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…!!