Open Letter to Men on Women’s Day
An edited version of this post has appeared as a featured post on the popular Women's Forum - Women's Web
Hi to all the men out there,
This letter is an invite to the International Women’s Day Celebrations.
On this day, we would like you, our brave comrades, to join the Feminism movement.
Please don’t shake your head, be scared, be angry and most importantly, please don’t stop reading. It’s just one letter – slightly long – but I promise one that you will find is not offensive to men and may even seem logical at the end.
We know the word ‘Feminism’ comes with a lot of negative baggage
Feminism is not about men-hating or about special privileges for women. The word as it has been coined may imply it…but that’s a misnomer. Feminism only talks about equality to all genders. In this very well-articulated TEDx talk, ‘Why we should all be Feminists’ Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, a Feminist from Lagos, Nigeria speaks of how people think that ‘Feminists are unhappy women who are unhappy because they cannot find husbands’. At the end of the talk she has her own great definition - ‘A feminist is a man or a woman, who says -Yes, there is a problem with gender as it is today and we must fix it. We must do better.’
No! Women still don’t feel equal to men and hence the fight needs to continue
I know that you don’t think that there is a problem anymore and that women are equal. Women can work now and vote also! In fact you may even think that with women having separate coaches in a local train or seats in a bus or creation of an entire department in companies known as HR, (Kidding! See I am a Happy Feminist who makes jokes!) they have more rights and privileges than men! But they don’t! Listen to stand-up comedian Karunesh Talwar on why some privileges are important only for women’s safety.
We need you to acknowledge that several kinds of disparity still exist!
Surely you see that there are never the same number of women as men in most companies and industries. Much much fewer in fact!
Surely you are aware of the female infanticide numbers!
Surely it also angers you to see the newspapers filled with rape stories!
Surely you understand why we are asking for equal pay for equal work!
Surely you understand why it is wrong to ignore women in meetings and resort to mansplaining! (In case you are not familiar with the term mansplaining, it’s ok…neither did Ranbir Kapoor! )
Surely you know the fact that PMS is a real issue and that our emotions do not make us crazy!
Surely you acknowledge that women, given the right education and opportunities and support, can go where no one has ever gone!
Surely you trust the women in your life to take the right decisions and hence don’t need your permission for anything!
Could it be that you agreed to everything I said but don’t see the smaller issues?
Chimamanda speaks of 2 incidents in her TEDx talk about how men who accompanied her did not even realize how a waiter and a parking assistant ignored her completely and would only acknowledge her male friend. Has this happened to you when you took your wife out somewhere? Please ask her…it might have and maybe you did not realize it.
When stand-up comedian Aditi Mittal acknowledged sexism the “boy gang” culture in the Indian Comedy scene during a discussion with Anupama Chopra, it touched a raw nerve. I have seen it happen. Groups of men hanging out together at smoke breaks or booze parties with usually no women around. The bond they share is so strong that they always have each other’s back. She mentioned how the boy gang does not extend the same support and motivation to a new female stand-up comic as they would to a male stand-up comic. She had to take a step back and disassociate herself from the situation completely to survive. Isn’t that sad?
You know the funny part though…the remaining 5 men in the discussion (Yes! Even in the discussion to discuss gender disparity there was gender disparity!) thought it was unfortunate why we don’t have more women comedians but that’s how it goes! Of course they are funny and they should be more of them…but there’s no real reason why they aren’t!
It’s ok. It’s human to not notice issues unless they affect you directly.
But here’s why it’s getting scary. Even in relatively nascent areas such as comedy also, there aren’t enough women!
Could it be that you realise there are real issues but don’t know how to help?
There is one simple way to help. ASK & LISTEN. We want you to ask the women closest to you, if they face these issues. Just ask them when you see them sad or angry – “Hi, is something bothering you? Can I do something to help?” I promise you it will win you some brownie points with them– ALWAYS! Women are conditioned not speak out of turn, laugh loud, or take the less travelled path. They need their partners, men to support them on issues that they feel strongly about. Also, please remember women will not lie about the way they feel. And they don’t mean it as a personal attack. They just want help!
Similarly even in organizations, women should have the liberty to ask for rights they think they deserve. Sure with maternity leaves, and crèches and sexual harassment committees, a lot of large strides have been taken. But what about the discussions on equal pay?
Becoming a Feminist, having gender conversations and acknowledging your privileges will be difficult and uncomfortable but it is important
Speaking in favour of Crèches or Maternity Leave may be slightly easier since it does not directly affect men but the discussion of equal pay does. It is an uncomfortable discussion to have. But it should happen in every industry!
When you see a panel of discussion with lesser women on it than men, say so!
When you see a woman trying to say something and another man interrupts her, give her a chance to speak!
Speaking on behalf of women, supporting their cause or sharing your observations does not make you effeminate or gay.
Chimamanda in her TEDx talk says that the best Feminist she knows is her brother who is a kind, good looking and lovely man who is very masculine!
The Chicken and Egg Story
Women can’t do everything! There I said it! We also can’t change the world, without your help. We need you to help us to turn the tide. And there are stakes in this for you too.
