Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Changing men

The Hindu, Sunday, August 24, 2008

The Other Half

This has been a season of medals — gold, silver and bronze. Men and women, strong and beautiful, have competed as never before. And for a brief moment, the problems around us have evaporated as all of us, regardless of nationality, have basked in the reflected glory of this international bunch of achievers — from tiny Jamaica to the mighty United States of America and China.

The dust will soon settle, the stadia will fall silent, and the achievers and the voyeurs will return to their daily lives. Has something changed in all of us through such an effort? Or are the basics of life and our attitudes untouched by progress on the sporting field, or in the economy or elsewhere?

Incremental change

I would like to believe that there is change. That we should celebrate every little effort at changing entrenched customs and attitudes. And that in the end all this will add up to something.

Last week a friend got married. It was a Hindu wedding. But the person conducting it was a woman. So was her assistant. The ceremony was simple, dignified and participatory. For many of us it was the first time we had witnessed such a ceremony conducted by women. The women priests told me that they and their kin had been conducting religious ceremonies for over two decades now, in Pune and some other parts of Maharashtra. When they began there was opposition. Today, no one questions.

This is only one of several instances we know of where women have broken through stereotypes and roles set for them. Recently, there was a news item in a Bangalore newspaper about women being a part of a Brahmin “thread ceremony” that had remained an exclusive male domain. Not long ago, the Army agreed that women had the right to join the forces as equals. There are scores more of such examples of change. Two or three decades back, none of this would have been considered possible in this country. Yet, it is happening.

We can be cynical and dismiss all this as exceptions that do not reflect the reality of the majority of Indian women. Absolutely true. They do not. Being a woman in India, particularly if you are poor and belong to a lower caste, is not a happy prospect. Despite this depressing reality, however, we can look on these and other developments as small, perhaps faltering, steps towards change.

Yet, while women are breaking new ground almost every day, we hear little about men who are breaking out of moulds. If women feel that they are forced into stereotypes, what about men? Are they not expected always to be strong, hard-working, aggressive, earn money for the family etc? These are roles forced on men by society and any man wanting to break away from these expectations faces ostracism and is considered less than a man. As a result, many men suppress parts of their personalities, often the more creative parts, because they feel they must conform.

(To read the rest of the article, click on the link above)

No comments: