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How Porn, Gender Roles And Pop Culture Suffocate Men Into Being A ‘Mard’

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!

Created by Youth Ki Awaaz

When you have to share your feelings, who do you usually turn to?

“A woman simply is, but a man must become. Masculinity is risky and elusive. It is achieved by a revolt from a woman, and it is confirmed only by other men. Manhood coerced into sensitivity is no manhood at all.” – Camille Paglia

This quote sums up the notion of masculinity which our society possesses. A lot has been written and spoken on gender, sex, feminism but masculinity hasn’t got much attention. These topics should be discussed not just at the literature festivals but at the dinner table and on the college campus as well. This article is about the notion of masculinity in our Indian society and its effects on both men and women. Every culture has a different notion of masculinity but this I’m concerned with the Indian notion in this article.

My 11 years niece laughed at me when she saw me cleaning utensils and asked me, “Why are you doing a woman’s job?”

Representational image. Photo: Getty Images.

Don’t be surprised by this question. We have raised our kids in this manner. We have taught them that women produce children, women are mothers and wives, women do the cooking, cleaning, washing, etc. and men go on duty, men are busy in offices for work, they earn bread for the family, men are strong, men take the important decisions in the family, etc. These all are stereotypes which are stuck with the biological concept of being ‘men’ and ‘women’.

From colours and toys to books and movies, we expect the men and women to follow the societal approved way of behaviour. In the history books as well, we see men hunting or standing with sticks in hand and women feeding the babies or dancing. Intentionally or unintentionally, we are feeding the kids the creepy and problematic idea of femininity and masculinity that men are protectors and providers. In mythical texts, men are shown competing for a woman.

This culture of projecting men in a certain way exaggerates the biological potential to create a patriarchal hegemony. No doubt that men benefit from this hegemony but there are men who are victims of this notion of masculinity.

Women are pretty, men are tough. Women are sweet, men are naughty. Women are emotional, men are aggressive. Women watch daily soaps, men watch football matches. Women are vulnerable, men are saviours. You can add more to this list.

If you are not a perfect fit for this behaviour, then you are considered as weird.

Society associates masculinity with fast cars and heavy trucks. Our advertisements also conform to the behaviour of men with strength and power. You all must have seen the Hrithik Roshan ad promoting mountain dew which says “darr ke aage jeet hai.”

Why must this ‘darr’ (fear/dangerous stunts) always be faced by men?  Why do we have sci-fi movies showing male robots as tall and muscular while female robots as thin and short?  Why do people shame a man when he is shy by saying “kya ladkiyon ki tarah sharma raha hai?” (why are you blushing like a woman), “kyu ladkiyon jaise ro raha hai?” (why are you crying like a woman?).

And, of course, the legend film that quotes “mard ko dard nahi hota” (men don’t feel pain).

Are men made of iron? Even iron is allowed to melt but men are bullied for crying.

The answer lies in our culture. Connel, a sociologist, says, “bodily performance is a part of being masculine-feminine. It can enable people to act in gendered ways, prevent people from acting in gendered ways or persuade people to reinterpret their own gender.”

Representational image.

The porn industry is adding up to this notion by projecting men who can last longer to orgasm. This mentality takes a toll on many relationships in the real world where a common man does not take steroids. You can laugh at this. But these notions of masculinity, according to Siedler, are harmful and destructive which are damaging personal relationships and making it difficult for men to build strong relationships with women.

Not only this but the career choices of men are also affected. Men don’t often choose a career in teaching and dancing or cooking because our society associates these jobs with women. Many people find it awkward to watch a man crying at his own wedding and a girl who does not cry at the farewell. Society associates emotional behaviour with weakness.

This suppression of emotions often causes cardiac diseases in men as well as affects their mental health too. Let’s take an example of a man who is fed and nurtured this notion from childhood that a wife should be submissive to her husband, should not counter his decisions, should meet his sexual demands whenever he asks to do so. Now when this man encounters a woman who is nurtured in a family that’s liberal and treats a man at par with a woman, the anxiety of this man might take a violent form.

The way out for annihilation of this notion of masculinity and femininity is large scale campaigns to promote gender equality. On the government front, it should be the policies integrating men and women equally. And the most important way is to give gender equality education to our kids. The bodies may be biologically different but they may have the same feelings. ‘Nature’ may have created us as men and women, cis and gay, trans and lesbian, etc but it’s the ‘nurture’ which plays a significant role in the life of any human being. This article isn’t complete here. Because the discussion must go on.

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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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