A project that questions concepts of masculinity is more than welcome.
We write and talk about women’s rights, about violence against women, about stronger laws to “protect” women and about punishing the men violating these laws. But there is little discussion on what it means to be a man in today’s India. An on-going project titled “Let’s Talk Men” (www.letstalkmen.org) has come up with some interesting perspectives on this subject.
Has the understanding of being “masculine” changed even as women have begun to think of themselves differently from their mothers? Or are boys and men, barring a handful of exceptions, no different from their fathers and grandfathers? Has their view of women changed? Or do they continue to believe that women, whether they are mothers and sisters, or wives, are basically there to serve them?
Under the Let’s Talk Men project, launched in 1998, five filmmakers from South Asia — India, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Pakistan — were encouraged to explore concepts of masculinity in their own countries. Now 15 years later, these filmmakers have followed up with another set of films.
I have seen Delhi-based filmmaker Rahul Roy’s film, Till We Meet Again. It returns to the four young men — Bunty, Sanjay, Sanju and Kamal from Jehangirpuri on the outskirts of Delhi — who featured in his first film. In 1999, when Roy made When Four Friends Meet, these four men were single. In the new film, all of them are married. The film explores how these men see their own lives, what they think of their wives, why they justify hitting their wives (something they did not support when they were single), and what they feel about the expectations of their families and society from them.
Such an exploration is particularly relevant at the present moment when there are so many questions being asked about the growing violence against women in the public space — although the greater violence women continue to experience in their homes has never resulted in such great outrage. What is it that makes men, who seem perfectly reasonable characters as the ones in Roy’s film, think it is acceptable that they should hit their wives because, as one of them says, that is the only way to make them understand?
Roy’s film raises questions around masculinity through the lives of these four men, all from the same class, living in a lower middle-class neighbourhood. Two of them have work and bring home an income while the other two are unemployed. Yet, the latter would never consider helping their wives with housework.
These men’s lives reflect the reality in many of our cities. In a milieu where the value of a man is measured by his ability to take care of his family, men who fail must fear that their “maleness” will be questioned. Yet, there is little in our educational system, or in the media, that seriously addresses these concepts. On the contrary, entrenched views of masculinity are being reinforced every day.
Discussions on “gender” tend to leave out men. We do not, for instance, make an effort to understand the impact of socialisation and family on the roles men are pushed to play. We do not know what is going on in the minds of men as more women get educated. Or why, despite education, the sexual division of labour persists within homes.
There is also a serious gap between what women want, and what men expect from them. In response to my last column, a young woman articulated this well: “What I experience as a college student is that there is a growing sense of unease among those who are comforted by the blanket of patriarchy, by the liberation of women. They feel that their space is being invaded and they feel threatened. What they don’t seem to realise is we are only taking back what was ours in the first place — the freedom to be oneself and chase one’s dreams.” Roy’s film suggests that young men today don’t believe that women were ever entitled to such freedom.
Clearly, there could not be a better time for a project looking at and questioning concepts of masculinity. But it is a project that needs to find a resonance in our homes, in our schools and colleges and in our work places.