There’s no need to be tough

How boys must be groomed to become gender-sensitive adults…

December 27, 2014 05:21 pm | Updated 05:24 pm IST

When fathers care for their children, they teach children gender-just work divisions through personal example

When fathers care for their children, they teach children gender-just work divisions through personal example

Patriarchy is the social idea that men are superior to women, and should both control and dominate women. Throughout history, this idea has fostered untold injustice, unequal chances for education and work, endemic violence and suffering in most human societies. Patriarchy privileges men and boys: that is obvious. What is much less understood is that it also damages men and boys. Therefore men have not just a duty, but also a stake in fighting gender injustice.

To draw men into struggles against patriarchy, 1,200 activists from 94 countries converged in Delhi for a conference titled Men Engage. “Patriarchy and gender injustice remain defining characteristics of societies around the world with devastating effects on everyone’s daily life,” the conference declared. Patriarchy constitutes “immense threats to human wellbeing” because “no matter who we are, and no matter where we are in the world, these forces make our relationships less fulfilling, less healthy and less safe. From an early age, they introduce suffering, violence, illness, hate and death within our families and communities. They strip us of our fundamental human rights and hinder our ability to live a life with love, dignity, intimacy and mutual respect. They hamper the development of our economies and keep our global society from flourishing.” 

A landmark UNFPA study confirms how closely men and boys in India conform to these domineering models of masculinity. Ninety-three per cent men felt that “to be a man, you need to be tough”; 60 per cent of men report that they are violent with their intimate partners. Nine in 10 men felt that a woman must obey her husband, and three in four that, in family matters, a man’s word should be final. Only 15 per cent of men involve their wives in making family decisions.

The study also revealed that men tend to be more violent when under economic stress than when they feel secure, demonstrating that domestic violence is always an act of weakness rather than strength. Men often feel burdened by the social norm of their exclusive responsibility to provide for their families. Around half the men reported stress from not finding work or in looking for work, and said they felt ashamed if they failed to find work. These failures make them feel they are not men enough. They compensate either by beating their wives, or cutting themselves off from their families. In our work with urban homeless people, I find numerous men leading hard and lonely lives alone on mean city streets, trying desperately to earn and save enough to keep their families alive. If they fail to do so, their self-esteem falls, and they often break bonds with their families, slipping into drugs and depression. We also observe much higher levels of domestic violence among survivors of mass communal and caste violence; again a strategy for reclaiming a sense of masculinity in a world in which they have been battered.

Men and boys in these ways are simultaneously both perpetrators and victims of gender inequality. The Delhi Declaration of Men Engage recognises that — to free all genders from the burdens of having to conform to socially prescribed ways of living and relating which foster inequality, violence, injustice and unhappiness — men and boys in particular need to reflect critically on their own power and privilege and to develop personal visions of how to be gender-just men. To move from ‘power over’ to ‘power with’.

What is critical is the way we raise boys and girls, because this socialisation influences behaviours that may be dominant or gender-just in later life. Therefore “all parents — especially fathers — must demonstrate sensitivity, equitable and just behaviour, especially to boys, starting at home and school”, thereby “preparing them to be gender-sensitive, equal and caring adults”. 

Women today undertake two to 10 times more care work than men. It is important for men to fully share care work. When fathers care for their children, they teach children gender-just work divisions through personal example. This also requires women to access equal rights to paid work, equal pay and equal safety during work as men. Women must be able to rise to leadership positions based on their merit as easily as men do.

Women and girls have fought bravely and hard to make the planet a more gender-just place. Men have for too long blocked their way with violence and stubborn prejudice. The time has come for men and boys to join the battle for equality. This will free not just women but also men, and transform the world into a kinder, fairer place for all.

The views expressed in this column are that of the author’s and do not represent those of the newspaper.

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