Pakistan’s blue-eyed 'chaiwala' and the reluctance of men to become feminists

The drooling over the pulchritudinous chaiwala is on the verge of settling down, but an epic debate has risen between men and women.

Men's right activists are crying hoarse over 'reverse sexism' and 'misandry' over the 'sexualisation' of Arshad Khan. Beyond the capricious debate of whether this is a class or a gender issue, I think this incident has raised an important moot point that merits examination. It begs to recognise where the men who can defend women in this instance are? Honestly, I don't see them and this further substantiates my growing realisation that most men choose not to identify themselves as feminists.

 Pakistan’s blue-eyed chaiwala and the reluctance of men to become feminists

File image of Arshad Khan. Twitter @arshadkhan

The question is, why is it like that? Do these men feel that they do not belong in the narrative? Do they think feminism is anti-men or do they imagine that feminism doesn’t require male stakeholders?

Let's begin with the most simplistic explanation, which is the fact that people don’t understand what feminism means. Society often thinks of feminism as a movement for women that disenfranchises men from their patriarchal privileges. This is laughable because marginalising one gender for the other is the very notion that feminists are fighting!

Feminism is not male bashing. Feminism is not about women against men. Feminism is about every person against a system of exploitation and domination. Feminism is bringing about a shift in attitude of both men and women. A man lifting his plate and a boy being allowed to play with dolls is also feminism. As Gloria Steinem said, "It’s not about biology but consciousness."

Another vociferous argument against men participating in feminism – and I hear this more often than I like – is that women cry wolf and misuse laws, especially those like 498A (dowry harassment). I'll moot this point by arguing that all the laws in our country are misused, from tax evasion to property to criminal. How can we then only focus on laws that involve the private lives of women? Secondly, for every woman who has cried 'wolf', there are a thousand men who have acted like wolves. This argument holds no water.

The other reason why men are purportedly staying out of feminism is that they feel threatened by the emancipation of women. Since Vedic times, gender roles have gone through various stages from ambivalence to definite construct. Today, we are vacillating between those gender prescriptions i.e. what is expected of men and women is no longer tightly construed. Some men are countering this power shift with an aggressive dominance, the most execrable manifestation of this being the increased violence against women that we're seeing (Monika Ghurde and the femicides in Argentina are recent examples). This disturbing trend underscores the urgent need for us to address male behaviour instead of female behaviour, spearheaded with the inclusivity of men in gender equality movements.

Men need to be feminists. Why? Because patriarchy screws men as much as it does women. It works against our 500 million women, as much as it works against our 200 million male adolescents. Patriarchy does a great disservice to boys in how they’re raised. It puts them into gender boxes. It tells them to be 'macho'. It defines their masculinity in a very narrow way. It stifles their humanity. It tells them that boys will be boys. It grants them impunity for the crimes they commit against women, whether it's sexual violence, honour killings, eve teasing, dowry harassment or domestic violence.

Feminists don't create the fault lines between genders, patriarchy does.

Sure, we're fighting patriarchy. Sure, we’re teaching girls to stand up for themselves. Sure, we’re raising our daughters to be sons. But why are we not raising our sons like our daughters? Why are we not teaching boys to reject aggressive behaviour? Why are we not 'unpinking' our boys? Why are we not encouraging boys to imagine what it’s like to be female? Why are we not teaching them that it’s absolutely fine to be sensitive, to cry, to fail, to be vulnerable, to not be 'macho'?

This is why men need to stand up; not just for women, but also for themselves. They need to say, "Let’s stop discrimination against any gender." They need to shift male behaviour, if not at the political, then at least at the personal: Don't diss women drivers, don't let your female colleagues make less money, don't let your wife become a lesser version of herself.

Feminism is not a war between men and women. It is not a contest. It’s a dialogue. It’s a responsibility for both genders. It’s a place where men and women work in conjunction with each other. It is the process of removing gender roles from women and reassigning gender roles to men, creating parity for everyone.

In conclusion, is it not safe to say that the world would be a happier, freer place if all men became feminists? I’m sure the chaiwala would agree.

Meghna Pant is a multiple award-winning author, journalist and speaker whose new book 'The Trouble With Women' is now available on Juggernaut. You can follow her on Twitter @MeghnaPant.

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Updated Date: Oct 21, 2016 15:17:19 IST

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