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A young man who identified as ‘liberal’ found out as he was called out, that he was actually more sexist than he thought. And then followed the journey of waking up to being a real feminist.
“Make sure that girls get a concession for the long jump event because they won’t be able to compete with guys” quipped one uncle at our annual club sports day.
I knew that he was wrong but said nothing. My sister and her friends stepped forward and told him in so many words that his observation about their athletic abilities was inaccurate at best and misogynistic at worst.
Welcome to the world of ‘Male privilege‘ where things like sexism, stalking, slut-shaming, or blaming the victim (especially in cases of rape or molestation) are often condoned if not encouraged. So much so that Indian movies and serials reinforce it regularly and we blindly lap it up.
Like most Indian men, I too have seen misogyny from close quarters. And it did influence my belief system. I didn’t raise my voice enough against it when I should have. One reason was that I didn’t want to disagree for fear of being scolded, bullied, or beaten by those around me, be it my friends, elders, or even random strangers.
There were also times when I looked down upon several women for their life choices because the male ego trumped over everything else. I made a conscious effort not to say it openly (for fear of being called out) but you can only hide your prejudices for so long.
It took me some time, experience, and rumination to realize that all these stereotypes were a means to bully women to force them into submission and hand over their lives to us.
Most of my friends have been men, with whom there tends to be a lot of testosterone-fuelled fake machismo and ultra aggressiveness. And since I can’t do both, being in all-male groups made me feel very insecure because of which I had to be someone else to try and fit in by winning their approval.
It was not that they were bad people but at times their behavior was extremely toxic and they didn’t want to change it at all. And disagreeing with them over their sexist beliefs was an open invitation to be the butt of all jokes followed by a sermon admonishing me for not being manly enough.
Fortunately, I did have some really good friendships, and unsurprisingly, most of them were with women, who tend to be more understanding, perhaps because they created an environment where I was able to open up about my insecurities and not try to hide it behind fake bravado.
One of those friends has been responsible for opening my thought process like no one else. She has been very straightforward about my behavior whenever I did something wrong. But she also helped me address my flawed perceptions about myself. She literally counseled me to confront my fear of being bullied which helped repair my self-esteem and be bold enough to take decisions that I needed to.
Another reason that helped me address my misogyny was my sister. From a very young age, she was brave enough to give the middle finger to the blatant sexism and injustice that girls had to face. She took risks when others around her played safe. She has done things that not many others in our family, not even the empowered and privileged men, could have ever thought of. People may call her ‘opinionated’ or ‘difficult’ but they are equally scared of her being herself. They try to put her down but it never works.
I had a chance to be around women who loved me for who I was, and not my pretentious self. They saw through me and yet they didn’t give up on me. And for that, I can’t thank them enough.
From being a mansplainer to actually try and empathise with women, from trying to act like a stereotypical man to allowing myself to be vulnerable, from trying to be a know it all to understand that there is no shame in saying the words ‘I don’t know’, from focussing too much about not having a girlfriend to to understanding that it’s perfectly okay to be single and from trying to impress a girl to realize that the sexiest thing about me is my authenticity – it has been a journey to remember.
A journey where a regular ‘liberal’ Indian man is trying to be more humane.
Image source: pixabay
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Writing is my therapy. It helps me make sense of this world.
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