All it takes is one accusation of sexual harassment by a popular, loved public figure for all the hiding-in-plain-sight misogynistic nutters to come rushing out of the woodworks. This article is not an attempt to reform those that cannot be reasoned with or made to listen. This is for all the men who are decent and want to do the right thing, but can't get a word in edgewise, among the cacophony of social media outrage. You want us to believe that #NotAllMen...? Don't say it, show us. Here are 10 things that the women's rights movement desperately needs men to understand, learn and imbibe. No more excuses, please.
Don't call womanhood a "card"
When a woman asks to work from home because her insides feel like they're being pummelled to death by angry kittens when she's on her period, she is not playing the woman card. Neither is asking for meetings to be scheduled in advance so she can make it to her child's sports day.
When a woman talks about her experience to describe the various ways her gender is used against her, it is not a cry for pity; it is a conversation about the lack of equality.
You only have to look up and around you to realise that Indian mothers are their children's primary caregivers, carrying a grossly disproportionate amount of the child-rearing burden. When a woman talks about her experience to describe the various ways her gender is used against her, it is not a cry for pity; it is a conversation about the lack of equality. Womanhood is not a card; it is our complex, wonderful but often-painful reality.
Don't expect to be lauded for doing your part of the housework or child-rearing
Last year, American comedian Ali Wong made a powerful joke: "It takes so little to be considered a great dad, and it also takes so little to be considered a shitty mom." The reason it resonated with so many women across the world is because of the truth it held. Sure, you might feel the need to congratulate yourself for being better than your friend who does not know how to change a diaper even after two kids and would not be able to find the chai patti in his own kitchen, but please understand that doing stuff around your own house and picking up after your baby is how any partnership would work in an equal world. If you're someone who truly believes in equality, this cooing over what should be normal should disgust, not please you.
Free up women's minds
Have you ever found yourself getting frustrated because your wife/girlfriend was annoyed that you didn't do something they never asked you to do in the first place? It might seem like unreasonable behaviour, but it's not fits of moodiness, I promise you. You're an equal partner not just when you do half the physical work, but when you do half the mental work in the relationship as well. When was the last time the domestic help called you instead of her to ask what needs to be cooked for dinner or if it is okay to put Bournvita in the kids' milk today?
You're an equal partner not just when you do half the physical work, but when you do half the mental work in the relationship as well.
If you're doing the laundry when she asks you to, or buying grocery off a list she prepared, you've saddled her with 100 percent of the thinking workload. Multiply all of this with all the little and big decisions she makes for the house, the kids, school, the family's health and think about how exhausting it must be to be solely responsible for it all the time. The amount of mental labour women put in at home is tragically undervalued most of the time. Free up the minds of the women around you; it's a gift most women would kill for.
Don't leap to your "bro's" defence.
The language of sexual violence is not always crude and coarse. It doesn't always come from the mouths of those kind of people, it could just as easily be spoken in the silky voices of people we like and admire. It is not always a bellow, it might be barely audible in the form of persistent suggestions that are just the right amount of inappropriate. Unfortunately, it also often comes from people who enjoy social power over the person being harassed. Sexual violence itself can be hard to pinpoint. At what point does admiration turn into a threat?
One of the worst things that can happen to a victim who musters up the courage to come forward is to have to keep reliving their abuse over and over because people won't believe it to be true.
These are difficult questions that don't have one standard answer — everything depends on context and detail. Just because your friend/colleague doesn't seem like the kind of person who would do it, don't leap to their defence until you unequivocally know their innocence to be a truth. One of the worst things that can happen to a victim who musters up the courage to come forward is to have to keep reliving their abuse over and over because people won't believe it to be true. If you have reservations, it is better to be cautiously silent than dismissing a person's story of abuse as lies.
Know that it's possible to be sexist even when you believe in equal rights
Being a feminist is not some degree you get at the end of an exam. Just because you believe in equal rights and call yourself a feminist doesn't mean you are incapable of being wrong — regardless of what gender you belong to. Sexism is a lot like bad breath — the person with halitosis is usually the last one to know, even though everyone close and around can smell it every time the mouth is opened. Conditioning and hidden biases can help sexism manifest itself in anyone's thoughts, speech and behaviour, despite their best intentions, which is why it is as important to keep looking inward as it is to look outward.
Boys will be boys is not a valid argument
Boys, like girls, and people of every other gender, will be what they've been taught to be and will do all the things society chooses to accept and normalise. There is nothing in the biology or genetic disposition of men that forces them to behave poorly. So this benevolent gaze we cast their way to dismiss minor and major transgressions against women is simply our way of reinforcing the feelings of entitlement men are taught to harbour. Hold yourself, not your gender, accountable for your actions.
Never start a sentence with "not all men"
We know. We Know. We. Know. WE KNOW that not all men say, think or do what we're talking about. We're obviously talking about the men who do. Every time men invoke the 'not all men' clause, the conversation shifts from the violation of women's right to protecting men's egos. How sad is that?
No, you never know a woman's experience better than her
You may have watched closely, you may have thoughts — very relevant, intelligent, nuanced thought — on a subject concerning women, but you never mansplain a woman's experience to her or presume to know how she should think or feel. Talk only after you're done listening.
Ignore Bollywood's regressive lessons
Ours is a country obsessed with our movie stars and their spouses. Nothing else explains why a 20-something woman whose only claim to fame is marrying a Bollywood actor and bearing his baby is given a nation-wide platform to share her half-baked understanding of feminism with the world on International Women's Day.
A filmi hero's behaviour might be acceptable in their make-believe world, but in the real one, most of what we see onscreen would earn them police ka dandas.
It is an industry that can't fathom the idea of equal pay and routinely pumps obscene number of crores of rupees in movies that glorify stalking, harassment, discrimination and objectification — all in the name of romance. It is not the place to look for heroes or life lessons; so please, a filmi hero's behaviour might be acceptable in their make-believe world, but in the real one, most of what we see onscreen would earn them police ka danda.
Support women's businesses
Putting money in women's pockets is one of the most important ways of empowering them. Actively look to support businesses that are either owned or run by women or at least have a reputation for being women-friendly. If you're giving someone your business, run a check to see what kind of policies they have regarding sexual harassment, childcare and maternity leave; ask if they have women on their boards or in leadership positions. Watch movies and read books that have strong women characters, instead of consuming mindless sexist fodder that Bollywood feeds us in the name of entertainment. For a lot of people, only the bottomline matters and if the bottomline stands to be hurt because of a poor employment record, they will be forced to change.