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Opinion: Its Time For Men To Start Talking About Their Trauma

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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!

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Have you ever been told to pursue a field of study or career because it suits your gender more?

Some days back I ‘twitted’: “Let’s start a conversation here. Yesterday night, I was feeling low and I cried. It felt good as usual. Its a request to all the men when you come across this tweet to write about the last time you cried. Will request @BoyTalkProject to help. It’s ok for men to cry, let’s talk.”

The tweet was liked by around 5 women, neither any man liked the tweet nor commented. Now, we can think that it is merely a coincidence because I am no celebrity or influencer, therefore, no one commented. Yes, it can be the reality but the harsher reality is that most men do not talk about their emotions in public.

Recently, the BoysLockerRoom chat incident shook the conscience of the country. A group of boys, mostly under 18, from various reputed Delhi schools formed an Instagram group where they allegedly shared explicit contents about their fellow women friends. After the incident came into light, legal action was taken and much discussion started happening.

Representational image.

It will be wrong to say that this was a lone event because we all know that in private chat groups of both men and women such discussion does take place. However, planning or sharing thoughts someone shows a highly criminal mindset and stringent action should follow. Normalising such grievous crime is the last thing we should do right now.

I am not here to discuss this particular incident but to discuss why it is the time we should break these ‘rules’ meant for men. These ‘rules‘, at the end of the day, bring forth more toxic masculinity.

What Is Toxic Masculinity?

Toxic Masculinity is an idea and a stereotype. In an article, published in the New York Times, Maya Salam wrote, “So what does “toxic masculinity,” or “traditional masculinity ideology,” mean? Researchers have defined it, in part, as a set of behaviours and beliefs that include the following:

  • Suppressing emotions or masking distress
  • Maintaining an appearance of hardness
  • Violence as an indicator of power (think: “tough-guy” behaviour)

In other words, toxic masculinity is what can come of teaching boys that they can’t express emotion openly; that they have to be “tough all the time”; that anything other than that makes them “feminine” or weak. (No, it doesn’t mean that all men are inherently toxic.)

Here we will try to break the idea of toxic masculinity with some basic concepts. These key ideas are important for men to understand and reflect. Till the time we will not learn and understand these ideas, we will never be able to come out and start a conversation.

Redefining Masculinity
Image source: Kat Northern Lights Man/Flickr
  • It is ok for men to cry: One of the fundamental notions of the toxic masculinity imposes the idea that Boys Do Not Cry. If a man cries it is considered a weakness. Now, as we all know crying has nothing to do with weakness. It is an expression and no expression is for any particular gender. But the real story here is that the patriarchy teaches us that women are weak and men are strong, it is the responsibility of the men to look after the women, therefore, men should be strong.

This year-old idea is baseless and completely false. Weakness has nothing to do with crying. But, this false idea affects life and growing up of men from the very childhood. They learn to suppress their emotions or never discuss their real emotions. They feel that if they cry or talk about their own sorrows, problems, or traumas then the society will laugh at them. This whole idea forces men to never discuss their emotions and by practising this it becomes a part of their life.

  • Being strong has nothing to do with emotions: Being strong has nothing to do with emotions. Sherri Rosen wrote, “Tears are signs of strength and not weakness.”

To talk about my own experience I would say that I still cry. Amid this lockdown, as I stay alone in a city far away from my parents, I have realised that crying is the best way to heal.

Emotions are mixed with various experiences of joy, sorrow, trauma and others. It cannot be natural to only express a specific kind of emotion if you are a man. As a human being, we have every kind of emotions and all of these are very special. Strength is a mental structure and it has no connection with the emotions. This idea of being strong forces men to pretend to be stronger, therefore, they hide the actual conversations and indulge themselves in superficial and misogynistic conversations.

  • Misogyny is not “cool”: Boys and men should be very clear about this that Misogyny is not “cool”. Normalising misogyny is dangerous and the recent Boys Locker Room incident is the perfect example of how we have normalised misogyny. To start with men should stop objectifying women and realize that it is not normal. Calling a woman “hot”, “sexy” etc is not normal. These are not compliments but these are comments on a person based on an imposed idea of sexuality in men’s mind.

Misogyny exists in every part of our life starting from families. So here a conversation between parents and their sons become very important. Every family should come out of the idea of ‘Mera Beta’ and act on sensitising them. Identifying and learning misogyny should start from childhood, therefore, along with parents teachers and schools here should play a greater role.

For representation only.
  • Patriarchy is harmful to men too: I believe that we must realise that patriarchy is very harmful to men because more or less all the societal norms come from the patriarchy.

An article published in Feminism India noted: “Patriarchy engenders false consciousness in all the sexes and genders. For women, it internalises notions of desirable beauty standards, sense of being weak and helpless and thus a need for dependence on men for all kinds of support. Interestingly, patriarchy like many other social systems has antagonistic characters inherent in it. As patriarchy unfolds, the principal beneficiary of this social system, that is, the men themselves get affected by these contradictions in multiple ways.”

The article went on to say, “The glut of male entitlements provided by patriarchy develops a pernicious false consciousness among men and the upholders of hyper-masculinity. It provides them with a sense of unassailability which eventually develops into an exaggerated sense of invincibility among men. This can be easily gauged from the careless attitude of society towards mental health and physical safety of men, primarily that of boys.”

  • Talking is healing: Lastly, for men, it is high time we realise that talking is healing. The more we talk about our emotions, the more we discuss our doubts, the more we try to know, the better we become. Talking about your emotions, your traumas, your sorrows are perfectly fine. There is no need to hide everything and act cool by being a misogynist. The whole world is fighting for gender equality and for a better society, this battle should be won. I know we are born and brought up in a patriarchal society but we can overcome the wrong learnings and become a good human being.

Being a man is not about being strong, but being a man should be about being a good human being. So talk to your parents, talk to your friends, partners, teachers or with whoever you feel like talking to. Express your real emotions and learn to express.

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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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, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’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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