know what other people think of you? She’s a dude. They will call you bro. You are the cool girl! Imagine the opposite—he’s probably gay. He’s weak. Don’t be a girl!

The point here is that the premise on which we are trying to solve the problem of gender equality itself is flawed. There’s no equality of efforts. On the one hand, women have to toil hard to fit into man’s world without receiving any support. On the other hand, the only role that men get to play is to acknowledge women’s existence and “allow” them to be a part of their club. And what does it do to the male mindset? It gives rise to ideas like:

  • Men are entitled to rule over the world. Women have to work hard to earn their respect to get a place in their society.
  • Anything related to women is below standard and not worth it.
  • Feminism is just a handful of women ranting and cribbing. There’s nothing wrong with the Indian society.

I rest my case with the trailer of this interesting series, “Man’s World”.

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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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