A few days ago I was confronted with a slightly difficult, if not an entirely unique situation. A young, professional woman shared that she thought “You know it’s not just women. These days men have it tough too!” She elaborated that they had a huge burden of expectations placed on them, which makes life difficult for them.

At the time I was torn between feeling intellectually stimulated, (here’s a chance to explain hegemonic masculinity!), while emotionally betrayed (she is a woman – why is she so keen to unearth the pain that men sometimes have to endure under patriarchy which pales in comparison to that faced by women?)

On a serious note, it is true that patriarchy burdens men and some men more than others. If a man is able-bodied, savarna, upper-class, cisgendered and heterosexual, he stands to gain most from the way patriarchy functions in India. In fact the difficulty of dismantling patriarchy stems from the fact that most of such men are unwilling to give up an inch of their privilege. Often such men do not even recognize the ways in which they are privileged. They may have the burden of expectation that they will be the primary earner in a household and have to support their families financially, but these days that’s also true of many educated women! In that sense they are not uniquely disadvantaged.

Also Read: Male Privilege And Entitlement In India – A 101 Explainer Piece

Patriarchy burdens men in specific ways when it comes to emotional expressions and doing tasks considered feminine.  Ideals of dominant masculinity forces young boys to suppress their emotions and belittles or humiliates them if they do express themselves. This often leads to drawing a life-long equivalence between emotional expression as feminine and “effeminate” and repression of emotionality as courage an act that is often valorised in the popular media and also in families!

an able-bodied, savarna, upper-class, cis-hetero man stands to gain most from the way patriarchy functions in India.

Of course there are some selected spaces where men are socially and culturally allowed to drop their guard – at the bidaai of their daughter, on the death of their mother and when they win a major game! But these are few and far in between – these culturally sanctioned, but extremely limited ways of emotional expressions are insufficient for processing everything that life dishes out to us on a regular basis.

Over the years in my class on gender and sexuality I have noted that there is always a steady stream of men, though they usually comprise less than 20-25% of the class strength. The young men who show up in class are drawn to the subject because they feel marginalized in one way or another. Sometimes it is as straightforward as the choice of subject. The very fact that they are men studying a discipline deemed “feminine” makes them the object of derision. But more often, their interest in learning more about aspects of gender and sexuality often stem from their personal experiences of marginalization and invisibilization.

Also Read: Boyhood And The Dangers Of Toxic Masculinity

However, it is also undeniably true that the weight of patriarchy falls much harder on women and other genders, in uncountable other ways, because by its very definition, patriarchy favours the cis-gendered, heterosexual male.

Of course I did not have the chance to explain any of this to my colleague. Before I could get in a few more sentences, the conversation had to end, making me feel like I had missed a train – a train that I should never have boarded in the first place!

On a lighter note, I have often wondered what it might look like to give a woman, who fails to recognise male privilege a course in Patriarchy 101. So here are a few pointers that one might try!

  • Concede Agree, they have it rough. Some more than others. [This might lead to – oh why only some? This is your golden opportunity to explain intersectionality as it applies to men].
  • Question Oh, why do you think so? [Careful, you might have to spend a lot more time than you bargained for debunking her carefully nurtured sympathy and often misplaced sympathy for wronged men].
  • Disagree I don’t think so [Use this only if you have a lot of time on your hands and the energy to demolish each of her arguments. This is bound to leave you extremely fatigued; trust me I have done this and failed].
  • Use sarcasm Couldn’t agree more with you. See the poor dears have no access to loos… so sad to see them having to use the walls of {name of the city/town/village you live in}. [Sarcasm is often lost on the less reflective of our tribes, so be prepared to brave a torrent of both real and imagined deprivations that men in her opinion go through every day].
  • Be ironic Such burdens they have (and choose any one or all of these): the burden of a better education than their sisters, the burden of inherited wealth from their families, etc etc. Their plight is truly tragic. [Sarcasm is a sub-set of irony. Both are beleaguered with the same problems. So be prepared for #4’s reactions]

And finally be prepared for the possibility of losing this friend or extinguishing the fire that could have baked this acquaintance into a friendship. In the most unlikely of scenarios, you have sown the seeds of feminism. But don’t bank on this! But don’t give up either because…

You are an evangelist, proselytise, you must.
Seeds of doubts, catalysts for patriarchy to combust!
And from the ashes will rise, the utopia of every feminist.

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