By Rupande Mehta
In her speech at the UN on September 21, Harry Potter actress Emma Watson created waves when she said gender discrimination affects both men and women. Launching the HeForShe campaign, the goal of which is motivating men and boys to end gender inequality, Watson said, “Both men and women should feel free to be sensitive. Both men and women should feel free to be strong.”
What did she mean by men feeling free to be sensitive?
When we think of gender inequality, we only think of women and this is, perhaps, rightly so… to an extent. Women have suffered great injustice from men for centuries and despite stalwart progress, modern society has been unable to grant women their rightful place. We have created numerous stereotypes about the place of women in society – they need to tend the house, cook, clean, stop working once they have children, get a lower wage for the same work, and so on – but have we thought of the stereotypes we have created against men?
Is it possible that stereotypes created for men are playing a huge part in atrocities against women?
Take the case of our country, where stereotyping women is everyone’s favourite pastime, but have we in this process glorified the men too much as well? We have created standards we expect our men to meet and when they fail to adhere to them, we call them “soft”, “not manly enough” or even “gay”. We are telling them they will not be accepted unless they meet our pre-defined criteria. We expect all men to be tough like the film stars we see, even if at the expense of their feelings. When former chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, Mulayam Singh Yadav, was asked to comment on the increasing number of rapes in his state, he replied saying, ‘Boys will be boys’ and indicated that death by hanging was too harsh a punishment for such a human error. When a woman was raped on Park Street in Kolkata last year, the state’s chief minister Mamata Banerjee dismissed the case as a prostitution deal gone wrong. In fact, there’s a long list of politicians who perpetuate the rape culture every day by their horrifying remarks trivializing sexual violence. In such an environment, we stereotype all men as ‘potential rapists’ and their assault victims as ‘asking for it’.
Aren’t we responsible for making our men less sensitive and edging him to control us?
Traditional stereotypes served a purpose. Man played the hunter because he is physically strong and a woman tended the house and children because she has an emotional aspect to her being. But are these roles strictly applicable in today’s society? In an ever-evolving world, where our wants and needs have forced the woman to play dual roles, why have we exempted the man? Could it be that many problems faced by our country today would dissipate if traditional stereotypes, against both men and women, are broken?
If we create a free environment where both men and women can talk about issues unhindered and without judgement, then everyone can benefit. Societal change is only possible when everyone is involved. This may be a slow process in India, but if we know where to begin, we may have won half the battle.
Rupande Mehta can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org