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Opinion: The Double Edged Sword Of Patriarchy Stifles The Romantic And Sexual Life Of Men

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?

Why should boys have all the fun?” When we use this phrase, we are terribly neglecting everything that can go wrong with men. When we use this phrase we are neglecting that even a man can be vulnerable. When we use this phrase we are putting half of the humans on the planet at the risk where they would never be able to express themselves if they are having problems, pain, or penury.

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Patriarchy, and the roles it forces on men, affects them in negative ways.

Everyone talks about how patriarchy and gender stereotyping impact women but we also have to look deeper into what it does to men. The above phrase gives a definition of what we as a society think about the status of men. We think that in a male-centric world everything is just fine with men. We are mistaken that we need to emancipate only women from the clutches of patriarchy as it also impacts men in ways that are not even apparent and that makes the issues relating to men serious and menacing.

What adds to the agony is that men themselves don’t realize that they too are at risk although they keep struggling within themselves but cannot open up.

The way we see men; as a figure of strength, position, power, and responsibility is hurting men in India at all fronts of life. Patriarchy has acted as a double-edged sword, not letting men express themselves as a man finds himself hemmed between his own inflated ego as well as because of the expectations that are imposed on him by family, friends, and women alike. For the most part of their lives, they live in a fear of underperforming and are governed by the embarrassment that they would likely be subjected to; in case they don’t deliver close to what is expected out of them.

In a setup where a man is considered the head, protector, bread earner, and responsible for the day-to-day affairs of a family, a man finds it very difficult to give expression to his emotional and physical needs. Under the umbrella of being treated as a giver, he finds it very difficult to ask for anything, and while feeling constipated inside; yearning for that love and emotional support he just has to act strong.

Sushant Singh Rajput’s suicide had left the country awestruck; but to me, it is a classic case of how men in India are just not able to fight off their mental and emotional agony. How the nation reacted to his suicide substantiates how ignorant we are of the situation of men in this country. People were surprised as they couldn’t understand how a successful young actor can do that.

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Stereotyping And Romantic Relationships

I want to discuss how stereotyping impacts men not just in professional or familial spaces and finds a subtle but dispiriting expression in romantic and sexual affairs of life as well.

Let us honestly accept first of all that until it’s an arranged affair, getting into a romantic relationship is actually very difficult for most but all men in India for one very prominent reason, which is; that in my opinion, to get attention from a female, a man has to break the barrier of being “different”. This word is not a simple word. It has deep significations such as; he has to prove to the woman he fancies that he is above the usual status of men as per the set stereotypes and it also involves an unsaid commitment that he will be that way for the rest of the life over which most men fail hence another extremely popular phrase exists “you are not like the others”!

On a sincere note, are men really at fault in defaulting to their initial commitments? Or is it the nature of expectations that are posed to them which compels them to be more generous than they actually are or can be for practical purposes or in real-life situations? I would say most men show a greater amount of humility, love, respect, and care than they can deliver sustainably in the long run just to charm someone.

But isn’t it an obligation imposed on them as some women don’t find the usual man that charming? Does this impact men in the long run? Undoubtedly, in the form of break-ups and divorce. This is a defeat to them because of an existing stereotype that most men are patriarchal, irresponsible, and insensitive and only know how to earn and persecute women because of which they over-commit and fail.

When it comes to love relationships, it is very difficult for men to express anger, frustration, and other negative emotions even if they are genuinely irritated as that can suddenly diminish their status to a normal man. Isn’t it pathetic that we don’t want to consider men as normal? Why do men have to be abnormal to get something which is very normal for a human being to expect in their life? Isn’t it a gloomy picture of a man that we thought of as privileged?

All because of patriarchy and its negatives that men have to exercise restraints over very natural emotions just for the sake of projecting themselves as “different”. How justified is this?

The Pressures Of Sexual Performance

Talking of stereotypes, one lesser-discussed but quite an important aspect that puts men and especially Indian men in an insecure position is sexual performance. The pressure, anxiety, and fear associated with not living up to the expectations of one’s own self or the partner is quite real in men and can sometimes lead to lower self-esteem, loss of confidence, and even depression. The more male-oriented a society would be, the greater would be the obligations for a man to maintain that hegemony. And what can be more hegemonic than manhood?

Adding to the enigma is the increased consumption of porn which raises the bar for a man. Unlike other cinematic experiences, the content which people consume as adult entertainment appears to be a misnomer. Not only does it entertain people but changes the way men look at themselves. For men, porn has turned sex into a task to triumph rather than a two-way process delivering and receiving care and love in the most intimate manner. In the run-up to perform like well-trained masculine actors with professional expertise in a movie-making process, men end up facing frustration or many a times being abashed by their partners for poor masculinity and manhood.

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Porn puts men up to unrealistic standards of sexual performance and physique.

With time, men are falling prey to the fear which women are already trying to allay from their lives. The fear of physical imperfections is mounting and men are increasingly becoming insecure of their body shape, build, and other physical and sexual attributes more so after apps like Instagram have made good physical attributes sort of mandatory. Just like it impacts women, an obligation to appear physically and sexually attractive certainly affects the emotional and mental health of men while resorting to unnatural and unhealthy ways to achieve it.

If women are reading this, I would tell them to be more realistic in their expectations to have a more meaningful partnership. Don’t expect your partners to look or behave like porn stars as your expectations are a result of seeing men who are carefully picked up, not for their sexual prowess but for their athletic physique, charming faces, and non-standard sizes. Make a comfortable space for yourself and your man to express it in a more natural manner.

I feel patriarchy and the problems emanating from it are to be seen holistically and not to be bifurcated between male and female issues; if we have to design better and effective long-term solutions. There are apparent and non-apparent linkages that keep both men and women dissatisfied and at a disadvantage because of the way society functions. If we stop assuming men to be responsible for everything that is wrong and filthy, it will definitely give them space to express themselves in a better way.

In my opinion, if women can rise up not to “compete” but partner with men to achieve shared goals, and with men creating spaces for women and empowering them, we can move in the direction of a gender-neutral society. Looking only at one side of the problem will always antagonize the other half of the society and will derail the efforts to create a safe space for either men or women. A causality exists which needs to be explored and exploited for better stature and role of both men and women.

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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.

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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.

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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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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
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