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“You’re A Man Even If You Can’t Lift Dumbbells” And More Truths About Masculinity

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

Masculinity is frowned upon by just about everybody, but most of us can’t shed the baggage of it because we have all been taught to embrace patriarchy.

“Be a man, Gullu. Why are you scared of hitting the ball hard?” My friends yelled at me as I defended a juicy full toss. “You know what? I could have hit that for a six,” said the wicketkeeper whilst taking a dig at me. The bowler, too, smiled at me in disbelief. “He ain’t a man. He couldn’t hit a full toss,” he said to the non-striker.

Playing cricket on Sundays has been a practice ever since I was a teenager. The incident mentioned herein happened a couple of days after Christmas. The verbal ‘bouncers’, however, did nothing to hamper my concentration. I drove the next ball past a diving fieldsman at extra cover with surgical precision. Moving on, I was brave enough to stare the bowler right in the eye as he was making his way back to the bowling crease. The non-striker, too, had a wry smile on his face.

Do you find it hard to smash the ball out of the park?” asked the bowler after the match was over.

Not really. I just love driving it all along the carpet,” I replied after the match was over.

Well, 26-year-olds, such as myself are expected to smash the ball out of the park right from the word go. According to some, bludgeoning the ball is synonymous with masculinity.

You’re a man even if you can’t lift dumbbells. You’re a man even if you aren’t a gyming freak. Representational image.

The Countless Perils Of Being A Man

It goes without saying that everybody, even mothers, expects boys to be masculine. According to many, you are not a man if you can’t run 2 kilometres at a stretch. Such is life, you see. As men, we are expected to be aggressive, fearless, belligerent, and reckless (to some extent). Men are expected to be stoic. Moreover, they are, for often than not, expected to remain in a silo. Many believe that men are born with a will to repress their emotions. Nobody expects a man to talk of his struggles.

On a largely personal note, I never opened up to anybody after being bullied at school. Back at school, I wore a turban and those wearing turbans were bullied regularly. However, I could never bring this to my parents’ knowledge. I couldn’t complain either, for I was always told that ‘men’ do not complain.

Well, that didn’t come as a surprise to me. Men aren’t expected to open up. There’s immense hostility to men having problems. As men, we are not supposed to cry out loud in the public. We can’t talk of it even whilst texting on WhatsApp. The very thought of typing it out makes me feel weak.

Furthermore, men, in all fairness, are expected to look good. Take this for an example: everybody expects a man to have a stout and sturdy physique. Men with flowing beards and rippling muscles happen to be the hottest of properties. However, a man in my position does not care for such intricacies. Well, that’s perhaps because I have other better things to do in life than to cry over my lean physique.

To be very honest, there’s a lot more to ‘masculinity’ than just recklessness, physical strength and aggression.

‘Masculinity’ Is Full Of Misconceptions

When I hear it, I am made to think of the various stereotypical scenarios that are often spoonfed to us by the media. Men with rippling muscles are everybody’s favourite. Those seen riding a Harley are called ‘hunks’. All of these are nothing but stereotypes.

Well, in case I haven’t made myself clear: I am not against the idea of masculinity, but I have come to dislike the stereotypes that end up barging into the narrative out of nowhere. Action movies are an integral part of my daily diet, but I also like light-hearted comedies. Sporting a beard isn’t a problem, but getting it shaved regularly isn’t a problem either.

Burning down and burying the age-old definition of ‘masculinity’ is a pressing concern. You’re a man even if you can’t lift dumbbells. You’re a man even if you aren’t a gyming freak. You’re a man even if you don’t have a million-dollar job. Your choices are your own, to say the least.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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