This study+campaign was a group-undertaking with my peers — Sruthy Kutty, Rucha Satoor, Chitralekha Dhar, Sarthi Gupta and myself. We reattributed our findings on various themes and this is my documented version of the experience. The consent to use our common notes was taken from all group-members before writing this piece.
What Do Boys In India Think About Being Boys?
Here is a question that has passed my mind way more than I would like to admit. At times as a result of some offensive, ludicrous conversation, a few times out of pity, and often out of frustration. Girls today are told that they can do anything, be anyone. And they are absorbing the message. Or at least, wondering about it. Boys though, not so much.
A very large number of them do not really have much to navigate their identity or gender expression. Young boys across economic classes continue to see “role models” who themselves have been discouraged by the society to be vulnerable and thus have grown up not knowing how to be or isolated and confused about themselves. And they are scared about it. And we all see the consequences.
Many of these children were shown the idea of the ‘strong’ male figure through film and culture.
Revisiting here, some of the most challenging and adventurous weeks of reimagining “being a man”, and what it meant in these young boys’ own lives — and our society at large. ‘Mardaangi’ (Masculinity) can be said to have several standpoints but all hit at a point of intersection which can define the ‘Construction of Masculinity’. This action-led research project is more than five years old but the major outcomes remain relevant and relatable.
Violent But A ‘Hero’
We are no aliens to the fact that power keeps a very linear relation to masculinity and how it contributes to patriarchy. This power often channelizes into various forms — violence being one of the most dominant ones. During an early interaction with our intervention group, we handed out a male silhouette cut-out to young boys and asked them to give a single-word description of what a man in 2015 should be like. The responses were both intriguing and disturbing. “Asli Mard (real man)” according to the boys should be – “Sakht (austere)”, “Taakatwar (strong)”, “Hero jaisa (like a hero)”, “Kamaanewala (one who earns)”, “Dabbang (not afraid of force)”, “Kisi se naa darnewala (not afraid of anyone)” ……
It became painfully clear to us that violence ran in the under-currents while adding up to the description of masculinity for these young boys — whether it was being a ‘hero’ who fought to impress girls or being aggressive and use physical strength or strong language, even abuse to gain control of a situation.
A “toughie” who would bully to maintain his self-esteem. But not one boy described a man to be sensitive or emotional proving a point of frustration that even if hurt, “mard ko kabhi dard nahi hota’(a man never gets hurt).