Exploring masculinity | The Daily Star
12:04 AM, November 30, 2013 / LAST MODIFIED: 10:40 PM, November 29, 2013

Exploring masculinity

Renowned women rights activist and gender trainer KAMLA BHASIN talks to Shamsuddoza Sajen , Sr. Editorial Assistant of The Daily Star on various aspects of masculinity and violence against women.

Exploring masculinity

Shamsuddoza Sajen (SS): Why understanding masculinity is so important?

Kamla Bhasin ( KB) : For many years people have thought that gender means women. This is completely wrong. Gender means both men and women. We have not focused on men at all. We only talk about women because women are suffering. We ignored what was happening to men. Somewhere imbalance has been developing.
Women have been talking about rights. Our constitution also recognizes the equal status of man and woman. But our society is not following with freedom in the same way. Until recently, Dhaka University women had to get back before sunset. Men did not have to come back. So, we are only talking about women thinking that men have so many privileges in patriarchy. In the world, men control 99% of property- that means 50% of people control 99% of property. Men also control 90% of all provisions of power. We do not think of the other side of the story. 99% of terrorists are men, 99% of suicide bombers are men.
Men are the biggest losers in patriarchy. The biggest deprivation is when you are not any more a human. If a woman is raped, that is not a deprivation for her. Some idiots have done this. I do not think rape can finish a woman's life. It can only do that in a patriarchy where a woman has to be virgin. Instead of the rapists, women commit suicide.
In 1971, Pakistani soldiers raped thousands of women. They hated Bangladeshis. If we hate someone, we do not talk to him or her, or even look at him or her. So then why do Pakistani soldiers use their genital organs to rape Bangladeshi women? So, he makes his genital into a weapon of war. Will he use the same weapon with his wife when he goes back? Will he use the same weapon to produce children? How does he look at his body? I could not live thinking of my body as a weapon. They do not have emotions because society says men should not be emotional. They have left many children in the wombs of Bangladeshi women. So they do not have relations with their children. They do not have relations with their body, do not have emotions, and even do not have relationships with their own children. Is this the life of a human being?
According to government of India, 40% of Indian husbands commit domestic violence. Are they human beings? That's why it is important to talk about men and masculinity.

SS: Talking about femininity is equally important. What do you think?

KB: Femininity is the exact opposite of masculinity. Masculine strong, feminine weak; masculine rational, feminine emotional. So it is the exact opposite. Both are defined by society. They are not biological categories. Actually a woman can also be masculine, and a man can be feminine. These are human qualities. A beautiful human is someone who has the best qualities of both man and woman. When I am strong and gentle, when I am rational and emotional, when I am brave and compassionate like Buddha. A man can only be a Buddha if he has feminine qualities also. A Hitler can never become a Buddha.

SS: What is the relation between masculinity and power?

KB: In society, there is not only patriarchy- there is also class. An upper class woman is stronger than 90% of Indian men who are working class. An upper caste woman is superior to all the lower caste men. So men are not always powerful. And it is wrong to say that men are naturally violent, because men who work in the house are not violent. For example, in work one shows all feminine qualities in respect to his boss. But going home he becomes masculine. With your boss, you have feminine qualities, but with your subordinate you have masculine qualities. So masculinity is a question of power. So anybody in a position of power becomes masculine.

SS: The idea of masculinity and femininity is constructed. How does it work?

KB: Today media is more important than education. Children are consuming media for many more hours per day. Education is becoming more and more gender-sensitive because of criticism from women's rights groups.
But look at the media, which is working on children 24 hours a day. You look at the cartoons. They are all violent. All of them are trying to hit each other. There is so much socialization of boys and girls. We give a gun to a boy at two and a Barbie doll to a girl. We had our traditional patriarchy but now we have modern capitalist patriarchy, which is very powerful. The million-dollar pornography industry, million-dollar cosmetic industry, million-dollar toy industry and cinema. All of them are horrible. So, now, it is extremely difficult to fight for values of equality. Because, all of this are only profit-making bodies. They do not care for values of equality, human rights, justice and dignity. They are defining feminism in their own way. Those women who are stripping themselves in Bollywood say that they are feminists. Why does a feminist have to sell her body? Our bodies will sell only in patriarchy. In an equal society, my body will not sell because you and I are equal. The moment a woman becomes an object she is in a patriarchy.
We are suffering from our colonial mindset. In South Asia we are selling Fair& Lovely. In South Asia we are supposed to be dark. And there is a campaign going in India named 'Fair and Lovely' that means if you are fair, you are lovely. So three quarters ofSouth Asia cannot be lovely. And it is insulting to South Asians. These are idiotic slogans. We need to condemn it. We need to shout about it.

SS: On which areas we should focus more?

KB: Men and women are human beings. As a woman, why should I always look pretty? Why is my body the most important part? I also have a brain. Why is that not ever valued? So we want to grow up as human beings with creativity and all that. Men and women have equal freedom and rights. Every man should not be forced to be a breadwinner. You have no freedom because your sister does not have any freedom, otherwise you could have said “I will stay at home and my sister will earn for us”. Men have to understand that if women are not free they cannot be free. Because we live together, we are not enemies.
We have to work on language, religion and culture. Husband, Swami-like words should be taken out of the language. These are anti-constitutional. If we change our constitution and say “we (read government) do not believe in equality and women are not capable,” then I have no problem. Yet they have already signed CEDAW and the Human Rights Declaration, and women are still unable to walk outside after 6'o clock without fear. Either say we do not believe in it or do something.
Justice comes after the rape of a woman. I am more interested in preventing a rape. How will I prevent rape? By changing the mindset of boys and men. By changing the mindsets of families who do not control their boys. We need to work much more on ourselves. I felt when those five men raped a woman that I was responsible for producing five rapists. They are not borne. We produce them. We know rape is not a crime of sexuality but it is a crime of power.
We have to work on implementing our laws. We have to really change everything because everything is patriarchy.

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