Blame us all, not just menThe month of March is recognised as Women’s History Month, and March 8th saw the celebration of Women’s Day.
The month of March is recognised as Women’s History Month, and March 8th saw the celebration of Women’s Day. I attended a speaking series where the speakers were all women, who did not refrain from criticising and reprimanding men. As a member of the audience, I suggested that perhaps it would be good to have some male speakers as well, so as to get their insights into the problems women face. However, this suggestion was not received well. The moderator interjected, saying that “men get to speak on all 364 days of a year, and it was our conscious effort to have only women speakers today.” The crux of the matter is that we fail to understand that times are changing and that censuring our male counterparts will not work if women are truly aiming for gender equality. We need to examine the roots of the problem, rather than just condemning the tip of the iceberg.
Who is the real perpetrator?
Women have suffered longer and more severely then men. They have been considered inferior in various social structures. Even the philosopher Aristotle stressed that women have lower intelligence and are lesser than men. Nevertheless, this perception is changing. Women are now more educated; the census reports that 57.4 percent of Nepali women were educated in 2011, as compared to 25 percent in 1991. They have emerged from the private sphere to participate in the public sphere. Their participation in the non-agriculture labour force has more than doubled, from 17.7 percent in 2001 to 44.8 percent in 2011. Moreover, women now hold 29.6 percent of the seats in Parliament whereas they had only a 5.8 percent representation in 2000. Admittedly, women are still not on an equal footing with men, but with the tools we have come to possess—our education, knowledge and understanding—we are making steady progress.
Continuing to castigate men will only make gender polarisation more rigid. Not all men subjugate women, and not all women are victims. It’s high time we realised men are not in-born perpetrators; it is society that makes them who they are. The bitter truth is that, often, women themselves reinforce patriarchy.
We get furious when a drunk man beats his wife. But who ingrains this perception that he can drink and beat others to demonstrate his boldness? It is the society that is also at fault. Today, parents might raise their daughters in a different way, instilling so-called masculine traits and independence. But what about their sons? How many of us have taught our sons to act in a loving and caring manner, and to help in the kitchen? We need to change the structure of society if we want to improve gender parity.
Victims of social construction
Today, men are in between a rock and a hard place; they can neither exhibit hypermasculine traits, nor freely adopt feminine ones. While men may want to cry, family members and relatives ridicule them for doing so. A 2001 study of male undergraduate students in the United States showed that only 23 percent of males reported crying when feeling helpless, as compared to 58 percent of females. As a result of suppressing their emotions, many men learn to externalise their anger by acting aggressively. Parents expect their sons to be the breadwinners, putting them under considerable strain. A 2014 study in the UK indicated that 42 percent of men felt the need to be the main breadwinner; this was 29 percent higher than the need women felt. The same study revealed that only 53 percent of men who have experienced depression spoke to someone about being depressed compared to 74 percent of women. Where do males manifest their anxieties and pressure? The answer is often in the form of aggression and violence.
There are men who want to change but are discouraged by society. For example, they may want to help their wives in the kitchen, but are apprehensive of what their mothers might say. There are men who wish to take on the responsibility of childcare, but fear what the relatives would think.
To change social constructs, we need to start with our families and change the way we socialise our sons. Other reinforcing factors can be addressed by the government. It could, for example, develop appropriate modules on parenting skills for guardians and teaching skills for educators. There is also a dire need for research on male suffering and their struggle to change. It is difficult to realise these changes rapidly, but such efforts can bear fruit in the long term and give future generations an egalitarian society to live in.
Subedi is a public health and women’s studies graduate