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A Man’s Place In The Women’s Movement
Also, can men can be more than allies?
I’ve taken three years to write an essay of 5,000 words, which, when you actually think about it, is quite ridiculous. People write whole book trilogies in that time-frame, and a friend of mine wrote, shot and directed a feature film in that time. (The film is Chalti Rahe Zindagi, and it had its international premiere in London this month.)
The actual writing of the essay didn’t take much long. A short frenzied burst of writing for about a week and I had about 90 percent of it done. The rest got done in a couple of sprints.
And then for a few months, I sent it to a friend to edit…after which I tinkered with it—changing and replacing words, sentences, beginnings and endings—until I felt satisfied.
Still, there was nothing to it that should have taken three years. So why did it take so long? And what is this essay about anyway?
The essay is about Kumbalangi Nights, a brilliant Indian film from 2019 and how masculinity is depicted in the movies. It is going to be published very soon. (Perhaps by next Sunday itself, if I manage to do all of the production in time.)
The rest of this piece is going to about why I took so long to write it, and how that connects to the question I posed at the beginning:
What is a man’s place in the women’s movement?
By ‘women’s movement’, I’m referring to the ongoing and incremental fight by women for more equality across all spheres of life:
This is mostly a movement for women, led by women, but in the last decade or so, it has sought to include diversity across gender, sex, sexuality, and intersectional identities such as race and caste.
So what have we men been doing all this while?
Most of us, at least in India, have gone on with our lives, blissfully unaware of this decades-long movement (I’m generalising heavily here of course). And some men, who feel threatened by the women’s ongoing struggle, have started their own movements on what they term as ‘men’s rights’.
And then there are those of us who have tried to contribute to the women’s movement. This is maybe out of a sense of justice or because we have realised how invisible women’s inequality was all along.
In these spaces, we also tend to behave in very men-like ways: we like to take charge, we channel our alpha selves, we seek out the spotlight, and so on.
A few years ago, I started hearing about the concept of allyship and solidarity.
I learnt that as a man who wants to help the women’s movement, I must not seek the spotlight. That I must instead, stand at the sidelines and cheer the women who’re fighting for equality. If they need help, or ask for it, I should be ready to stand up, but otherwise, not.
This made a lot of sense, and I decided that I would seek ways to be a better ally.
Until I started reading bell hooks, Rebecca Solnit and other such writers. When I read that patriarchy traps not just women but also men into rigid roles, I was shocked (but not at all surprised). Suddenly, so much in the world made sense. I realised, eventually, that a big chunk of my life was about trying to fit into (or escape out of) one of those roles that patriarchy had chosen for me.
It also became clear that while I could be an ally in the women’s movement, I could be more than an ally in the men’s movement towards a post-patriarchal world. (I could, for example, make videos or write essays on masculinity.)
So the answer to the question I posed right at the beginning, what is a man's place in the women’s movement? is this: it is right at the centre, so long as we are focusing on ourselves, and not on women.
It took me a good part of the three years to arrive at this conclusion and give myself permission to get going. In this period, I went about doing my day job at BOOM and living a life.
I thought a lot about whether it would be hypocritical of me to write such an essay, given my own questionable life choices. I concluded that I had no choice but to write it and publish it.
Which brings me to the essay. Next Sunday (or the week after), it will drop into your inboxes. There will be a short 400-word version of it, and the longer 5000-word original. There will be videos as well, a series of them, and some tweets and Instagram posts.
In it, I make a case for a ‘Kumbalangi Test’ of healthy masculinity in our films. The test is based on the film Kumbalangi Nights and is modelled on the Bechdel Test. I had a great deal of fun writing it, and a great deal of fun watching films thinking about it in the last three years.
It was time well spent.
This post was published a day earlier on my other Substack, Media Buddhi.