Male feminist allies: Why every woman needs one - Hindustan Times
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Male feminist allies: Why every woman needs one

Jun 21, 2024 08:59 PM IST

Baba was my feminist ally, the sort of man every woman should have in her corner. Someone who believes in her, thinks twice before questioning her decisions, and remains her most enthusiastic cheerleader.

When I decided to quit my full-time job with this newspaper and go freelance so that I could spend more time with my then school-going daughters, my father-in-law was appalled. But he didn’t want to directly question my decision and, so, told a friend that he would make sure my children were well looked after at home.

New Delhi, India - June 21, 2024: Young women react as they are clicked during rains, in New Delhi, Friday, June 21, 2024. Light rainfall on Friday brought some relief to the people in Delhi after a relentless heatwave in the region for over a month. (Photo by Sanjeev Verma/ Hindustan Times) (Hindustan Times)
New Delhi, India - June 21, 2024: Young women react as they are clicked during rains, in New Delhi, Friday, June 21, 2024. Light rainfall on Friday brought some relief to the people in Delhi after a relentless heatwave in the region for over a month. (Photo by Sanjeev Verma/ Hindustan Times) (Hindustan Times)

I knew that but quit anyway. When I wrote a 12-part series on women’s declining workforce participation that went on to win a national award, Baba, which is what we called Murlidhar Bhandare, couldn’t have been prouder — though he continued to believe that I could, and should, have dodged the “motherhood penalty”, one of the barriers to workforce participation that I had written about.

Baba was my feminist ally, the sort of man every woman should have in her corner. Someone who believes in her, thinks twice before questioning her decisions, and remains her most enthusiastic cheerleader.

After the death of his wife, a Delhi high court judge, he had started the Justice Sunanda Bhandare Foundation with the goal of “gender equality”. In truth, it was as much his goal as it was hers. “The freedom to choose, the right to excel” was the motto he chose. Ever the optimist, he believed that given the opportunity, there was no reason why women could not flourish. The challenge lay in creating the right environment.

Sunanda Bhandare had married young. To say that her husband was responsible for her success would be to undermine her grit and brilliance. But he was the catalyst that ensured she not only completed her law degree but went on to a successful law practice while raising two children with him.

We don’t talk enough about the value of male allies. The wrestler from Haryana who trains his daughters and nieces in defiance of social norm. The airport loader who sells his land to finance his daughter’s education. The shop owner who is assisted by his daughter when she returns from college.

This is not an avuncular benevolence but an ingrained belief that everyone around you regardless of gender or sexuality or circumstance is deserving of dignity and freedom. That society cannot advance without taking everyone along. And that everyone gains when women and girls gain.

At 95, Baba might not have been up-to-date on issues like gender identity. He could be anachronistic about his choice of words — preferring lady to woman, for instance — and was unquestionably paterfamilias. But his feminism shone through his actions and the way he lived his life.

Where families are so often the gatekeepers of gender roles and morality, particularly of daughters, he had thrown away the key. He was happy to be challenged and proud to follow the budding careers of his granddaughters.

Every time my column was published, he would call with feedback — not always positive — but always willing to listen. What a loss for me then that I will not be receiving his call after this one.

Namita Bhandare writes on gender. The views expressed are personal

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