Saturday, June 11, 2011

MEN AND GENDER DISCRIMINATION


I have received a lot of “ complaints” from my men friends that I look at everything through a gender lens  which paints men in dirty colors.  The latest to voice this complaint was K. Parthasarathi – a fellow blogger .   Let me tell you friends that this not the case. Men  also face gender discrimination.

I will begin by telling you the story of one of my friend’s sons –Babloo. Babloo  was very fond of playing with kitchen utensils as a child. His favorite past time was to take out all the little vessels in his mother’s kitchen, arrange them on the floor and play “ cook and serve” .  There were a lot of snide remarks in our friends’ circle about this little fellow- “ What a sissy” , “ I don’t know how she allows her son to develop such habits”  etc…!! 

I have lost touch with Babloo’s mom over the years but knowing her I am sure that she would not have interfered with  a harmless play activity that so obviously pleased the boy. Others of course found this very strange.

In society, we have  strictly defined roles for men and women which is what makes us from being just biologically different as  males or females.  A male child is made into a “ boy”  and a female child into a “ girl”  by the way we bring them up – society is very tough about what constitutes masculine and feminine attributes and those who transgress- whether it is men or women / girls or boys face ridicule!

Being a man is about as difficult as it is being a woman in our society if we do something that does not fall within the defined stereotype.

I remember at the age of ten watching my father break down and cry when he was informed about his father’s death.  I was shocked and uneasy – not because an adult was crying but because that adult was my father. I  had seen my mother cry once before when was in pain but it had never affected me the way seeing my father cry did . So, folks here again is the other stereotype- Men don’t cry- I ask you why not? Aren’t they human? They also feel emotion…!!

While in college there was this incident when I was travelling back from the university with a male classmate.  It was exam time and the poor chap was having high fever. As we got into a bus there was only one double seat designated for ladies that was empty. Both of us sat down next to each other on this seat. A couple of stops later a lady got into the bus and looked pointedly at my friend- her look suggesting that he should get up and offer her the seat  as it was designated for ladies.  I got up instead and told her that he was ill and she could have my seat. Now did that please her?  No! Instead she continued standing saying that she was not going to sit next to a male person!!! Just imagine-what did she , a lady of forty plus think that this nineteen year old would do to her especially when he was unwell?

Another incident- this one involving a very dear friend of mine.  He was being harassed by a woman colleague who used to continuously call him after office , show up at his house and when he  refused to take her calls and invite her inside his house she started stalking him around his neighborhood showing  up at any place that he went to embarrassing him. Finally, he decided to report her at office on harassment.  When he did that the initial reaction from HR was disbelief. It was after persistent efforts on his part that some action was taken against her! He is a very bitter man these days whenever the topic of harassment at the work place is discussed because what he says is so true- “ Had I done what she had done and it was reported I would have lost my job. But I had to struggle so much to even get a complaint through ….”

 So friends,  as we can see men also suffer from gender stereotypes.  Yes, society does accord them a “ superior”  role in the sense that they get more power and freedom to do what they want – but not the freedom to stray from what they are “ expected” to be and to do.  Many men are not comfortable with the “ power” and the “ superiority” accorded to them. They may be happier allowing their wives to take the important decisions – such men get labeled as “ henpecked husbands” .  A girl child who  likes to play cricket, football, climb trees etc is often described fondly by people as a “ tomboy”  but a boy child who likes to play with cooking vessels is scornfully called a “ sissy” – this is so because it is perceived that the girl is aspiring to pick up skills that are seen as superior while the boy is seen as coming down in  the hierarchy of skills- never mind what it is that really these children may have a liking for …!

Discriminations around gender therefore affect men as they affect women. Let us not for one moment think that it is only men who perpetuate this and for their own benefit…!!

15 comments:

KParthasarathi said...

The article is unexceptionable in content and written well.
I see in my daily walks at Chennai around 5.30am an elderly man sprinkling water from a bucket and drawing ‘kolam’ outside his house inviting amused smiles of passers-by both men and women. But he went about his business not the least embarrassed. Evidently his wife was sick. It must be said his kolams were better than what I saw elsewhere.
Likewise when I was a young boy and tried to sweep the hall, my sisters used to snatch the broomstick from my hand saying that it is not a man’s job. Decades back,my mom would not allow me to wash the dishes even if she was tired and unwell.
All these stem from age old customs that demarcated the jobs between men and women and any transgression did not pass muster though there was no rationale behind the practices. Frankly there is nothing infra dig in any job and the distribution regarded as a matter of convenience Luckily we witness some welcome change though not wholly in both genders taking over the jobs of the other. There are still men expecting a dinner on the table from the wife though both go out to work and woman expecting the man to do the outside job like banking.
Will someone tell me why when we fill the application form for a ration card or answer the questions from a census enumerator, we mention the male as the head of the family even though the woman in the house is equally if not more, qualified and earning? Are we prisoners of a habit affording the primacy of space to the male? Even the rituals and religious practices are male-centric. Is it not time that our religion is interpreted through a woman’s perspective?
Any views?

Meera Sundararajan said...

@ Parthasarathy- thanks for your response. Work is work- we give it the gender slant. Yes, I have also wondered why people write the name of a man as the head of the household . Technically it should be the senior most member...!

