The 45th president of the United States is not known for his finer feelings towards women. In fact, he feels that he has, in the manner of feudal lords, some sort of droit du seigneur when it comes to women on account of his fame and fortune. So we saw a series of vile remarks being publicised on what Donald J Trump thought about how to treat women. You wonder, did his parents not teach him any better or at least one of his wives or daughters. If only he had got a telling off in school from his teachers. Did he not have the right role models growing up? Probably not, because by and large men are not part of the discourse on issues that concern women, particularly violence against women. Which is worrying considering that they are normally the ones who make the rules and drive the agenda in most nations and more so in countries like India.
Yet, the fight for women’s rights and against violence has been driven by women’s organisations. I have attended many such meetings and rarely heard male voices though they are so much part of the problem and the solution. Like the family planning programme, it will be far more effective if the fight against gender violence were to involve men. This is no easy task, it takes the undoing of years of conditioning and the gender biases which have become part of the DNA of our societies. In many cases, men don’t even seem to think that their more violent actions are necessarily wrong.
In her searingly brutal film Anatomy of Violence Deepa Mehta touches on what it takes to make such violent criminals as those who were involved in the December 16 2012 gang rape in Delhi. The male actors in the film are show as being at the receiving end of the brutalisation and horror of years of poverty, in some cases of sexual abuse, domestic violence and lack of any normal access or mingling among the sexes. In a particularly disturbing scene, one of the killers nonchalantly blames the victim and says the fact of her death is not more significant than other deaths including his own impending one after he got the death sentence. At no point, does the film make any excuses for the gut-wrenching violence but it does show that even the concept of right and wrong are so skewed in the lives of many men in India.
Nothing can improve if we do not start thinking much more about involving men in gender justice. It is not that all men are resistant to the idea of playing a greater role in the fight against gender violence. They came out in huge numbers on Delhi’s streets when the gang rape took place in what was a spontaneous outpouring of grief for the young woman who fought so valiantly to live. For every man who thinks that involvement in female issue somehow reduces his masculinity or challenges his control, there are others who feel the opposite, who are willing to walk the extra mile for women’s rights.
But it has to start with the education system where instead of promoting half-baked theories about a glorious past, boys and girls should be educated and made aware of what constitutes violence against women and how this demeans and brutalises us all. There will be resistance, of course, but I don’t see that as a permanent barrier.
Anatomy of Violence shows that gender discrimination at home gives boys the feeling that they are superior and that women should bend to their will. The good news is that in many countries, India included, there are many more men than ever who want to be work towards gender equality and are not afraid to speak out. There is an increasing awareness that male behaviour affects not just women, but the well being of society as a whole. Men have to be involved in gender violence as they are the main perpetrators of it and without their cooperation, there can be no solution. Women alone, as is largely happening now, are shouldering the burden in the fight against gender violence. We need to hear from men about what motivates violence against women and what they think could be solutions for behavioural change. In many ways, the male head of a household is not just the role model for his sons and other male relatives but he also takes the decisions which can empower women in the family should he chose to. It is only when we have the opinions from a much wider cross section of men that responses and frameworks that really work can be formulated to prevent or at least minimise violence against women.