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Men Aren’t Allowed To Be Different From Society’s Expectations Of Masculinity

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 man’s life isn’t easy as people think, probably because our concerns just aren’t voiced out.

So, it all begins when you own at least that one picture of you with your manhood, majorly captured to keep the family’s reputation boosted up. Ostentatiously showing off that picture that the mother produced a “baby boy”, is one of the seeds of patriarchy that have been sown in the society.

Many boys have injured themselves, getting slapped by an aunt or the teacher. Many times they get wounded and have squealed with pain, tears rolling down our eyes. But, every time a boy complains of pain, parents castigate him with the famous overrated Hindi dialogue “मर्द नहीं रोते”(Men don’t cry)? Our patriarchal society affects gender roles while we are growing up, thus building in a preference for “masculine” qualities and expectations in men.

So it’s considered normal when a guy needs to find a very “professional and classy” job and earn a very high salary by having a profession such as a “doctor” or an “engineer”, only to prove his manliness. Men are supposed to find a wife, produce at least one kid, and make the family proud by being well-established. The society expects that every guy must be “strong, courageous, independent, rich, intelligent, violent, insensitive, less expressive, assertive”.

The moment a guy fails to meet any of these parameters, he immediately experiences the challenges, the flip side of being a man. The professional background that earns him a modest salary is scoffed at. His passion to be a sport player other than “cricketer”, especially in India, is unfortunately still disparaged by most in many places. His physical deformities or mental disabilities are mocked. It becomes shocking when a guy is exposed to undergoing defalcations out of greed for being “rich” to keep up with societal pressures. If a man is sexually impotent or earns lesser than his wife, the society labels him as a “नामर्द”. Being single by choice, or being comfortable with their feminine side makes a man homosexual by default. And, being some transgender, a cross-dresser or a eunuch are derided and are banished from the confines of the society altogether. Such factors ensure that latent homophobia or for that matter, any such oddity omnipresent in our society lashes out at every instance of a man expressing or being himself differently from expectations.

And when boys have dysfunctional family systems or try to become iconoclasts to such established beliefs, they are handled to a scale where the older members still berate or beat them up regardless of their age. Most boys start acting fake to keep up with such demanding social standards. They try to pretend to have owned these clichéd “cool dude” titles, behave like bullies who try to manipulate young minds of juniors or colleagues or physically abuse them, get into the bad company to earn this “bad boy”, “fuckboy”, “playboy” label. And then this culminates in having sex, doing drugs, alcohol, drinks, and whatnot. While on the other hand, there are boys who genuinely be who they are, nonetheless, they are knocked down since they are believed to be disparate from established traditions.

Additionally, the boys who are incessantly built up with the misogynistic “Be a Man” dialogue then lack female importance in the society and become lechers with morbid sexual interests, violent husbands, criminals, rapists…the list goes endless.

It’s easy to pinpoint boys about how they become a terror to women by their uncouth behaviour, but honestly, it’s the society which creates these gender stereotypes, not the genders. It’s the traditional ideas which haven’t yet fleeted; it’s the wrong attitude which is rooted deep within our thoughts. It’s like creating a wall and cementing it layer by layer progressively as generations pass.

Learn to be who you are. Because if you lose your identity in the colours of being someone else, you’ll never be identified as anyone out of the ordinary. Be different, love yourself, be happy, because it is not a precondition.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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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