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July 20, 2013

Research through conversations

by nupurmathur

BLOG ENTRY 2

Nupur Mathur

New Delhi July 20th 2013

Since I last wrote Pattie, Bathsheba and I have met a number of people working in the area of gender based issues.

One of the first people we met was Dhruv a young 25 year old male activist that actively speaks out about issues related to gender via his online platform called got stared at (www.gotstared.at/) and at ‘must bol’ (www.mustbol.in/) a voluntary youth driven platform where people share their personal stories about how gender plays a role in their day to day lives. Dhruv got me thinking about the male voice and how the male voice is not a big part of gender related dialogue. For me it was the first time I was seeing a young man that is addressing other young men as well as women of his age about gender, equality and perceptions of sexuality. I personally feel that a male voice is extremely important for sustaining a healthy discussion surrounding gender. Gender based issues not only affect women they affect men too. Male masculinity is a big part of the male psyche perpetuated through advertising, bollywood films and other mainstream media. More often than not men are faced with pressure from their peers and family to not show pain, to not cry and be ‘strong.’ Men are often made to feel uncomfortable about sharing or showing their emotions and a boy’s peers would ridicule him and call him names because he’s too sensitive.

Salman Khan a popular Bollywood actor

Salman Khan a popular Bollywood actor

On a more complex level, at home men live out patriarchal roles that are perpetuated by their mothers, sisters and wives. Men grow up thinking it is their right to behave in a certain way right from childhood. I think there needs to be a space for an open dialogue between young men about how internalized patriarchy is and how it plays a role in their lives. Dhurv and others like Anshul Tiwari (founder of www.youthkiawaaz.com), are men who have examined their own internal relationship with patriarchy and are catalysts that open up and sustain such  dialogue.

We also met Ushinor a journalist from a newspaper here in India called Tehelka (http://www.tehelka.com/). Ushinor gave us insight into how our initial proposal was nothing new and that everyone was speculating constantly about the state of affairs in the country. Digging deeper and targeting a small audience was something that most people were not doing. After meeting him we’ve been trying hard to narrow down entry points for this project both in terms of what about gender but also what target audience. So far through our countless conversations and meetings we’ve identified that working with the male voice is a potential entry point Another thing that at a very core level needs more of a voice is sex education, or rather as it’s been brought to our attention by TARSHI (www.tarshi.net/), a more holistic term is sexuality education. As sexuality is something that we encounter at every stage of our life it is limiting to speak only of sex education as often young people get a narrow perspective.

Here for example when girls start to menstruate boys are not told what is happening or why it is happening. In school if girls are being told about sanitary napkins and how to use them, boys are told to go stand outside while the girls are spoken to. The result is a very awkward set of adolescents where the girls are shy about what they are going through and the boys are making up their own theories of what is happening to them, while alongside laughing and making jokes about what are fundamental changes in a woman’s body. Moreover menstruation in the home is seen as something impure and women in hindu households are not allowed to enter the kitchen until their fourth day after they have washed their hair. They are also not allowed to enter the pooja (temple) room in the house for prayer. Until recently this was a common thing in my family, it happened for generations and no one thought to question it. As a young woman growing up I never completely understood why it was happening, but I complied. It now no longer happens, even though my grandmother would rather we stick to older ‘traditions,’ as these things are extremely internalized in her. It makes me wonder, and makes me extremely vigilant of myself to question what is internalized in me.

Talking about menstruation, buying tampons here in a shop is the most uncomfortable experience. Most often there are only men working in the shops and even if there is a woman its still uncomfortable because they immediately start judging you. You get odd smiles as if insinuating you are now having sex, even though the reason you are there is because you have your period. It is a common myth that if you are using tampons you are no longer a virgin. In any case this is how it is to buy tampons so you can only imagine what its like to buy condoms.

The other day I asked my mother about sex education before marriage and how it was for her because she and my father had an arranged marriage. Even now she is embarrassed to speak of anything related to sex, it is so internalized in her that sex is something hidden, something you don’t talk about. Even while speaking with me she couldn’t control her embarrassed smiling face. She told me about how her mother a few days before she got married gave her a book called ‘Everything you want to know about sex,’ and how excited that made my mother to get such a book to read after years of being kept away from such information.

The state of affairs in my country from villages to towns to cities are all equally challenging. I’m burdened by a sense of helplessness of not knowing where to start. I must say however that after meeting all these lovely people who have managed to find space, provide space, create a voicee, articulate clearly and create a vocabulary to sustain a dialogue on gender based issues I also feel empowered. I find myself talking about these issues with ease everywhere I go, whether it is at home or with friends. It is harder at home and I’m trying to think of ways to create a casual environment where these things can be openly discussed without a sense of embarrassment, or shame. If I don’t know where to start in terms of the country, I can certainly begin at home, the most challenging space of all.

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