The normalisation of subordination of women and gendered roles and responsibilities did not happen overnight. It was a seed that was planted by the institution of patriarchy ages ago that has now gotten entrenched in the minds of people. Patriarchy is responsible for formulating an understanding of masculinity and femininity, thus ensuring the transformation of biological males and females into binary boxes of men and women. Such an institution has normalised heterosexuality and affirms the identities of only those individuals who adhere to the gender norms and behaviours surrounding the heteronormative idea of gender.
Masculinity, a patriarchal institution’s creation, refers to the characteristics, roles, and qualities that are uniquely associated with males. It is expected that boys and men exhibit certain characteristics and traits like courage at all times, aggression, independence, assertiveness, pursuing wealth, logical and rational thinking, sound decision-making, and strength, among other traits. The stereotypical understanding of masculinity forces men and boys to rid themselves of traits like taking care of household chores and activities, hospitality towards members of the household and those around them, child-rearing activities, or even keeping the household clean for that matter. Such traits have, time and again, been associated with femininity. Individuals have been socialised to learn the values and ascribe to the norms prevalent in society, which has contributed to human civilization’s large-scale adoption of such standards of masculinity and femininity. And if such characteristics and traits were not sufficient to limit individuals’ capacities, actions, aspirations, and desires, there existed stereotypical norms surrounding individuals’ likability towards specific genres of novels, films, music, and even colours. Additionally, hypermasculinity, referring to the overt performance of masculinity, has naturalised men’s aspiration to adopt and maintain unrealistic body standards, their treatment of women as subordinates and as individuals who can be harassed, either emotionally, sexually, or verbally, and their celebration of aggression and recklessness.
The adoption of the pre-existing ideas about masculinity, hypermasculinity, and femininity, made possible by the phenomenon of socialisation and its various agents like parents, school, reflective cultural components like multimedia platforms, etc., has given rise to toxicity against all those who do not conform to the norms, who attempt to break the boundaries of hegemonic patriarchal systems and institutions. For example, as a result of their systematic unfreedoms and subjugation, all women who are assertive and goal-oriented, who juggle their work with their family life, or who engage in other stereotypical domestic activities are scrutinised and harassed, even by their own families.Their efforts and hard work, both inside the home and outside, are overlooked and reduced to nothingness. Women’s internalisation of patriarchal ideas and constructs and their inability to enjoy equal exposure, as men, to opportunities and experiences lead to low self-esteem among them. Similarly, in the case of men, they are always under pressure to maintain a certain body image, to be high on testosterone, and to appear “manly”. Inability to maintain such an image results in body shaming. Such pressurisation can lead to poor health outcomes, even death, among boys and men. Apart from that, in 2020, the NCRB data (National Crime Records Bureau) revealed an average of nearly 77 rape cases reported on an everyday basis. Such statistics bear proof that rape and other forms of violence against women are reflective of society’s celebration of traits like aggression and dominance among men. Such violence cannot be separated from the larger construct of hypermasculinity that encourages men to exercise their power and express their anger, to reiterate their superior position in the gender hierarchy, and to dehumanise the existence of others. The prevalent ideas of such machismo and the humiliation that they would be subjected to deprive men and boys of even the opportunity to share and report the experiences of violence committed against them, to express their vulnerabilities or their emotions, or to seek help for their mental health. For instance, experts found that 66% of men had died by suicide worldwide and that less than 12% had sought clinical help for depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues.
Several organisations working to challenge and alter all those structural institutions that perpetuate inequality, inequity, and injustice, including Breakthrough India, have been functioning all across the country to ensure a more equitable future for all. Through its adoption of the socioecological model and its intensive engagement with adolescents and young people aged 11 to 25, the organisation aims to bring about gender equality and equity and to end violence against women and girls. Through its interventions, through its Taaron Ki Toli (TKT) sessions, it has resulted in encouraging the young minds to critically examine and challenge societal constructs, to engage in dialogues with their parents and the community around them, and to confidently put forward their thoughts and ideas. For instance, in Jharkhand’s Hazaribagh district, two boys from the villages of Amnari and Marham, after engaging with the CCDs and attending the TKT sessions, contributed to raising awareness against the ills of perpetuating the performance of gendered work. To elaborate further:
Suraj Kumar, aged 13, is a resident of the village of Marham and is a student at UMS Nawada. While attending the “Yeh Kaun Hai” and “Kiska Kaam Kiska Naam” sessions with one of our CCDs (Nisha), he shared that despite his gender identity, he engages in household chores like cleaning and cooking, among others. He revealed that his parents were labourers and were required to spend long hours at their workplace. He also revealed that he was the oldest of his brothers and had, thus, taken up the responsibility of tending to his siblings and household chores very early in his life. The assumption of such a role and responsibility had turned him into an object of ridicule in his native village. He resentfully shared that he was often called names and teased as his father’s second wife. Such attributions had resulted in him being ashamed of his contributions to the wellbeing of his household and his family. He had begun to fulfil the household chores discreetly. However, post-attending such sessions, he realised that he had nothing to be ashamed of. He understood that there was nothing lowly about performing such tasks. Instead, those who shamed others for engaging in such tasks had to change their mindsets. He also realised that work and other chores shouldn’t be gendered, that anyone could engage in any activity, and that everyone should be aware of all tasks. He exclaimed that if anyone, in the future, commented upon his role in his house, he would challenge their thoughts and comments and would reiterate the importance of persisting knowledge of all activities.
Similarly, in the village of Amnar, a 14-year old boy named Akash, while attending TKT sessions in UMS Amnari, revealed that he too was engaged in household chores. His mother had passed away when his brother and he were children. His brother would accompany his father on labour work. The realisation that their father was ageing had enabled both the boys to tend to household chores and responsibilities from a very early age. People in the village sympathised with him and understood that such a role had been adopted by him as a result of the absence of a feminine figure within the household. His neighbours had even begun forcing his father to marry his eldest off, against the wish of the family, to rid his sons of the responsibility of feminine household chores. After attending the sessions, Akash realised the errors in the thoughts and mindsets of those around him. He also acknowledged that the only reason that they knew and participated in such chores had been the absence of a woman in their household. He agreed that he too had normalised such tasks being conducted by the female gender alone. However, after the sessions, he realised that everyone, irrespective of their gender identity, should be able to do all the tasks.
While such instances might seem very insignificant and trivial when it comes to overturning the patriarchal social order, they indeed signify a consequential change, a step closer to challenging patriarchal structures and to achieving gender equity and equality. The organisation intends to impact the evolving young minds and make them equal participants in their dream of crafting an equitable society by exposing adolescents and youth to ideas of equality, justice, and dignity.