Sunday, November 27, 2011

Why men should say No!

This time I have chosen to write on a subject that is of social significance; an issue that I feel strongly about- namely, Gender Based Violence (GBV). For some time I have been following a Facebook group called “Let’s Talk” and their campaign which is known as “Must Bol”. This group of young Turks are doing a great job, and it was, therefore, an honour to get an invite to write on their Blogathon: Men say No!

GBV issues are multi-dimensional in nature, owing to the diverse range of causes and manifestation that tend to vary across countries, cultures, and socio- economic strata. I have tried basing this article in context of Urban Indian Middle socio-economic class – the brand ambassadors of the so-called “India Shining” group. Why do these people allow such things to happen to their women? Why are they so passive about a problem that has acquired such great proportions that one cannot feign to ignore anymore?  
Why men do not say ‘No’?
In all probability, many men still think GBV to be a problem predominantly faced by women, and therefore it is “their fight which they have to fight”. At a superficial glance, one has to admit that there is a certain degree of rationale behind this thinking. Many would equate this issue of gender-based violence with other issues like gender inequality / woman’s liberation, etc – causes that are fought by women-centric organisations across the globe. So one tends to associate Gender Based Violence (GBV) also with similar problems, and prefers to leave the women to champion this cause as well. GBV and its associated problems are, however, somewhat complex and more involved. Let's take a bird's eye view to the problem 
Solution type: Internal or External?
In general, any problem can be addressed either internally or externally, and the effectiveness of the two methods varies depending on two aspects: nature of the problem and the role of the adversary within the problem. In most of the sociological problems, any one of the two aforementioned aspects plays a major role, while the other one ends up playing the second fiddle. Very few problems can be solved with a mono-dimensional approach. For example, if we try to reduce drinking amongst the working class to improve their quality of life, a major thrust has to come externally in terms of campaigns, restrictions, regulations etc. This has to be supplemented by internal pressures from the family, children, peer group, friends etc. Thus, a combination of both is necessary, though the drive has to be from the external forces.
If we look at Gender discrimination at workplaces, this also has a predominantly external approach. Men have dominated the workplace scenario until now, and it will be sheer foolishness if one expects them to give away their dominant position so easily. However, things have now changed to a certain extent, and the main reason for this is the constant barrage of attacks from the women groups. Organisations have reluctantly being forced to remove regulations which bar women from joining them and later have grudgingly accepted that quite a number of women deserve to be above the “glass ceiling” – the invisible barrier which prevents women from rising beyond a certain level in an organisation.
If we put this in a simplistic step by step approach, it would look somewhat like this :
Step 1 : Organizations accepting women into responsible positions – [External : created by awareness campaigns, litigations, constitutional rights etc]
Step 2 : Women performing at par or sometimes better than their men peers – [External : as women are still not accepted completely]
Step 3 : Superiors acknowledging that Women can deliver at least as good as other men. Also accepting that having women in management can provide certain paradigm shift into management thinking [Internal]
GBV : External or Internal approach ?
In contrast to the above examples, GBV has a completely different dimension. In this case, men are committing the crimes against women actively (not just passively ignoring their rights), and quite a number of these remain unreported. There are several reasons for this lack of reporting, the major ones being:
§         Social Stigma: A woman violated by someone is often perceived a ‘loose woman’ and ‘she was asking for it’. Often this also acts like an ice-breaker in a reverse manner i.e ‘now that she has anyway been deflowered, she will probably not mind a roll in the hay’ kind of a psychology
§         Sense of shame / guilt by the offended
§         Often perpetrator of this crime is a man of social / family position – the husband, the boss, the father of a close friend
No wonder quite a number of women prefer to suffer quietly. This, in turn, emboldens the criminal even further as he realises that he can get away with this.
GBV also has a dimension that the crime being committed is atrocious. Unlike Gender discrimination in workplace, which, at its worst, is a case of being “unfair” and “discriminatory”, GBV is about invading another person’s private space and committing a hideous crime. Quite often, it is something that happens within the house – within closed doors and within the closed family. And for this reason, this battle cannot be merely an external conflict. It has to be fought internally – with the perpetrators (the men, in this case) themselves turning back and saying, “we would allow this to happen any more”.
How do we make men say no?
How do we do this internally? How do we make men say “No” so such crimes? As usual, there are no easy recipes to this. It might be worthwhile to look at some scenarios, which exist:
1)     Break social sanctions: There is an “indirect” sanction amongst men about situations when such behaviours are tolerated. Typical examples are:
1.1)           Army: It is a common practice that when an army invades another country, the victorious army indulges in ruthless activities, including sexual exploitation of women belonging to the vanquished party. Such practice date back into history and seems to be a well-established military practice even in the modern era. Be it the Cossacks during the First World War, the Japanese during Second World War or the Pakistani army in 1971, all have indulged in this practice rather openly. Our own Indian army is also accused of having used this “weapon” in the northeast. It, therefore, is logical to think that this kind of behaviour has a certain acceptance amongst army chiefs for it to have continued over the ages.
1.2)           Community centric: There are certain communities where this is an accepted form of punishment against the “loose” woman. This communities view of somewhat similar to Constable Michael Sanguinetti (of “Slutwalk” fame)’s view point – which is, if a woman dresses like a slut, she is asking for it. Usually these societies have a strong “machismo” complex and such violence against women seem to confirm to this image.
1.3)           Emotion-driven: Quite a number of people seem to sympathize with the husband / boyfriend who loves his wife / fiancĂ©e so much that he ends up hitting her or violating her – quite like a modern day Othello.
The first step could be to break these acceptance norms amongst men. This has to be done tactfully, because almost no-body will be honest enough to acknowledge existence of such a mind-set in the first place.
2)     Creating consciousness amongst men is another important step, and it is important enough for them to stick out their neck when necessary.
This will be a great challenge as the urban upper-middle class is an upwardly-mobile bunch of epicurean cynics (me included) who strictly follow the golden rule called WGOMF (“What Goes Of My Father” – literal translation of “Mera baapka kya jata hai”). To shake them up into some actual action will require massive effort – something akin to the Anna Hazare movement against corruption. The parallel is interesting as the Anna Hazare movement was predominantly a movement of the urban middle class – which seems to suggest that this class of people may not be completely dead yet !!
What do we want men to do?
Very simple things!  We are not looking for crusaders. I believe our women can take care of themselves without “knights-in-shining-armours” lurking in the background. We expect:
-          Awareness amongst male members in the society (especially young men). This can be done through talking, mails, chats or even Facebook posts.  
-          be supportive to women who are experiencing such a situation. Women are often subjected to harassments in public places. In such situation, women are generally advised to speak out / protest / shout. Please join them in their protests
-          instead of being a passive observer, try to call in help from whichever quarter possible.
There will, of course, be a handful who will take it up more seriously and take this up at a different level by being part of a cause or a movement through different organisations.