IRFANUDDIN said...

interesting read..... things have changed a lot, but certain things are bound to be there and will remain so...

Cloud Nine said...

Dear Meera:) Once again you excel in your turf- taking up gender bias. Times have changed a lot, we have been witnessing sea change in the society as a whole, but the wall is yet to be scaled. I agree our society is male centric, but we can see men who are harassed at home. One particular friend of mine never even knew where his wife was working and what her pay was! They eventually divorced, only after he paid a hefty sum for signing a mutual consent. She left for US with the ill-gotten money! Men need protection from women like these...But, even now, we can see rural women being treated like second class citizens in their own homes. Great thought provoking post!

Sunil Deepak said...

Some times I wonder, at what age children make their own these same attitudes about gender roles? Boys wishing to wear pink or play in the kitchen or worse, with the dolls, invite wrath not only from adults, but more so from their fellow children.

Srila said...

Well Meera, you have brought in the aspect of gender stereotypes which we as parents help perpetuate based on what we ourselves have learnt as men and women's jobs. we need to unlearn all this before we move on.. because all this has its implications even in the job sphere..In the work environment I have seen some extremely intelligent smart women who will not think twice when it comes to making tea/coffee or piling up a lunch plate for a male colleague... an accepted norm, but the reverse is always met with snide remarks. its high time women stopped thinking men are not capable of making a cup of tea.... and they are soo weak that they cant move a table.... finally this terminology of gender was created to help analysis using the power lens ... race, color, sex all becomes clear

Meera Sundararajan said...

@ Sunil Deepak, children learn from their adults and if they dont then adults reinforce this learning in any way that they think best. Srila you are so right. These behaviours can be seen at the workplace too. @ Nivedita, women in rural areas have the hardest lives in the sense that there is no way out of stereotypes. But then as we NGOs have realized slowly in our work with women in rural areas, it is impossible to work with them if we do not work with their husbands - gender is about both men and women.

Rhapsody B. said...

Namaste.....
Anyone verse in the systems of patriachy knows there is an inherent gender inequality as it applies to women, that is not to say that there isn't discrimination against men however it is situational and not inherently built into the ideology the set to designate the female population of the human race as inferior to its masculine counterpart.

This is fallacy of superiority is further distorted when one examines the diverse ethnicities of peoples across the world for within each group contains this same inferior/superior dialectic and how it gets internalized, perpetuated and played out in the way we see and value ourself and each other and in our daily communication. Within this context we can see discrimination against men in the form of "Othering". In the western world their is the hiarachy that pits certain groups in terms of value and worth at the bottom. Within each group the hierachy exists. To speak specifically to men here you see the discrimination play out where "white" men are designated superior and every other ethnic group is below them, designated the men of African decent and Aboriginal decent the lowest class and unfortunately can be witness in every socio-economic, political, Organizational, governmental and social class. It is reflected in the lack of opportunities, lower wages, the justice system in the discrepancies and disparities in sentencing for the same crimes etc. So we know discrimination against men exists however many men continue to feel threaten and disempowered by female competence, intelligence and confidence.

Whenever a woman rises up to speak to this fallacious notion of patriachy that promotes gender superiority (male) and inferiority (female) she is haled as a man hater, viewed as an irrationalist and seeking to be a man and take up a man's "position." Speaking of the continued existence of systems of equality does not equate male bashing or male discrimination, it is simply giving voice to the legitimate experiences of women who have been and continue to be discriminated against base solely on their gender.

Stay blessed.....
Thank you for your visits, I enjoy your shared wisdom.
peace...
Rhapsody

RN said...

Well written Meera.

RN said...

Well written Meera.

Meera Sundararajan said...

@ RN thanks- first visit and first comment on my blog! @ Rhapsody yes everything you say is true. I realize that you are also from the non profit sector. In the west it is about discrimination against people of african and aboriginal descent and here in India it is about people from the so called "lower castes". Discrimination is a multifaceted thing and we can appreciate it best only if we have experienced it!

anindita said...

I totally agree with the contents of this blog, Meera. My baby's friend, being a boy, has to hear from his family, "Ladki kee tarah rotaa hai?". There are so many instances around us. Even this grwoing up generation of Kindergarten kids conclude that Ben 10 is a boy thing and Barbie is a girl thing!

After marriage, the poor guy is supposed to behave in a particular way. If he admonishes his wife, he is a Mard and if he supports her, he is a weakling...

I hope this stereotype fades away with time, for which we have to be very pro-active and watchful when communicating with our kids...

Bikramjit said...

hmmm It will take a long time to get rid of the stereotypes ..
it would also mean letting go of our history and the way we stick to our medevial thoughts ..

Bikram's

kamalika said...

Nice one. but donno what to say.. and all YOu said were true. But b4 tat
1.why do Mothers and Maamiars(esp) long for a male child and pays more attention to?
2. Hopefully wit Nuclear families becoming order of the day.. Gender Bias may Vanish in a course of twenty - thirty Yrs..

Gayu said...

I am speechless...

Girls and boys have to go through this...there are many questions in my mind also...will blog about it..

I admire the way you write!!!!

Gayu

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