If women have been following rigid gender norms, so do men.
Don’t you agree that if you had seen your father help your mother cook in kitchen and seen other male relatives also share the household responsibilities, you would do the same?
If someone taught men that they are not entitled to have sex at will with your wife, there would be lesser marital rapes and rapes in general, don’t you think?
In a TED talk, activist Kamla Bhasin highlights the issue of "emotional castration" of men and how patriarchy dehumanises men leading to violence against women. "Men need to understand that till women are free, they won't be free either, that they need to take the leadership in the fight against patriarchy to save their own humanity," Bhasin said.
#FeministHero: A Big Shout Out to Men for doing their bit
We have campaigns, organizations and individuals who raise their voice against the gender disparity and big big round of applause for them. I have listed only a very few examples here. There are sure to be many more. Please feel free to share your own #FeministHero stories.
We have #HeForShe , a solidarity campaign for the advancement of women initiated by United Nations Women. Its goal is to achieve equality by encouraging men and boys as agents of change and take action against negative inequalities faced by women and girls.
Closer home we have Forum to Engage Men(FEM), working on issues of gender equality and masculinity in more than 10 states, Men's Action for Equity (MAE) in Jharkhand, MAVA (Men Against Violence and Abuse) and Samyak in Maharashtra and MASVAW (Men's Action for Stopping Violence Against Women) in Uttar Pradesh, and women's organisations like Jagori, for community-level gender training programmes for men.
Did you know that there have been many Pad Women – Maya Vishwakarma, Anju Bisht, Niveda R and Gowtham S and a group of women from Goa's Mulgao village – who have worked on low cost sanitary pads and created awareness about Menstrual Hygiene. But it took Arunachalam Muruganantham and the movie based on his story starring Akshay Kumar to bring the topic to people’s drawing rooms. Sure Twinkle Khanna has had a pivotal role in writing the story and believing in it to produce the movie, but we know that having urban men talk about menstrual hygiene has helped the urban women’s cause. A lot of course still needs to be done for changing rigid rural customs and thought-process but a step in the right direction has been taken. It’s nice to have some support.
When Aayushi Jagad and Sumedh Natu,made a video on how most AIB Sketches does not follow the Bechdel Test and how they reduced the women to table lamps in their videos (Not that the Bechdel Test is a great test of Feminism in the first place), AIB acknowledged the issue. But AIB’s supporters abused and intimidated Aayushi and not Sumedh…in the middle of the road! Sumedh then in a very touching post on the incident said, “While I sit at home in comfort, she’s out there right now, beyond shocked at what just happened.” Kudos Sumedh for supporting your friend and colleague in her time of distress!
I wanted to find Karunesh Talwar and hug him when I came across this video. Aditi Mittal spoke of a horrible incident of sexism at a discussion with fellow comedians Daniel Fernandes and Karunesh. She however refrained from taking his name. Karunesh did. Even though obviously Daniel knew who Aditi was speaking about, he didn’t! What Karunesh did is extraordinary and we need more men like him! Oh and he also acknowledged the “boys club” and the privileges of men! Men out there…speak out, please! And here’s the thing… other men will also support you! So many men wrote glowing testimonials for Karunesh in the comments section of the video! A word in favour of Daniel though – he publicly accepted that he was wrong to say what he did in an extremely sexist video on “Feminazis” and that he had written it out of ignorance and he wouldn’t do that joke any more. Thanks for acknowledging it dude!
We don’t want ‘Convenient feminism”. We need you to really care
“I still think there’s power in calling oneself a feminist,” the journalist David Perry tweeted, but with a caveat: “but not as a ‘trust me I’m an ally’ to get entry/visibility elsewhere.” Instead, he proposed, call yourself a feminist “in male dominated spaces,” where it takes some courage, where it might make a difference.
The infamous Harvey Weinstein had funded a gender studies professorship, campaigned for Hilary Clinton, the first female presidential nominee and produced a documentary about sexual assault. If the Pandora’s box about his abuse of power to sexually harass women had not come to the furore, most would have believed that he was a Feminist! !!
SNG Comedy also has created sketches, and song parodies supporting Feminism. Several brands come up with interesting ads on Women’s Day. But we need these efforts to continue beyond one day in a year.
So we want men to not only talk the talk but also walk the walk. If you are convinced about the cause, it’s not difficult at all!
All of you who think that if you propagate feminism you may not get a “good wife”, please watch this hilarious video of stand-up comedian Nidhi Goyal who says that if a “good wife” means someone who cooks, irons, washes, sweeps the floor, takes care of the husband, makes him comfortable, then she also wants a wife and not a husband!!
If you are wondering why most of my article has references to comedians, well it’s because I am a Happy Feminist! Also because, comedy is the best way to get people to talk about difficult subjects.
I would like to end my letter with a small request to each and every kind, good looking, lovely and masculine #FeministHero out there. Please take this oath with me (repeating Chimamanda’s words)- “Yes, there is a problem with gender as it is today and we must fix it. We must do better.” Please join us in our journey to a better world.
Lots of Love,