“Oh mere dil, mere aatma, tu mard hai ke aurat?”
(Oh my heart, my soul, are you a man or a woman?)
Before we begin, here is a list of definitions we must keep handy:
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Feminism: The belief that men and women are equal, and deserve an equal share in all resources.
Misandry: Practicing hatred against men.
Misogyny: Practicing hatred against women.
Misanthropy: Practicing hatred against human beings in general.
‘Patriarchy Dehumanizes Men’ was the topic Kamla Bhasin chose to speak on, at Ramanujan College. To quote her, “Nature makes diversity. Not hierarchy.” In a world of 7 billion people, nature hasn’t made any two of us alike. Nothing in nature suggests that a man is superior to a woman, or vice versa. In the movie PK, Aamir Khan speaks about the ‘thappa’ (sign) system. We weren’t born with a mark of superiority, or inferiority. Bhasin rightfully observes that the difference in our biological selves, are only meant to facilitate the process of procreation. Our bodies have more similarities than we choose to see. The 2 or 3 differences, significant for copulation, is limited to that purpose. They weren’t given to us as a sign of who can be Vice- Chancellor, or ride a bicycle, or cook and take care of household chores.
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Feminism, or as some men call it, ‘the F-word’, is far from a fight for female superiority. In fact, when the Women’s March was organized on 21st January, 2017, Ryan Gosling’s presence was received with more than a little friction. He had gone on to make a statement saying ‘women are better than men’ and true feminists had an issue with that. We are not better, we are not superior, but we are equal, and that is all there is to it.
The results of patriarchy have been more evident on women, which is why men have been left out of the discussion. However, few realize the destruction it has wrecked upon men. Patriarchy is a system or school of belief. In it, all the major powers of decision-making, ideology, dominance, are vested solely in men. It would be a gross error to say that only men belong to this school of thought. Several women also conform to this convoluted distribution of power, and hold the responsibility of initiating their children into the same doctrine. This internalized misogyny is another critical issue where women tear each other apart, but that’s a discussion for another day.
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“The fight of feminism isn’t against men, it’s against patriarchy”, said Bhasin, and I along with a million others, would like to add to that and say, “the fight of feminism isn’t against men, it is for both men and women.”
Here’s why we are backing feminism for men:
Over-burdened with responsibility
Men have been turned into watchmen, which is a thankless job if anything. If I wander out late into the night and happen to be molested, or cat-called, or even raped, society will pounce on my family before I can say ‘Jesus’. It will magically become my father’s fault for having allowed me to stay out late, or wear a certain type of clothes, or even have a boyfriend. Our society has drilled into men that it’s their responsibility to protect us. Over the years, it has gone from endearing affection to hysteric dominance. ‘Looking out’ for us has shifted to ‘controlling’ our lives. Bhasin mentions the ridiculousness of the situation when a tiny 6-year-old boy is sent out with the 16-year-old sister, as her bodyguard. The male partner has to drop the other home, or they become less of a man in the eyes of society. If anything, the real purpose of this protection has shifted to become a symbol of male superiority, being imposed on both the genders, equally.
Men don’t cry
An iconic motif in Bollywood is, ‘mard ko dard nahi hota’, which means ‘men don’t feel any pain’. How is that humanely possible? Of all the differences between our bodies, Biology never taught me one that blocked emotions in a man. Either I skipped that chapter in Science, or humanity has failed to differentiate between a man and a rock. Way too many households have chided little boys by saying ‘men don’t cry’. It’s been drilled into their system that men feel no pain. It has never occurred to any of these peers or parents how massive an impact this has on their emotional development. Children are molded by the beliefs they are subjected to. Vogue India released a short film on 21st October, 2014. The film, directed by Vinil Mathew and featuring Madhuri Dixit, was titled “#StartWithTheBoys”. It shows how blocking their emotional growth as a child, leads to them becoming inhuman and unfeeling as adults. The video culminates into baring that the very children who were asked not to cry because they were boys, grew up to not respect the emotions of others. Kamla Bhasin also observes they never attain ‘emotional intelligence’.
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They have to be manly, even in their clothes and habits
Our gender roles are the main culprit that has led us into this mess. The primary socialization that we go through at home aims to get us accustomed to our ‘roles’ in society. In Class 3, I landed up in school with a haircut that was passed of as ‘the boy’s cut’ back then. I didn’t know the fancy name for it, and I never bothered. I got a few comments here and there about how only boys get that haircut, but it didn’t really affect me too much. 11 years later, I no longer have the courage to pull that off. Over the time, society has drilled into me a need to be feminine, and while I rebel in several ways, I still remember a point in my childhood when ‘being myself’ came to me without any emotional baggage. It’s the same for men. Unless he’s in a music band (Stereotyping 101), the long hair is still greeted with ‘you look like a girl’ (as if that’s the only identity our gender has). Men actually have it tougher when it comes to gender dress code. Their guidelines are far more rigid than ours. As women, we can wear anything we want; a man’s trousers, an over-sized t-shirt, skirts, sarees, anything at all. Men, somehow, don’t have that liberty. They cannot wear skirts, or a saree, unless they want to be called a ‘cross-dresser’. In Bombay Talkies, Zoya Ahmed’s short film ‘Sheila Ki Jawaani’ shows a young boy secretly wearing his mother’s make up and dancing like Katrina Kaif. The process of social ostracism comes alive poignantly in the tale. The story is based on the life of a real-life fan.
Kamla Bhasin observes that the color palette for men’s clothing is limited to dark and boring shades. They are judged even on the color (say, pink?) of their shirt.
“Unidimensional” role of earning money
If women have been limited to the role of ‘home-maker’, men have been limited to the role of ‘earning money’. Bhasin rightfully observes that their sole identity rests as a money-churning machine. It’s harmful to limit one’s worth to something as precarious as money. What if a man wants to stay at home while the woman works? As in the case of comedian Karan Talwar, where his wife brought home Maynard, their dog, after realizing that her husband would be home to take care of him. Gradually, more and more men are beginning to embrace modern mentality. CNN reported that in 2015 “17 big employers have either introduced or expanded paid leave options for new dads. One of them- Hilton- offered what is considered the bare minimum of 2 weeks. Other companies, by contrast now offer anywhere from 6 weeks to 26 weeks, or in the case of Netflix, as much time as a new parent needs in the first year.” It’s great to watch both genders trying to break out of the roles imposed on us. Feminism for men is necessary.
Men face atrocities too
Thought Catalog listed 19 stories of men being raped, while Cracked.com started their article on men-rape with the word “bizarre”. Well, there’s nothing bizarre or out of the ordinary here. Men get hurt too. A report by The Sun, UK, on 17th September, 2016, shows that the domestic abuse rates on men have trebled in the last decades, giving rise to a concept of ‘Bully Wives’. Pain isn’t gender-specific.
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More and more companies are asserting their stand on gender equality. Audi’s entry into the Super Bowl ad fest is beautifully directed by Aoife McArdle. It shows a father worrying about his daughter, as she completes a downhill cart race, being second-best to every man she meets. Audi closes the ad pledging ‘equal pay for equal work’. Bud Light, last year, gave a shout out to gender equality in an ad co-starring Amy Schumer. ‘Men Engage’ is an international NGO that calls for the support of men to end patriarchy.
Please don’t be misled by the ‘femininity’ of the term. Feminism for men is as important as it is for women, because, as Kamla Bhasin said, “Patriarchy ne aapko apni insaniyat se alag kar diya.” (Patriarchy has separated you from your humane side).
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