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!
By Kiran Rai:
From playthings to grown-up stuff, the lines of what men can and cannot do are very clearly drawn. And the social pressure to conform has burst many a young dreams. If you thought otherwise, hear these men out!
Rohit*, 28, Sales Representative, Bangalore: After finishing college, all my friends picked up jobs or joined their family businesses. I loved photography and chose to be an unpaid intern for a well-known photographer. However, my parents started pressuring me to take up a job as I had been ‘jobless’ for almost six months.
I asked them why didn’t they have the same expectations from my elder sister Jyoti, who was also pursuing painting after college. “Why is she not working?” I asked. My dad said it would be unethical of him to expect Jyoti to earn. “It’s the men who have to bring home food,” he said. I got so frustrated with all the sarcasm that I took up a sales job and gave up on my dream to become a photographer.
Raunak*, 28, Homemaker, Chandigarh: Kavish was a year old when my wife got a promotion and was transferred to another city. She was earning well so I decided to move with her, quit my job and raise our son by being a stay-at-home dad.
One day, as I took Kavish to the park, one of our neighbours cornered me and said, “I have a vacancy in my office. Do you want to apply?” I politely told him that I am happy taking care of my son for now and was not looking for a job. The man probably could not digest what I said and asked me if I was joking and why I was doing a ‘woman’s work’ of raising a baby?
I maintained my cool and said, “Brother, I do not know which year you are living in. It is 2018. My child is not just my wife’s responsibility, but mine too.” We are very happy with our arrangement.
Kiran*, 29, Social Activist, Gurugram: It was my nephew’s birthday a few days ago and I wanted to buy him a gift. I told the shopkeeper to show me a birthday gift for an 8-year-old child. The first question that he asked, “Is the child a boy or a girl?” Surprised by his question, I asked, “How does it matter?”
“If it’s a girl then I will show you dolls, art and craft sets and if it’s a boy then cricket sets or guns, it helps with the selection,” he said as a matter of fact. I chided the shopkeeper for his views and purposefully said, “Show me that dollhouse for an 8-year-old boy. And yes, Barbie dolls are his favorite. Show the other dolls too and quickly.” He was taken aback but regained his composure to show me what I wanted. As I left the shop, I wondered, how even playthings defined what a girl or boy could or couldn’t do.
Nisha*, 35, Noida: One evening, as I was drinking tea with friends, my 9-year-old son Abhinav came to show me his freshly painted nails. My friend was really surprised to see Abhinav’s coloured nails and zapped, “What have you done?” Before she could humiliate my son, I looked at Abhinav and said, “Oh, wow it is so beautiful!“He was elated and went back in.
There was a surprised look on my friend’s face but she resisted any further comment. However, this parental protection was short lived. A few days later, he was crying on his way back from his tuition class, because he was teased by other children for his coloured nails. I tried to mollify him telling him he could do what he liked and paint his nails. But to no avail. He just removed the nail colour with sadness in his eyes.
Faiz, 21, Student, Faizabad: I have always been a very sensitive person and would cry on every little thing as a child. Whenever I cried, I was scolded and told, ‘Stop crying like girls,’ or ‘boys don’t cry.’ I often used to wonder if men were not supposed to cry then how come they have tears?
One day, my dear grandmother passed away. Since I was really attached to her, I felt deeply saddened by her death. ‘Get up, be like a real man and help us.’ I ignored his advice and rushed to my grandmother’s body, hugged her and cried my heart out. For me, it was more important to be a good grandson that a ‘real man’.