Feminism has for too long been a women’s domain. At a Feminist Therapy workshop I was at recently, we were all women participants and all women facilitators. The workshop symbolically started on the International day to end Violence against women and Day 1 of 16 days of Activism. We kept asking ourselves how do we encourage more men to participate next time! We didn’t have too many answers but we knew we had to try.
Changing Gender Socialisation
I do workshops on Sexuality and Gender for adolescents and my main objective is gender sensitization. During these workshops I realised how we really do teach our girls to not get raped/harassed and completely overlook teaching our boys to not rape/harass. Gender socialisation messages also perpetrate a binary gender identity, thus marginalizing any person who transgresses from one gender to another, or who does not conform to the strict definition of masculinity and femininity, society has chalked out for us.
When talking about sexual harassment, the girls easily see the gender difference in the rules we make for young girls vs young boys and are more often that not angered by it, but the boys more often than not think that the girls should follow these rules to “stay protected”. This is what we teach them, if the girl is in shorts or is out in the dark or is just out alone, you can tease her because she is not supposed to be there or be wearing that if she does not want to be teased.
For too long I judged my wardrobe with the possibility of sexual harassment till I realised I got harassed in anything I wore and I actually could not do much to prevent it. If only someone had told me that!!
Just bringing attention that it happens to way too many women shocks men and helps them be more aware and sensitive on the street and check their own behaviours. Women let’s talk about our experiences to our brothers, husbands, fathers to make them aware.
Let’s make a conscious effort with our children, with our nieces, nephews and our neighbours children and stop socialising girls to protect themselves by checking their clothes and activities or being accompanied by a boy. Instead let’s encourage them to protect themselves through self-defence/martial arts and go out and raise their voice against anybody who tries to harass them.
Let’s teach our boys to be feminists, to treat women as equal and tell them clearly that calling names and whistling are not COOL at all! Fathers, brothers, husbands, boyfriends – let’s be role models!
This brings me to my most important point:
Men not as perpetrators but not as protectors either
There are those men who are perpetrators of violence and then there are those men who have to by all means protect ‘their’ women against violence (thus becoming perpetrators of gender based violence themselves).
This is what we need to change. We need to go to the schools and colleges and engage boys and girls in conversations about what boys can do and what girls can do and bring their attention to the differences and make boys take responsibility not as protectors but as non-perpetrators
Socializing boys as protectors puts the power in their hands while the key is to empower our girls and women. Boys/Men might feel the need to do everything in their power to protect the girls/women and this alone could be a cause of patriarchal violence.
Male friends and relatives and well wishers, we need your support, not your protection. We need you to be conscious about gender discrimination and challenge your own views, declare yourselves as feminists and stand shoulder to shoulder with us at our protests. We do not need to be Protected!
Finally here is why I think talking about SEX and SEXUALITY freely and starting young is a good way to stop gender based violence and break gender stereotypes.
Some questions that adolescents have asked me during workshops:
- What is the difference between sex and rape?
- Can wives say no to sex to their husbands? is it not the husband’s right? (when talking about yes means yes and No means No at anytime anywhere)
- Is it ok if in a marriage a women earns more than a man?
- Can you teach us how to sit in adolescence?
- Can pickle get spoiled if my shadow when I am menstruating falls on it?
- Does being a woman mean unemployment and house work?
- If someone makes us watch blue movies in young age is it right?
Aren’t these questions reason enough!
Raising awareness amongst boys and girls about gender based violence as a prevention strategy and consciously changing our gender socialisation messages is our key to a violence free future. Let’s get started!