My twitter feed this morning reminded me that today, the 19th of November is International Men’s Day. I did not know such a day existed. But after doing a bit of digging I found out that International Men’s Day was launched in 1999 by Dr Jerome Teelucksingh to raise awareness about men and mental health. This year’s theme is on positive role models. Apt, given all the terrible things we are now publicly hearing, discussing and thinking around #Metoo globally.
The feminist in me immediately reacted with surprise and mild irritation – do we need an International Men’s Day? 8th March is International Women’s Day and tokenistic as it may be, the point of Women’s Day is to remind everyone – men and women alike – what women contribute every day, much of which is invisible. And yes, these reminders are necessary, even if these are only annual reminders, because women’s contributions are largely invisible or invisibilised. None of the domestic labour that women do or childcare is ever recognised as ‘work’.
Also work that involves retaining social networks and status such as inviting friends for meals, preparing and celebrating festivals, remembering birthdays – what sociologists like to call the work of social reproduction of caste and class, are done for free by women. Whatever issues we have with caste and class structures and women’s complicity in it, and I shall not trivialise this problem, there is no doubt that the reproduction of culture takes work – a lot of work!
Women are also responsible for the health of their families – nutrition, doctor’s appointments, care of children and the elderly, and general safety. But none of this is actually recognised as ‘work’. These are things that women do out of ‘love’. Yes, we do some of this out of love, some out of obligation, and some because we may genuinely enjoy it, but it takes time, effort, resources – physical and emotional. Recognising this on the 8th of March, may not be such a bad thing then, though the commercialisation of this day, does dilute its true significance.
The problem for men in India is not the misuse of what they call women-centric laws. The problem for men in India is not false accusations of #MeToo.
However, I digress. Let me return to the question of International Men’s Day. There is of course a need to address gender disparities in health when it comes to men and women. Men biologically have slightly lower life expectancy than women. In India, women’s life expectancy is a little over 69 and men’s is a little over 66 years. However there are large variations across states, castes, classes, and by residence. Western literature tells us that men have poor health seeking behaviours. They often seek medical help much later than women.
However, this is not true for India – an interesting study found that health outcomes based on discontinuation of treatment was similar for non-poor women and poor men. While the former had to battle gender disadvantage, the latter had to battle class disadvantage. So what we have learnt about men and help seeking behaviours from the west may not be directly transferable to the Indian context, because of deeply entrenched gender inequities that operate at the household level.
The rate of crimes, and in particular violent crimes is also higher among men than women. A long-term study based in the United States found that “Overall, it is often noted that males and females tend to see the utility of violence in radically different ways. Whereas men tend to employ violence as an offensive move to establish superiority, women typically view violence as a defense of last resort”. It is rare for a woman to kill for the joy of killing. Sexually motivated crimes are also rarely committed by women.
The National Crime Records Bureau of India reveals that 95% of those being currently detained as either under trials or convicts are men. The majority of prisoners however are those awaiting trial (undertrials), among both men and women. Just like Black women are overrepresented in US prisons, an excellent study found that men from minority religions are overrepresented in Indian prisons. Thus the risks of incarceration for similar offences are not shared equally by all men. It follows the familiar patterns of risks of other ‘negative’ outcomes in India – caste, class, religion, and residence.
The NCRB data also indicates that Chattisgarh has the third highest numbers of men in prison in India, despite the fact that it ranks 17th in terms of its population. This is obviously not delinked from the Indian state’s strategy of managing the problems in the states in the so-called ‘Red Corridor’.
In the West, men have a much higher rate of suicides. In India too men have a slightly higher rate of suicide than women as the Million Death Study has revealed. Among deaths due to suicide, for 56% of women this occurred between the ages of 15-29. The NCRB has a category called ‘housewives suicides’ and young Indian women lead the pack in killing themselves, unsurprising given what we know of many young married women’s lives in India.
The same study also reported that Indian men had an elevated risk of deaths due to traffic accidents. India has one of the highest rates of both traffic accidents and suicides per capita globally. We do not have a central repository of mental health data in our country. So it is hard to know whether there is a gender difference in rates of mental illnesses in India. Even if there is, we do not know how much of this is due to differences in rates of diagnosis and reporting, and how much of this is real.
Young boys need role models and positive role models who are outside the frames of hegemonic forms of masculinities.
Much of the reasons for both men’s and women’s death outside of biologically determined risk factors such as estrogen (which provides women some degree of protection from heart disease, but not for men), are due to the social determinants of health. It is time to think about what the social conditions including the role of patriarchy plays in increasing men’s risks.
Take road traffic injuries for instance – it is true that men are more likely to die from it because more men are on the road and for longer durations compared to women in India. But it is also the case that men in an apparent display of machismo are also likely to drive faster, not wear seat belts, not wear helmets when driving two-wheelers, drink and drive, or get into road rages and drive rashly that enhances their risks considerably.
In other instances, where young boys take unnecessary risks to prove their masculinity, they are doing so because they have been socialised into just one acceptable version of being a man. They need role models and positive role models who are outside the frames of hegemonic forms of masculinity. The latter’s only aim is to keep the inequities in patriarchy alive and kicking.
So Barkha Trehan and co who are observing International Men’s Day in India and are part of a vocal Men’s rights group need to revisit their agenda. This group’s main problem seems to be a handful of women apparently misusing laws meant to mitigate against family violence. The problem for men in India is not the misuse of what they call women-centric laws. The problem for men in India is not false accusations of #MeToo. The overwhelming problem for men in India is not that their families are being destroyed by self-serving women which has encouraged them to launch Save the Indian Family Foundation. Perhaps Miss Trehan would care to review some of the real problems where gender disparities are most evident and do not favour men?
We have big problems in our country where both men and women and the larger institution of heteronormative patriarchy within an increasingly intolerant country are complicit in perpetuating problems that affect men and young boys. We don’t want little boys to grow up thinking that they cannot be dancers or cooks or nurses or kindergarten teachers, if they want to. We don’t want little boys to learn repressing their emotions because otherwise they will be labelled ‘sissies’. We don’t want little boys to grin and bear it if they are hurt. Most of all, we don’t want little boys to think that just because they are boys, all will be forgiven.
We want them to communicate, to engage, and to challenge existing power structures. We want them to become allies for our little girls. We want them to not give in to singular ways of being and defining a man. We want them to be comfortable with a partner who makes more money than them. We want them to grow up emulating their fathers who don’t think twice before cooking, washing, mopping or doing the laundry – not because they are ‘helping’, but because they are co-residents in the house. We want them to become more proactive about their physical and mental health. And for all of this, we need more than one day.
I was heartened to see 5 school-boys from DPS in Bangalore who attended a serious discussion on sexual violence recently to honour the Peace Prize awardees, engage and ask thoughtful questions about #Metoo in India. They wanted to know how they could help to bring this outside of social media. Yes, let’s celebrate International Men’s Day to help boys and men become more compassionate, empathetic, expressive, and loving, not with grand romantic gestures but with random acts of kindness, every day.
Featured Image Source: Update Bro