Editor’s Note: This post is a part of What's A Man, a series exploring masculinity in India, in collaboration with Dr. Deepa Narayan. Join the conversation here!
One of my friends in high school had a high pitched voice and did not ‘walk like a man’. Moreover, he had been sexually abused by a senior. It was no later than his first year in school that he was nicknamed ‘Shikhandi’, the transgender from Mahabharata. The effort of these bullies was to portray my friend – who did not identify as a female – as effeminate. If he did have any desire to identify as a female, he could not have done so in our high school environment.
With patriarchy come a whole set of norms forced upon all genders. Ross, in the popular sitcom Friends, is regularly mocked by his closest of friends for having played ‘girly games’ in childhood. He himself feels embarrassed about this period in his past and even insists that his son, who does not feel interested in masculine toys, does not play with a Barbie doll.
We often see Men’s Rights Activists (MRA) or men, in general, shun feminism as a hateful campaign against men. Men should understand – and this has often been repeated – that feminism and women’s rights movements don’t seek to abolish men but the idea that is a ‘man’. They seek to abolish the very idea of gender.
This too doesn’t go down well with men who have gone through rigorous conditioning in the norms of masculinity. Men are repeatedly told to be strong and extrovert, to be never afraid of anything, and never cry. This is why my friend would never complain about the treatment meted out to him to the authorities because that too would mean that he was not ‘man enough’ to handle bullying on his own. Nor could he seek help from anybody else in stopping those bullies.
When men argue that women are treated more “nicely” by authorities, that the sexual assault of men does not get as much attention as it should to prove that feminism hurts men, they arrive at a non-sequitur conclusion. Chivalry is not what feminists seek and it is feminists who are the fiercest advocates for laws that prevent sexual abuse or assault of men. It is for patriarchy, on the other hand, that these issues are problematic. Patriarchy cannot acknowledge that it is not the duty of men to protect women. Within the patriarchal field, my friend should learn to grin and bear the sexual abuse that he suffered.
There are several such instances of patriarchy hurting men. One of the most amusing instance that I find is of men who, when faced with facts, agree that wars are bad and lead to disproportionate civilian casualties but nevertheless feel the need to engage in it.
I have also seen the expectations from patriarchy: from being “a sissy” for not participating in some risky adventure to derision for choosing something ‘feminine’. I have rejected such expectations. Will you?
If you also believe that patriarchy oppresses men or have faced a similar situation, share your story with us.