Not just women, men too face prejudices, often in subtle ways
So biased are we that many feminists opposed the idea of paternity leave for men on account of the fact that they would use this time to drink and laze about. If that is not gender prejudice, then what is?columns Updated: Mar 24, 2018 16:12 IST
I wonder if any of you have seen the 2004 American comedy film Meet the Fockers in which the daughter of a tough talking Robert de Niro announces she is about to marry a nurse named Gaylord Focker. De Niro is shocked in equal parts by the name and the young man’s profession. Which led me to remember a conversation I had with a friend who was disparagingly telling me about a young man she knew who opted to be a nurse. “I am sure he could not find anything else”, she sneered. Instead of defending the young man choosing this noble profession, I kept quiet perhaps due to some subconscious prejudice.
Which got me thinking that men, too, face gender prejudice in many subtle ways.
Take professions. Tell me honestly, would you prefer your son or husband or partner to be a doctor or a dancer? There are many occupations we assign to gender without even thinking about it. In India, it is more so. Even if he were of the class of Rudolf Nureyev, I cannot imagine too many parents accepting that their son wanted to take up dancing as a profession. Though many might never admit it, my son the dancer will not have the same ring as my son the cardiac surgeon, and you can protest this all you want.
We lament our patriarchal order, grumble about women having to do all the chores and work. But if the woman’s partner were to say that he will now be a stay-at-home husband, or father, chances are that she would be worried that her family and friends will think him a bit of layabout even if he were earning enough money. In fact, so biased are we that many feminists opposed the idea of paternity leave for men on account of the fact that they would use this time to drink and laze about. If that is not gender prejudice, what is?
This is not to generalise, but even men who show their emotional side are considered a bit weak. You see it in the movies all the time. The reference to men in a weaker position as ladies, the scorn for a man who cries.
Similarly, the man who earns less is also an object of faint ridicule even among the educated classes. In fact, most often it is the women who refuse to accept this and deride the man as not fulfilling his duties.
We look to the man to protect the woman. It is there even in our progressive movies whether here or Hollywood. The man takes on the role of protector and in those in which the woman does so are usually comedies.
When it comes to sexual violence, too, we imagine that it is much more a gender issue which affects women. Most of the narrative is about women being at the receiving end. Yet, as a ministry of women and child welfare report showed, more male children get sexually abused than female children. One reason for this is that the male child is not as protected as the girl, making it easier for the predator to get access to the child. The other is that societal norms are such that the boy either does not understand that he has been violated or keeps quiet for fear of being made fun of or considered a sissy.
As a result, the child does not get counselling or support and this has an effect on him later in life. This also often leads to him considering that such violence is the norm and that he can visit it on others.
Many of us are not even aware that we have so many gender biases. I have friends who consider themselves staunch feminists who are uncomfortable with the idea that their son may one day come out and say he is gay. “Mind you, I have nothing against gays, but it is not an easy world for them,” said an enlightened one.
So, it is not just women, men, too, face prejudices. They too are bracketed in slots in which they may not always be comfortable. This is something we need to think about before we cast ourselves in the role of gender rights champions.