This Blog is part of the Men Say No Blogathon, encouraging men to take up action against the violence faced by women. 
More entries to the Blogathon can be read at Join further conversation on & 


  1. I agree with your point that it is also a duty of MEN to put an end to GBV. In my view, since we have inherited a patriarchal gene our forefathers and still continue to be part of a society which is clingling onto the concept of 'patriarch', many a times we fail to see and behave with women as equal conterparts. As a result, many of this GBV occurs as some men try to vent out their frustration as they apparantly can not control or dominate 'their' women. Add to this the fact that since subconsciously we are still affected by the same syndrome that even the pious Juthisthir suffered from, i.e., women are 'our' property and hence it is our birthright to break it if we want to. This particular two attitudes has to change. Firstly, we (the male species) need to understand that women are not 'our' property but they are individuals just like us and secondly if they are more deserving then they would fare better than us in fields usually dominated by men historically. Realisation, as is in any other social changes in history, must precede and govern our behaviour if we want to see GBV as a thing of past, in not so distant future.

  2. We all know the problem exists. Question is HOW do you break 'social sanctions' ? The only way to do that would be to socially be contemptual of people who indulge in GBV.

    At the end of the day I think this battle has to be fought by the women primarily with the support of men willing to fight for them.

    One question: If you were to find out that someone (very senior) indulged in such a practice in your family, what would you do ?

  3. I personally think I will probably confront him. Sometimes you have to take a stand - even if it means going against the grains of established social order.

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