Editor’s Note: This month, that is September 2020, FII’s #MoodOfTheMonth is Boys, Men and Masculinities, where we invite various articles to highlight the different experiences of masculinity that manifest themselves in our everyday lives and have either challenged, subverted or even perpetuated traditional forms of ‘manliness’. If you’d like to share your article, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Trigger Warning: Bullying, Violence, Rape and Molestation
Referring to a conversation a month back, I can recall claiming myself to be a product of the influences and care given by all the women in my life. It is a recent realisation to confront the role of men and manhood, even when it is so unforgiving yet still very prominent in shaping my feminist outlook today.
Like any other guy, I too have observed men and their much engrained ‘masculinities’ since childhood, even the ‘ones’ that do not get counted or acknowledged normally. I found myself in a struggle of ‘being with them’ & being apprehensive of ‘becoming like them.’ At least in that phase when the buds of manhood start flourishing. This struggle constantly stayed to find the suitable masculinities for my-self and my quest for belonging. It just kept going even when I wanted to stop for a while, to sink into the flashes.
Eventually, it all started bothering me a lot when a school teacher scolded me in front of everyone for wearing a nikkar (shorts) in the 8th standard. That day shook me inside out since I never thought that the ‘normal get-up’ of a boy wearing nikkar with a belt, tucked in shirt with a tie and a water bottle in the neck, will not last as much as I wanted it to be. I was told how other boys like me, are also moving into ‘being a man’ and have already started wearing pants. It’s not like I hadn’t seen schoolboys into pants, but I was badly unaware of such traditions in school uniforms. Being ‘happy’ in shorts changed into ‘adjustment’ towards longer pants (and those traditions), and I never wore shorts again, until very recently when the pandemic knocked both in and out myself.
The transitions of boyhood being rough than usual were rather throwing surprises at me. Summers came & we went to our village for the Diwali festivities. I decided to go on a walk with a cousin to see the historical temple sites on the outskirts. A group of upper caste guys stopped us on the way alleging that we’ve stolen crackers from their shop which were right there. We resisted, they were not letting us go, and my cousin ran anyhow leaving me stuck in their circle around me.
One of them asked me to open my pants as an excuse to check whether my claims were genuine. I turned cold & got scared like never before. My caste too made me realise how weak of a boy I was. The guy made me open it, saw in, and smiled declaring I do not have the crackers. He then allowed me to go, and I ran being unstoppable and even pretended as if nothing happened after reaching home. Maybe, because I never had the ‘crackers’ which ‘they wanted’ to see. Many more summers came, and I hesitated to pay visits to my village, post the incident.
Landed into an unwanted institute after finishing school, and finally stopped to reflect one fine day, when I asked my then BFF – why don’t you do anything when our other guy ‘friends’ try to ‘molest’ me for their ‘fun’? ‘Because you’re just weak & way too sensitive like girls, and you let them do things,’ he replied.
I felt raged yet helpless, like many of the women in the houses of these same lads, might feel. My so-called ‘bros‘ even went on to almost getting me raped while going to a friend’s sister’s wedding. It was around nine in the night and we were five of us in a car when their ‘fun’ began on the highway. The oldest of them pushed me at the back of the seats like a sack & started humping over me trying to open his ‘pants’. I was gasping for air amidst failed attempts at handling his weight, strength, and his chauvinistic madness. Several attempts at literally biting him to reach to the nearest window to breathe, finally helped me to stop him.
Meanwhile, the others were laughing and cheering him up. That night still makes me anxious at times. After weeks of silence and disconnection, it happened again in the name of ‘group work’, now by another friend from the cheering ones, along with that same guy. I felt both of them coming over me in turns, clothed yet naked in ‘many’ ways. I just could not even share these incidents with anyone, to prevent myself from the judgements of not being able to be my own ‘protector’. The whole notion of a man being a saviour only got blurred from my vision that very day.
One says we have to fight our own battles on our own, but don’t some battles need armies?
Interestingly, I even joined therapies in my next college seeking answers to questions like, Why am I different from other guys who left me? Is there something wrong with me since I feel ‘used’?
The (mis)treatment & expectations around the traditional male masculinities usually impact individuals to deeper levels, oppressing their other identity markers. Men around me dominantly behaved either in ways they treated women or ended up othering, being reflective of their anxieties towards the fluidity of my being.
And one fine day, my eyes caught a guy wearing a beautiful nose pin, and that must be my first sight of evidencing the permeable image of a man. With slightly flowy hair, he looked like a familiar poem that holds the capacity to stir a storm. I could not resist & got quite a few nose pins for myself too. I used to wear it after leaving home for college and remove it before reaching back, knowing my surroundings won’t be able to ‘pin’ this avatar of a guy. I forgot to remove it one day and everyone at home rained with only one concern in different ways: live like a man! What will people think of us seeing you like this? I continued to wear it till the time I got bored with it. That unknown guy anyhow gave me strength which many known people could not.
I think the projection of brothers from other mothers, bro code, etc. will get rejuvenated in accordance with the changes in not only how much we all challenge our notions of being men, but how men amongst themselves, are contributing towards the elevation of changing or varying masculinities. With time, I am luckily reaching to such places to witness the kind of men who were a rare sight in my growing years. More visibility of men who are poetic & vulnerable, open-minded with their thinking and choices, confident & sensitised, and many more rarely nurtured, subaltern masculinities, seems to be the happy future (hopefully).
Living in a world, where even the slightest change in the way one walks will make an individual look different in all senses. People will see it with all the wrong labels but just won’t try to normalise things. We need to think deeper into our well of feminism to extract out the never acknowledged qualities within men. The same qualities which have been keeping many of our men caged in different ways.
Through this string of anecdotes, I would like to pressurise the need to start opening up more with shifting times to bring acceptability & inclusiveness in ourselves. The notions around men & masculinities remain an immediate concern to let each other free of wanting to become and rather, just be. Also, to be able to add our own beads into the kaleidoscope of manhood than borrowing from others to be our own designs. The understanding of ‘effect & affect’ of rigidity will make us aware towards the darkness of lost identities, abuses, and violence in the name of ‘manning-up’. Let’s walk into the waves of feminism to not only recover from the years of such struggle & conditioning but also to un-man ourselves to turn into men that we ‘truly’ want to be.