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Why Is “Everything From Clothes To Sexual Life A Measure Of Man’s 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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Were you told to hide or control your emotions while growing up?

A man has to earn money by any means. If he fails to do so, then he has no value in this world. Society labels him as a failure and no one will marry him. There is nothing like unconditional love for men, he can be loved only at the cost that he provides something.

This is the harsh truth for men in India.

The Societal Pressure On Men

All things have to be done with a smile on the face, without feeling any stress, depression, anxiety, or phobia. Especially phobia, how can a man have fear of something? No, he can’t get afraid of cockroaches, lizards, dogs or heights, etc.

Unnecessary societal pressure on a person, whether men or women, push a person towards suicide and crimes. The male suicide rate in India is 25.8/100000 Man.

Representational Image

The toxic conditioning of men begins with their families.

In my opinion, a man in India has to behave like a man otherwise he will be considered a woman. And what is the behaviour of man? It’s aggressive, violent, using abusive words in every sentence, and physical strength. This physical strength is not for any Olympic game but street fighting, fighting with other boys to impress a girl in college, during rallies or politician’s roadshows, and risky activities like overspeeding. Addiction is also an issue that men face.

For example, a boy is expected to play Holi with colours, pick up and throw people in the mud, and forcefully applying colours to others. If he doesn’t do this and stay inside, he will be considered a girl. Everyone will make fun of him including friends, and family members.

If society says the opposite of this behaviour is feminine, then everyone should gain feminine qualities for a better and peaceful society. Men have historically been expected to fight in wars and protect society, which might be a reason for their behaviour today. You may call it “toxic masculinity“, a trending word being discussed in feminist thought.

Toxic Masculinity And Societal Conditioning

However, we also can’t ignore the societal conditioning of men done that is toxic, it also includes lack of emotional care, ignorance of abuse on men (physical, drug, or psychosocial), high expectations, lack of sex education, and avoiding “inappropriate” discussions in the family.

So, we should take proper steps to change men’s behaviour instead of cursing them, and if we continue to push them in the wrong way, this behaviour is not going to be end soon.

A man’s masculinity is measured based on his sexual process, wealth, behaviour, and “success.” Everything from what he wears to how he urinates is seen as a measure of masculinity.

It’s difficult to find articles, poems, and writings about the struggle of men belonging to Bihar who leave their home at an early age in search of work. Every year millions of migrant workers come from Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal, and Northeast states to Haryana, Punjab, and Maharashtra for labour work.

They do difficult tasks, risking their lives, and many times they get a severe permanent bodily injury, there is no special quota for them, no Medical service, no compensation, no job security, no education, no insurance, etc.

They do all things at a cheaper cost.

Gender Norms And Divisions

When boys go to college for higher studies, they have to go whether they are rich or poor, usually, if a girl belongs to a poor family, their families get her married and send her to the In-laws home instead of an educational institution. I am not supporting this, But for a boy, he has to go for studies because getting a job is his life goal.

Otherwise, he can’t get married, And when they go to college, they find some people are rich, some are poor, there are people of different varieties, and it’s very difficult for poor boys to survive in college. Many have to eat barely anything the whole day to save money and survive.

Representational image.

Men And Mental Health

Conversations around mental health are sorely missing in male peer groups.

Whenever a man talks about a relationship, the automatic reaction of his male peers is to ask “have you had sex“? Noo! you have been in the relationship for a year yet you haven’t had sex, shame on you, go and die somewhere, she will leave you if you don’t do this.

Does no one ask about love and mutual respect? Do you listen to her advice? If a boy decides according to her girlfriend’s advice because he finds this advice useful then his friends call him ‘gulam‘(slave) of her.

If a boy cries for any reason then people laugh at him, and will say why are you crying like a girl? Real men don’t cry.

It seems true that real men don’t cry! Because India is not a place where a man can express his emotions, and if you are in a state like Haryana, No way at all. You have to be hard, you have to be strong, I am not saying that a man should always cry about his problems, No! He should deal with it, but he has a heart that has emotions, then he should express it.

Every man must have emotions and must be sensitive about the poverty, misery, and pain in this world. Every man should be open about Menstruation, breastfeeding, and pregnancy. Every man should watch the delivery of the baby. Every man should participate in household chores. Every boy should be allowed to play and study along with girls in school.

Men should be open to LGBTQIA+ issues. All these things don’t make their heart weak. These will make them sensitive. Sensitive about the world. More realistic and understanding about the truths of this world, because this is the truth, not a fairytale.

What’s A Man?

So the next time his daughter will say I have periods, he will not avoid the conversation. He will think a thousand times before saying to his wife about what work she does at home all day?

He will not stare at women.

He will not raise his eyebrows when women start breastfeeding in public.

He won’t ostracize his queer friends.

He will express his emotions freely without being judged.

People always say be responsible, be a man. But first, explain how to be a man. What’s their exact responsibility and how to decide their responsibilities? Is this just earning money?

Family and society put so much pressure on men by calling it responsibility, but there is a huge difference between responsibility and burden.

As a society, we should understand that men and women are neither similar nor different, they are unique in their own sense, so don’t make norms by considering one sex, it can be good for one sex but can be a burden for another. So we should think equally without being biased for any gender.

Awareness of anything is a good thing for society, whether it’s Breast cancer or Prostate cancer. Both have screening tests for early diagnosis and prompt treatment. The mental health conditions of men have none.

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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.

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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.

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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