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Dear Men, Here Are 6 Things You Should Talk About With Your Friends

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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!

In media and popular culture, friendships between men have been reduced to simplistic narratives and tropes. While deep bonds are shown, these men are only shown to talk about limited things like their next adventure, a (mostly) heterosexual love interest, and banter. These friendships may be ‘ride-or-die but societal narratives often discourage men from talking about a host of issues with their friends.

This article is a mere attempt to tell my fellow men out there that it’s okay to seek guidance, support, or just a friendly ear from your friends on a topic that society considers “taboo” for men to discuss. A good friendship should be inclusive and supportive and allow men to speak about these topics with their friends.

1)Body Image

body image
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Body image and dysmorphia are something that runs in everyone’s mind. Speaking about these insecurities about the “flaws” society dictates that your body has is something I have never seen men do. And they should.

Calling your friend “mota (fat)”, “Lakdi (stick)”, or a variety of “jokes” about different body types is not funny and has harmful long-term effects they won’t speak about to anyone. They will feel that they have no one to talk to. Instead, encourage your friends to talk about their insecurities, support them and be there for them in their journey to overcome them.

2)Sexuality

A majority of the conversations that I have heard about sex between men either in media or personally revolves around the physical act itself and crass objectification of their partner. Thankfully, I can happily say that the people who used to speak about these things with me are no longer my friends.

With my current close friends, I can easily talk about my bisexuality, my insecurities, and all the aspects that surround sex and sexuality. My friends find that they can do the same with me. It is very freeing to openly discuss something that society has tabooed to be discussed between men without patriarchal objectification and it is something I wish more men became comfortable discussing with their friends.

3)Bullying

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Bullying in school or ragging in colleges is something that has become almost normalized. An attitude of ‘seh lo, sab hi sehte hai (endure it, everyone does) has set in. Combine that with the stoic ‘men-don’t-cry’ ideals of toxic masculinity and you have a friend who is hiding a lot within themselves.

Instead of going the ‘seh lo’ route or trying to find ways to get back at the bully, also take time to ask your friend how they feel and how it affects them.

4)The Pressures Of Toxic Masculinity

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If we listen to toxic masculinity, what’s a perfect man? One who earns enough for his family, doesn’t show any emotion, and gets on with life. Patriarchal gender roles affect men too. The constant pressure of being what society says an “ideal man” is can be suffocating.

Be a shoulder for your friend to cry on and vice versa. Let each other know that you don’t have to be “perfect” and make sure your friend doesn’t fall victim to toxic masculinity.

5) Mental Health

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There were 97,000 male suicide deaths in India in 2019 alone. Mental illness is a very real issue that Indian society completely ignores, and men are told to ‘be a man’. Male friends should encourage each other to open up when they are in need, to talk to each other about what’s on their minds, and to encourage and support your friends who are suffering from mental illness to seek professional help if they need it. Words of encouragement from a close friend go a long way in an Indian society where seeking help for mental illness is already looked down upon.

6) Address Problematic Behaviour

Society and culture in India tell men that a lot of sexist, misogynistic, racist, and hateful things are okay to talk and joke about. It tells men that ‘boys can be boys’ when it comes to intimate partners. If your friend group has these traits you should always address them and talk about them. No one is born perfect and societal narratives play a role, but urging your friends and yourself to take accountability, learn, and unlearn is a step in the right direction.

Friendship is one of the most beautiful aspects of human life and it should be holistic. Encouraging new ideas and emotions in your friend groups will only help you grow.

Feature image is for representational purposes only.
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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.

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.

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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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