On September 22, a group of 15 men gathered at Baduku Community College in Bengaluru. They weren’t not here to learn a technical course, or to attend extra classes. These working men, aged between 23 to 34 years came to attend a course called ‘Reserved for Men’.
If the name does not pique your interest, the curriculum certainly will. Spanning over four weekends, ‘Reserved for Men’ hopes to teach young men how they can be more equal partners in the household –they learn not only about sharing household chores including cooking, but also emotional labour such as caring for their partner, family, the elderly, parenting, resolving conflicts in relationships and so on.
The course has been started by Samvada, an NGO working with young people across Karnataka and educating them on values, lifestyle, relationships, etc. They also work with youths from marginalised groups and help them enter socially critical fields like gender and social justice, sustainable livelihoods and so on.
Baduku college’s principal, Murali Kati, is among the people responsible for running Reserved for Men. “We have been conducting gender sensitivity workshops for many years with young men and women. In the past few years, we felt that young men needed much more sensitisation to understand gender issues and to be equitable partners,” he tells TNM.
In the one session they have done so far, Murali says they asked the participants what their expectations were. “It was a mixed bag of responses. Some wanted to learn how to cook, some wanted to know how to break gender stereotypes. Many of them were interested in learning about child care, and caring for the elderly… like what they can do to emotionally support elderly mothers as they are going through menopause,” Murali shares.
“The idea behind the course is sharing – caring – cooking. We teach them about food, hygiene, nutrition and also have sessions on self-care, pregnancy, body image, gender, sexuality and also law and rights,” he adds.
One of the participants is 24-year-old Nanjudaswami who hails from Channapatna. He came to know about this course while taking another agriculture course by Samvada. “If you look at the things men are taught in society, this is something that challenges us to think differently. We have all been told growing up that boys and men don’t cry, that we have to be tough, but this course allows us to express our emotions and what we feel, in a safe space,” he says.
Murali shares that this – to create a safe space for men who want to emote – is also what the course aims to do. “Patriarchy affects such men too. Sometimes, not just the society, but his own family ridicules the man who cries. The perception is that they should go have a drink and be fine with whatever is in their mind. That’s not right,” he argues.
Nanjudaswami believes that while the society has changed, especially in urban areas and many people consider themselves open-minded and progressive, they don’t realise how their actions are countering the beliefs they claim to have.
“You can’t necessarily blame people for that also, we just get so accustomed to living a certain way and even if we strongly believe in these progressive mannerisms, at times, some of us do things unknowingly which may contradict what we believe in. These classes actually help us recognise that,” Nanjudwami says.
Another participant, Srinath P (27) admits that he had been oriented to think in a particular way by the patriarchal society, but this course is helping change that. “The course also talks about how we should share homemaking duties within the family and treat each other with care and dignity. For instance, the duty of cooking is often delegated to women,” he says.
Murali reveals that in the coming sessions, they will have practical cooking classes where the participants will have to prepare proper meals. This is one area where there is substantial interest, he says. “We will also be calling experts like psychologists and women’s rights activists to speak about gender politics and emotional labour,” he adds.
Murali at the bottom right
For Murali too, this has been a learning experience. The 34-year-old has been part of Samvada for the last 15 years and is also father to a one-and-a-half-year-old girl. “I am thinking about what I want to teach her and tell her… thinking about how I should take care of her better and share the responsibility. I hope to set a good example for my daughter,” he says.