New Man Under Construction

The New Woman who had been hiding inside the Old Woman for centuries is now out and about.
Strings: A painting by Athulya Shaji
Strings: A painting by Athulya Shaji

The New Woman who had been hiding inside the Old Woman for centuries is now out and about. The #MeToo movement burst upon us with the ripeness of rightness. As sexuality and sexual identity come out in the open, and gender pronouns refine constantly, the new world order is all about accepting—and applauding—humanity in all its specifics.

Girls are good to go. Everything is finally falling into place. The language is getting its grammar right at last. Rape victims are called rape survivors; the shaming is of the molester, not the molested. Bad touch is taught in KG itself. Art and literature that glorify patriarchy are panned. Suddenly everything seems sunshiny, the globe is up for grabs!

But in the wake of so much good news for one set of people, how is the other set coping? What does all this openness and travel towards equalities spell for hetero relationships? Men who want women have to rapidly readjust their attitudes, bestowed upon them by skewed upbringings where they always got the parantha with ghee, that extra mithai. In boardrooms and bedrooms, as classmate, co-worker, confidante or companion, boys must come face to face with girls.

A short story like Cat Person, by Kristen Roupenian, or a novel like Luckiest Girl Alive by Jessica Knoll, brought us heroines who dealt with the delicate but devastating business of consent, making it an urgent intellectual debate about the physical. A sales assistant in the UK recently sued her boss for shouting, ‘She must be in her menopause.’

Closer home, the Malayalam film industry did an about-turn. Infamously chauvinistic for too long, we see a robust renaissance; recent films like The Great Indian Kitchen and 22 Female Kottayam bring in a perspective that’s fresh and feminist. There is an uprising alright.

But where does all this leave men, the men who were so snug in their chauvinistic rug, and must now rearrange all that they thought and knew? The seesaw is dipping on the side they sit for the playground is changing its rules.

Author of What Do Men Want? Nina Power has been quoted as saying, ‘I think it’s not overstating the case to say that in the current climate many men, especially young men, feel lost and alienated. They struggle to establish themselves in a job market which increasingly values “feminine” skills like communication over manual labour; they have also lost the respect that being a strong provider and protector—“head of the family”—traditionally conferred.’

Toxic masculinity has had its day. Indian men must learn to woo, to respect, to cook, to clean, to lay and clear tables, to babysit and to listen... or be celibate. The New Woman positively demands a New Man. Hopefully, he is currently under construction.

Shinie Antony


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The New Indian Express