Be a killjoy, for a change
Saad Adnan Khan
There is a theory called 'body comportment' in gender studies. In patriarchal societies, women are made to regulate their bodies from a very early age. It can be the smallest of things—the way they sit (with legs apart or not), talk, laugh, run, jump, throw a ball, the way they are expected to be obsessed with hair and keep it 'beautiful.' By regulating, I mean limiting. Girls are made to do things in a 'controlled' 'sober' 'graceful' manner, so that girls are not 'rough' or 'loud' in their body gestures and movements, like boys. If you look at it carefully, it is actually a systematic way of hindering the growth of girls—their movements, their bodies, their laughter. What ends up happening is that when girls do not punch or kick like a boy, or act and appear rough and tough like a boy, it is instinctively believed that a girl is weaker than a boy. Think of a very simple example: how do women and girls stand when they travel on a public bus in Dhaka? Do they stand with their legs apart? Most of the time, they do not, regardless of sudden brakes. Because when girls stand with their legs apart (like a man), it will be considered vulgar (more reason to welcome sexual harassment). A woman not 'fighting back,' becomes a determinant to 'prove' that women are in fact weaker than men, when in reality, institutions like family and school, systematically hinder the process of a girl exploring her bodily strength and potential from a very early age.
The german father wearing a skirt in public in solidarity with his 5 year old son, Courtesy
In such a context, the term women 'empowerment' can sound problematic, because what we really need is actually a dis-empowerment of men. Please do not get me wrong, by dis-empowerment I mean a redefinition of masculinity. Women do not need empowering, women have been 'empowered' for quite some time now. Women do not need men to 'save' them, because they have been doing the saving too for a long time. In different realities like slums, rural areas, forests and mountains, women are the ones who have been turning the gender roles upside down by constructing bridges, doing livestock and taking up guns.
When I say that masculinity has to be reshaped, I do not think it is an idealistic demand, because the process can start at homes and schools. Not only masculinity, but also femininity needs reshaping. It has to do with how we bring up our children, younger siblings and cousins. Let me tell you about my two and a half year old cousin sister Rainaz living in Bangladesh. She is quite the centre of attention in my family. When I skype with her, with my elder sister on her side, my sister tells her to ask me get her books, and not pretty princess things. Only that day, she tied a lace around her waist and went up to her father to announce that she knows karate, and evidently displayed a fine kick in the air. I could not have been prouder hearing this, because this is our redemption. No more body comportment. I was also insistent that she is shown 'Brave' the latest Disney movie about a rebel princess (who does not do her hair) for her first Disney movie experience, and not 'Cinderella,' 'Snow white' or 'Little mermaid.' A few days back, I read a news piece about Nils Pickert, a German father wearing skirt in public in solidarity with his 5 year old son. Pickert's son prefers wearing dresses like many other boys, for which he is bullied at school. Pickert did not ask his son to 'man up,' but instead chose to wear skirt with his son to show that it is only ok to be who you want to be.
The rebel princess from “Brave”
After forty eight women get raped every hour in Congo (according to a report by The Guardian) , and even after that, if we and our friends still keep making sexist jokes-- that is not ok. Because sexism is having some violent repercussions in many parts of the world, where things are not funny. When in India, infant girls are killed just because they are girls, it is no longer funny. When in China, girls are made to drop out of school because they are girls, things are no longer funny. When in Bangladesh and Pakistan, acid gets thrown at women because they choose to think and act differently, it is not funny. Things are dead serious in many parts of the world. And we start acting and thinking responsibly without whatever tools we have. We cannot go to Congo and stop armed militia from raping women, but we can stop our friend from passing a comment at a girl or laughing at sexist jokes. Corporates, for once, can stop making racist and sexist commercials of 'Fair and Lovely' and start doing massive campaigns on sexual harassment (Isn't there a thing called Corporate Social Responsibility?) Gender training at work places and schools can also be doable, where how men and women view themselves and each other can be a starting point for discussions. In an ideal world, there will not be any sexist commercials, songs and movies. However, we can be aware, be critical and undo the effect and influence. Condoning sexist attitude equals to being indifferent to and fostering sexism and oppression.
The reason men do not talk about such issues is because they are too scared and embarrassed, not because they do not want to. Other men keep them in line to NOT talk about gender and sexuality issues. THIS ideology has to be defused. One has to get rid of the comfort that one's gender can bring. Men and women have to think, act and behave beyond the gender labels. Once you do, trust me, it is very liberating.
(The writer is a Reporter, Star Campus, currently doing Master's in Gender Studies: Intersectionality and Change at Linköping University, Sweden.)