In a brief moment in Nisha Pontathil’s recent documentary film Mounam Pesumpothu (Breaking the Silence) about violence against Tamil women, veteran journalist Sashi Kumar of the Asian College of Journalism, Chennai, says that men have to be a proud part of the movement against this violence, of feminism, too. That it is an all-too-brief moment and that the question is never taken up again in the film is indicative of Indian feminism’s engagement with men.
Yet it is imperative that men are engaged with by feminists and feminism if we are to work toward an equitable world. March 8 has to be celebrated by men too. Sometimes, nowadays, and from some quarters, we hear that men are EQUALLY oppressed by patriarchy. This is not true at any level. From some other quarters, across the country, a movement has been around for some time that says men are becoming the victims of women and the feminist movement. This, again, is based on a deadly mixture of misogyny and misinformation.
But that men are oppressed by patriarchy there is no doubt. If women, from when they are a foetus to their deaths and after, are subjected to multiple forms of structural violence, men too have pressures of their own. Some of these are: the pressure not to be weak, not to cry, to treat women and girls badly and to respect them and to look after them, to earn a living and support a family, to always be brave and to never falter.
Men are human beings too. They need to cry, they need to feel weak, they get treated badly often, they find capitalism and the pressure to work difficult, they often want the family to support them, they are not always brave and they often falter. But they are mocked and made fun of for this.
March 8 is a good moment for men to have a dialogue with women about this, to see what women face every day of their lives and how they deal with it and to learn something from women. It is a day for men to engage with the history of women’s struggles against structural and interpersonal violence and to see their own complicity and perpetuation of those violences and work against that complicity, hand in hand with women. For that, men have to learn one of the most crucial capacities that historically has been only women’s burden: the capacity to listen.
Learning to listen will also enable men to speak when they have to and be heard. Not to force their way and not to resort to bravado and bluster, not to be bulls in china shops.Tamil popular cinema teaches Tamil men to be violent, sexist, misogynist and dominating over women and sexual minorities, indeed over any kind of minority. This is the ideology of masculinity that men feel impelled to take on.
Periyar, in a wonderful article called Masculinity Must Be Destroyed, argued that the term masculinity itself denigrated women built as it is on sexist ideas. If Periyar urged women to re-constitute themselves as equal subjects of men as Vasanth and Kalpana Kannabiran remind us, then it is equally important today to urge men to re-constitute themselves as the equals of women.
This is no easy task. There are various fake attempts to do that like the campaign by Farhan Akhtar telling us that ‘Real Men Don’t Rape’. This campaign is based on the idea of a ‘Real Man’, based on assumptions that come from the paternalistic ideology of masculinity that men should protect women, look after them and so on. The campaign would be better titled ‘Real Men Don’t Exist!’