Redefining masculinityChanging the definition of what it means to be a man can affect the way we work and live
I was surprised to get a call from college to participate in an urgent meeting on a very short notice. I expected it might be for a usual staff members meeting or some promotional tactics as it was new admission session. I hurriedly reached the college and found the meeting hall locked. I entered the Principal’s room to inquire about it, and saw just few committee members waiting for me. I could feel the tension in the room. Breaking the ice, academic head finally revealed, “We should discourage this culture of indiscipline, discipline is the backbone of education system”. It kept me wondering why he was stating the obvious.
The principal further added, that the management has decided to rusticate a BBA student from the college. She was a bold, intelligent, responsible and independent girl and one of my favorite students. I was taken aback and asked the principal about the reason behind this sudden harsh decision. He pointed at college-coordinator. As I stared at him expecting an explanation he handed over his resignation letter to me and blamed the girl for it. This was very unsettling. and so I inquired further. The whole explanation not only left me speechless, but it also left me aghast at their stereotypical mindset.
The coordinator’s defense was that, the girl had proposed him for a date in front of other students by holding his hand. As our patriarchal culture demands, girls are supposed to be submissive, meek and never-to-express their feelings publicly. by this act of the student, the cardinal character of being a girl was betrayed, the conventional notions of patriarchy was destroyed! All this meeting was based on the agenda of: “How can a ‘girl’ dare such open expression of her desires? The college-coordinator kept ranting how her behavior was unexpected and he felt humiliated.
Following the incident, I thought if he was really offended by the student’s behavior or if it was his male ego that got hurt because a girl dared to propose him publicly. Perhaps this has something to do with the way the society defines and understand masculinity. The student did not commit a crime by expressing herself but judging by our current moral standing, her behaviour was unacceptable. Without second thought, I spoke against the decision of rusticating the girl.
Broad view required
At work places too, women are seldom treated with the respect they deserve. Although professionally women are paid equally, they have to face behavioural and attitudinal challenges of the male staff members of the organisation. One reason for this may be the gender stereotypical mindset, where women are not accepted with high and prestigious status than men. Another could be because women do not speak up even when they encounter uncomfortable situations and behaviours.
Recently one of my friends was called for an interview for a position of women empowerment manager. Unfortunately, there was no single woman in interview panel, as she shared. Further, she was asked personal questions rather than questions pertaining to the job. She is well educated, confident, from marginalised community who fulfilled all the criteria for the job. As it is widely acceptable that including income generation program, there are many other essential parts to be addressed for positive changes for better society.
The behavioral challenges, women face in her daily life is based on four pillars. Such as, personal beliefs and attitudes; cultural and social norms and practices; access over resources with control and; laws and policies. The possible way to address such stereotypical thinking could be by redefining the masculinity in our society. Behavioral challenges exist across all over the world. It also reinforces inequalities, narrow career options and limit the future that young people, and particularly women/girls have to suffer.
The root causes of its existence is socialisation process. Therefore, it is high time we sensitise all the socialising agents towards gender issues by redefining the meaning of masculinity. It can be promoted and protected through media, peers, community, school and university, as well as social and cultural traditions. Schooling plays the vital role in socialisation process, where children and young people learn expected behaviors towards men/women based on gender role and norms.
Changing definition of what it means to be a man can affect the way we work and live. A blinkered, machismo-driven notions of masculinity not only imprisons men in their careers and relationships but also impacts the women in the workplace and other institutions.
Jha is a Sociologist