I want to envision a space where women alone do not have to ask for their rights, where men become a part of sharing gender roles, where roles are not written by men alone
Recently social media has been flooded with women and men both sharing several opinions or articles to celebrate the International Day of Women, more of an international month in March. I was very happy to see one my friends—a couple sharing on their Facebook status on how they believe in gender justice and balanced gender roles. A few days later, they posted their pictures and videos of their baby-shower on their social media platforms. It was very clear by the posts that they are expecting a girl child. Everything—from what they wore, to what their friends and families wore, to decors, props and even the cake and foods around them—was in pink.
One of my friends, a young woman herself recently said to me, “you’re wearing a shirt with polka dots, your shirt collar shouldn’t be wide open that way. Keta manchhe bhaera ni ke esto lagaako? (How can a man wear something like this?). I wanted to sit with her and initiate a long dialogue, but I kept shut for I knew we would just be talking about what’s in the text and ideologies that many of us never practice.
My childhood was unlike many other boys of my age. I was different as a child because I was playing more of soft toys while my neighbors or classmates would play sports or anything that would define masculinity. While my friends or most of the children of my age played with trucks and robots, I used to wonder if I could ever find a Barbie driving a truck with super heroes loaded inside as passengers. I grew up watching Hindi serials or cooking next to my mother. I grew up enjoying dancing—every form of it.
As a child, I wasn’t taught anything different than what children are usually preached in our society. I was aware that as a man I have to be physically strong and emotionally unavailable. I knew that I had to study hard so that when I grow up I get a well-paid job to be the primary provider of the household. I was aware that I should be inclined toward athletics, I should be inspired by my father more than my mother, I should learn from my brother, protect sisters, be good in subjects like science, mathematics, computer and English, listen to songs that don’t make you shed tears, be a sci-movie fan and etcetera.
Honestly speaking, I did try doing everything that a man is told and expected to do in the society. I tried playing football, I tried engaging or inviting fights in school, I tried listening to the songs irrespective of the headaches they gave me, I tried playing cricket, I tried watching movies that didn’t connect to me. I tried learning guitar, excelling in mathematics irrespective of the fact I hated everything about it. I tried not to enjoy drawing or cooking. But today I need to confess I failed miserably and I am not guilty.
Frankly, I am not too aware of all the historical events and movements around gender empowerment and gender equality. I do not even aim to become an activist or a feminist like many think I am aspiring to. Today, I just want to learn what happens when pink and blue come together. I want to envision a space where women alone do not have to ask for their rights where men become a part of sharing gender roles, where roles are not written by men alone, where men are not left behind alone, where children are taught to be humans above anything else.
Over the years there have been countless women empowerment workshops in Nepal and as many seminars and talk shows around gender equality. I have participated in some of them and have always asked why we have women participation in majority there. I ask this question because there are countless men like me who have failed being men to this society in several stages of their lives. There are men like me who believe that human beings, if they share roles and responsibilities without being shoved to their throat, will have a better place to live in. There are men like me who have more female friends than men. There are men like me who are shielded by women at several occasions and there are men like me who do not hesitate to fall weak on their knees and who try to look at women as fellow human beings. Also, men need to participate in these workshops and discussion to reflect upon their both parental and socio-cultural upbringing.
In my 14 years of career as a communication person, I have had the opportunity of working with countless women who’ve inspired me in as many ways. Especially in the last four years of my career, I have been engaged in organizations where women have been the leaders and many men work under them. I have worked around spaces that promote zero tolerance against any form of discrimination and harassment irrespective of gender.
Most of my close friends have been women—be it at workplace or outside of it—and they never have made me feel a less of a man, whatever being a man really means! Most of the times, I am the only man sharing lunch with a group of women. Do I feel out of space? No more!
We often talk about countless goals and draft plans and strategies to ensure gender roles and rights are in place. What I understand from my own experience is gender balance is not a rocket science theory and we need to unbox the theories we make. Things are simple, if you want them to be. For example, you can only fit into your own shoes, so the first step is to understand your kind of shoes and then look out for the road ahead. A close friend of mine once advised me: Be the change you are looking out for. I am thriving for it every day.
I recently went as a guest speaker on gender roles in one of the business schools in Kathmandu. I handed over a sanitary pad to a graduating male student and asked him to speak about it for two minutes. He did speak about it but in a trembling voice and amid the giggles of the audience—primarily young graduating students. I handed over a condom to a female student and requested her to talk about it. The same response again. I have rallied in women rights events and have been frustrated at times by the sight of some of the fundamental feminists who arrive at the protests right around the time media arrives so that they are headliners and disappear in no time. I have been saddened by women who’ve misled the whole idea of feminism by projecting activism as a showbiz or only for the sake of following the ‘trend’. I have laughed at the prejudices men still live around and I have forgiven men for their ignorance and lack of awareness around their rigid ideas around masculinity. I have forgiven friends who whenever I have spoken about being gender fluid asked me if I was a feminist. I have ignored people who whenever I have been around women, wondered about my sexual orientation. I’ve grown for better to embrace every color in the spectrum.
Out of cocoon
Impractical, unsocial, hypothetical, atheist, unrealistic, feminine, emotional, sensitive, momma’s boy are some of the adjectives I continue to be tagged with. But you know what, it no more affects me because I know that the biggest fear we live around is to accept ourselves, to reflect into our own actions, to question the obvious, to be criticized for being different. I will never understand why being kind, helpful, emotional, and supportive and equal will ever have to do anything with gender. I am afraid if we as educated young adults will ever be able to come out of our cocoons and try shedding off the unconscious bias we shelter within. Isn’t it sad that we adapt fashionable clothes and carry latest gadgets in the market to only walk with a regressive mind? I know I will never be the man many aspire me to become. It’s okay because I have started mixing pink with blue, which results in the beautiful violet, almost like a pretty lavender. Today, my Barbie is finally riding the truck, without worrying much about where the journey will lead to and I’m well fastened up sitting next to her for the bumps ahead.
(The above opinion is entirely of the author’s and doesn’t represent any organization he works for)