Friendship Day: The need to offer a friendly hand to young boys and oppose toxic masculinity

Today is Friendship day. This is that day of the year when college students all over the country proudly wear bands with messages of love on their wrists. However, today is also the day when some will have their wrists empty.

When I was a fresher in college, I was going through serious psychological issues. I had no “friends”, per se. I was braving child sexual abuse and had severe trust issues. The ones who are on the side-lines and not confident, as evident from their body posture, or generally about who they are, or carry a huge burden in their hearts, are the ones who get noticed. And sadly, I realised that it is human nature to bully the weak and the quietest of them all. Slowly, people took notice of me. They heard stories of my abuse, which were let out by a friend who was the keeper of my secret, and suddenly, the college restrooms bore lines in red ink that read “For gay sex, contact Harish”.

It was a harrowing experience, as you can imagine. All this while I was dealing with the abuse. Fresh out of school, I was still a minor. It took me years to regain my self-confidence. It started with my dog, who was literally my best friend. He listened to me when no one did, and that is all that you need to give yourself a boost. A pair of ears that listen without judgement can do more wonders than a mouth which offers advice, especially when the advice is from a novice. That’s what friendships can do, and friendship in this context are across and beyond gender, sexuality and species. There is the reason why I am sharing this with you today. When I read the story of a 16-year-old boy who was gang raped, those memories came flashing back. I wish no child ever has to go through this trauma, and I am hoping against hope that this child found a kind friend in a human or animal, or simply a plant that listened to him without judging him.

 Friendship Day: The need to offer a friendly hand to young boys and oppose toxic masculinity

Representational image from Getty.

I have said on numerous occasions that the victims of patriarchy are males themselves. And we need to understand that boys are not 'protectors’ or ‘saviours’ or even ‘knights in shining armour’; they are both young and vulnerable. Rather than a band of friendship on their wrists, they need bonds of friendship in their lives; friendship with people regardless of gender. Friendship that doesn’t pressurise them to be Superman, Spider-Man and Batman, but rather people who listen to their needs and their silences. Parents need to speak more to their children. While parents give friendly advice to their girls about periods and safety, it is important to not exclude boys from this conversation, or to overlook the fact that they need to be spoken to, too.

This might seem straight out of a Karan Johar film, but the truth is that friendship is the most important of all relationships. Especially in the case of child sexual abuse, when a boy can feel cheated and awful about the fact that he will be judged for not hitting back. The pressure on boys to be violent and fierce and defenders of themselves sometimes kills their inner zeal for life. Thus, it is important that parents become their children's friends and discuss these issues openly with boys. And while doing so, it is important that we don’t make it sound like all men are bad.

Ensure that it doesn’t sound like some lecture, because it is no one's fault or choice that they are born with a certain gender. The idea of boys as tormentors is click-bait, and let’s not fall into that trap.  There is a need to deconstruct the patriarchal hegemony that exists and is deeply entrenched in our society. And that will happen only if we have a friendly talk with our male children. Look at them not as a cause of trouble, but as individuals who may be in trouble. It is not going to be easy to build a society that is equal to all. This is why we need to give out friendly, approachable vibes and talk to boys, so that they can gain the confidence to put their arms around us and tell us when they feel imprisoned by the patriarchy.

In the meantime, here’s some friendly advice from me to my readers: In a society that celebrates friendship and equality, if we are too religious or believe in the upkeep of customs, we don’t need to necessarily do away with customs and traditions; we just need to appropriate it for everyone. So, yes, fast together for Karva Chauth and tie your sister a rakhi, for she is quite capable of protecting you too. That’s how friendships in all relationships need to be celebrated — with a fistful of equality.

Because, believe me, in a world that upholds machismo, it is boys who need a friend to tell them that it is okay to be weak, and it is fine to go unnoticed and lie low, even when everyone expects you to rise to the occasion.

On that note, happy Friendship day.

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Updated Date: Aug 06, 2017 20:57:09 IST