Fighting stereotypes

Fighting stereotypes

Fighting stereotypes

On one of my trips abroad, I encountered a young French man who wouldn't drink alcohol. Besides me, he was the only other journalist who wouldn't but while I escaped any jibe because, well, I am a woman, this guy was ridiculed and people asked him if he was on rehab. "Do you know how difficult it is for me to ask for fruit juices? Everyone else thinks it is rather 'girly' of me not to consume alcohol!" he confessed. Apparently, a man who does not drink hurts everyone's notion of 'manliness'.

It's difficult to be an unmanly man if there ever was a term like that. And ladies, believe it or not, guys have it difficult too. In ways you may have not thought of ever. This was brought to my notice by my six-year-old son. "Ma, why do girls get to wear fancy frocks and dresses and we boys get to wear only pants and shirts. They also get to wear pants but we can't wear dresses!" he came complaining to me one day. Umm, point taken.

Men are under the scanner forever too. Any traces of feminine behaviour are obviously and unfailingly lampooned. A male friend, who'd rather not be identified, says that he realised early on that while girls doing guy things was fine, a guy doing girly things was considered a sissy. "I would weep during weepy scenes in films, I would not mind wearing pink and I would not resist calling something cute when I saw one - a pet, a baby. Soon I realised that people had begun to conclude that I was gay! Hey, with due respect, I am not. When we talk of gender sensitivity, why does this aspect get lost out?" he questions. He doesn't do it any longer. "I can't risk being judged about my sexual orientation. Yet I know I am putting the lid on a very natural aspect about me."

Judge not

We have always known these guys - the brother who enjoys shopping, compares prices and visits at least four shops before making one buy; the friend who loves to go awwww over cute dogs; the father who has always enjoyed taking care of all the children in the neighbourhood (if people managed not to raise eyebrows) or the colleague whom you accidentally caught reading a Barbara Cartland. Don't tell us you didn't judge.

"I love to babysit my nephew and niece. I love to fuss over them, cook for them, drop them off at school and do every little thing possible," says Rohit Shah. While Rohit obviously loves doing this and can manage thanks to his work-from-home job while his sister and brother-in-law are at office, he is seen as a mother hen. And apparently, THAT is a bad word. "Nobody gets it that I am a natural with children. Can't men have motherly instincts? I think in an ideal, free world I would have been a pre-primary teacher but in today's world, only women are 'suited' for those jobs. I would be looked upon with suspicion as though all the paedophiles in this world are men," laments Rohit.

The attitude, of course, stems out of misogyny. Worldwide anything manly is considered superior to anything feminine. So if a girl rides a bike, fixes tube lights or wins a medal for boxing, hail her! But if a guy decides to join ballet or gets sentimental over a row with his wife, he's labelled effeminate or hen-pecked.

Forbidden fun

But men want to get their share of feminine fun, if you may call it so. Why should they be held back because their gender does not 'permit' it? Divyank, who secretly loves wearing his girlfriend's perfume, says he would never ever admit it in public. "I am sure people know I am not exactly using a masculine fragrance, but mercifully no one has asked till date!" he laughs.

And of course, getting facials and pedicures is all the rage among men, and a not-so-stringent secret. Take a cursory look around you for men's beauty products - Right from hair colour to moisturisers, from fairness creams to anti-ageing creams - almost everything that was only for women is available for men now. A sales professional working with a leading online seller for beauty products reveals that men's products account for as much as 65% of their sales. If that's not saying something, what is?

"I need to wax my hands, legs and chest and I am not really up to going to a parlour to do it. I rely on wax strips and it's a closet thing! Besides being a work requirement, I genuinely like the feel of my skin when waxed but it would be sacrilegious to say that," says Sumit, a well-established model. "In our industry it's pretty open yet I know the kind of stereotyping that happens and I don't even want to get there," he explains.

While women are engaged in a war for gender equality, we realise that men have their own battles to fight. The underlying reason is fuelling gender insensitivity since childhood. We are the ones who have colours for girls versus those for boys or toys for girls versus those for boys. We are raising kids with preset notions and this is how it is playing out.

"I can't have a cry in front of family and friends, except my mother. There are days when I am so stressed; work is hard, the boss is being a complete moron and life doesn't seem to be going anywhere. But I am supposed to maintain a stoic exterior. All I want to actually do is hug someone and cry, just explode. Mercifully, mom doesn't judge me, but dad usually panics wondering what's wrong with me and that I should man up. Whatever that is," Rohit says, shrugs his shoulders.

Man up what's that?

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