The men's groups helping Indian men combat toxic masculinity
“Wanted: men who believe wives are not for battering”
Indian men aren’t ready to take orders from women. This isn’t something Monu Chacha said last Diwali before being decapitated by your feminist aunt’s death stare. It’s a classic example of toxic masculinity presented to the Supreme Court, as a reason for women officers being denied command roles in the Indian Army.
“The composition of rank and file being male, and predominantly drawn from rural background, with prevailing societal norms, the troops are not yet mentally schooled to accept women officers in command,” the Centre government pleaded.
Though the SC didn’t buy the argument, it does highlight a predominant thought.
From Arjun Reddy actor Vijay Deverakonda’s romanticising of domestic violence portrayed in his film (and its Hindi dude-bro, Kabir Singh) to a godman’s claim of menstruating women being reborn as dogs if they cook, toxic masculinity code is still as infectious as the coronavirus.
But fighting the contagion from the frontlines are a battalion of men’s groups across the country.
Who are these men’s groups fighting toxic masculinity?
Their goal is gargantuan – deconstruct negative masculinity. This evolve from the realisation that conversations around gender equality and violence against women largely excluded men.
Behind this ideal are activists and volunteers with their boots in the mud, running mentoring programmes and workshops across schools, colleges and workplaces.
Mumbai-based Men Against Violence and Abuse (MAVA) has one of the best origin stories. A newspaper advertisement in 1991 stated, “Wanted: men who believe wives are not for battering”.
Two hundred and five people responded to this appeal made by journalist CY Gopinath in The Indian Express on behalf of a group of journalists, media professionals, and social workers.
In Uttar Pradesh, a state of over 200 million people and an equally populous history of violence against women, Men’s Action to Stop Violence Against Women (MASVAW) created a network of activists, educators and volunteers with a focus on their largely male residents.
In the national capital sits Azad Foundation. Its Men for Gender Justice programmes are functional in Delhi and Jaipur with 22 active groups with 140 members.
“Unless stereotypical ideas of femininity and masculinity are challenged, empowered women can face discrimination and domestic violence from those who define ‘real men’ as those who exercise control over women,” they believe.
Tackling toxic masculinity requires some creativity
Interacting with the community helps these group recognise regressive thought patterns and tactically dismantle them.
They pick away at the concept of machismo, like ‘boys don’t cry’, ‘boys hit back’, ‘boys become real moustachioed strongmen’.
MAVA does it through gender sensitivity training and interactive workshops.
They have an annual Marathi magazine called Purushspandana, Samabhav, a 2-day travelling film festival on gender diversity, masculinity and relationships, and mentorship with young men in colleges.
In the workshops, they work on altering their daily vocabulary, recognising microaggressions, teaching conflict resolution and reviewing our traditions without the gendered lens.
It isn’t all Powerpoints and finger wagging. The groups get creative with debate programs, film screenings and poster-making competitions.
MASVAW works with children using activity books about gender and flashcards. They even host live-action games like Snakes & Ladders that they’ve modified to address different behaviours.
Within these safe spaces, Indian men can hope to find better outlets for aggression and anger.
MAVA has fostered over 700 Youth Mentors belonging to nine districts in Maharashtra. They, in turn, have engaged over three lakh men.
Azad surveys participants of their programmes to see the alteration in mindsets. About 98% of them who previously believed that women were responsible for violence inflicted on them, now disagreed.
It gets more apparent with each passing day that patriarchy affects us all, male, female, third gender or no gender.
Unlearning toxic masculinity under the mentorship of such men’s groups paints a brighter picture for our future. However distant it may be.