There is also a need to be mindful of relations within our own families.
How do we bring up our boys? What do we communicate to them? Do we unknowingly re-enforce gender stereotypes in them? Do we also teach them to be compassionate? Do we allow them the space to freely express themselves, especially their fears, their doubts, and weaknesses? Do we let them learn that one should have respect for every human being irrespective of their sex, color, language, social economic position, race, etc? Do we teach our boys to have respect for the other sex, other sexes, and genders?
As parents, what kind of role models do we present to our children? How do we treat our partners, our own parents, our peers, and those who provide services to us?
As a husband, how do I treat my wife? Do I treat her as an equal partner? If she is the one who takes care of the household, do I respect the hard work that she puts in? Do I recognize that just as I work in the office, she works in the house – taking a thousand decisions everyday and how to manage the family and its needs? If both of us work outside, then do we help each other with the family chores as well? Or, are they the responsibility of just one person? And you can guess who that is.
As the partner who looks after the household, do I appreciate the tensions of the ‘bread winner’ of the family?
How do we treat our subordinates – those who do not have the same positions of privilege as us?
Outside our families, how do we treat women in the public space? Do we treat them with respect?
Author Timothy Beneke has said, “it is men who rape and men who collectively have the power to end rape.” Men must use their intellectual, economic, and political power to change the social, economic, and political systems that create and perpetuate violence.
Friends, the good news is that over the last ten to fifteen years, some men and men’s groups have begun looking at masculinity and its construction. This interest and engagement is both activist and academic. Like women’s studies, there is now men’s studies, which try to understand gender, patriarchy, masculinity, and femininity from the perspective of men.
Such men believe that women suffer from inequality, discrimination, and violence, while men have power and privilege in patriarchy. They believe that the dominant model of masculinity is oppressive not only for women but also for men, because it limits men’s choices. Pro-feminist men believe that men have to take responsibility for their own sexist behaviour and attitudes. They wish to see a world in which relations between men and women are peaceful, egalitarian, trusting, and joyous; in which neither men nor women are confined in rigid, unhealthy, and soul-destroying model of living.
There are men’s groups in Australia, Brazil, Canada, USA, India, Nepal, and in many other countries working against violence against women, and boys and girls. Amongst the activities they conduct are anti-violence work with boys and young men in schools, sexual harassment workshops in work places, community education campaigns, and counselling for male perpetrators of violence. The National Organization of Men Against Sexism in the US; White Ribbon Campaign in Canada; the South Asian Network to Address Masculinities; Men Against Violence and Abuse, Ek Saath, and Forum to Engage Men in India are examples of such groups. White Ribbon Campaign’s basic philosophy is that while not all men are responsible for committing violence against women, all men and boys must take responsibility for helping to end this violence.
Men who question negative masculinity believe that equality between men and women will make life more fulfilling for both. Gay people and their organizations have also played an extremely important role in critiquing and challenging hegemonic masculinities, and they have helped people understand that gender is not biological, but a socio-cultural construct.
I believe one important way for men to change is to get involved in child-rearing and household work. I believe we need a movement of men towards parenting, household work, and family kitchens. Looking after children will also bring men closer to their families and remove their own isolation. They will eventually lose their hardness. Childcare demands qualities that make us better human beings such as complete emotional commitment, selflessness, tolerance, and patience. Intimate and responsible fathering could enrich the lives of men, women, and children. Once they spend time in creating children’s life, men will realize that this is also a very creative and fulfilling activity. They will realize what they are missing while giving all their time and devotion for their money-making activities. While making a living, we should not stop living.
Men’s participation in childcare will not only humanize men, it will be good for children and women also. Children will get to spend time with, be close to, and learn from both parents. Women will get some respite from childcare and they will be able to pursue some other activities and jobs and interests.
Here is a story from a Japanese father in the corporate world who spent all his time making a living, had no time for his family. When someone asked him how big his children were, he said, “Ohhhh, one child may be so big, so big. And the second child may be, may be so big.” He is showing like this because the poor man has never seen his children standing – he has only seen them sleeping.
And, here is one of my favourite stories that gives me hope that men can change. It was 1942 and Mahatma Gandhi was addressing a press conference in his Ashram in Wardha, India. After every few minutes and answering a few questions, he would say, “Excuse me, gentlemen, I must go in for a few minutes.” He would then go into his hut and return after 8-10-15 minutes. After he did this for the third time, a journalist asked why he was wasting their time. Why couldn’t he finish the press conference and then go in once and for all? Gandhiji gently replied that he had to go in every few minutes because his wife Kasturba was suffering from acute diarrhoea and was too weak to go to the toilet. He needed to give her a bed pan and then clean her.
As this story shows, Gandhiji tried to create a balance in his life between his mothering and his public duties. For him, serving his wife, cleaning the Ashram toilets, spinning yarn was as important as leading the most important political struggle against colonialism of that time. And in the final analysis, it is those men who are able to create a balance in their inner “man” and “woman” who become great and immortal. Strong, macho, power-wielding men might be feared, but they are not revered.