On New Year’s Day 2017, along with the ubiquitous WhatsApp forwards of pink-rose-bouquets wishing Happy New Year and laundry lists of the best and worst of the previous year, social media in India was also lit up with a problem that refuses to go away. Several women had reported being molested and sexually harassed around the Brigade Road and M G Road area in Bengaluru where unusually large numbers of people gather every New Year’s Eve to bring in the new year.
While this was problematic enough, what was even more bewildering was the wide range of tone deaf responses that showed up through that and the following days. There were the usual questions asked about why those women were out that night, what they were wearing, whom they were out with, and other irrelevant details. The establishment response was predictably insensitive, with the police denying any such harassment had occurred and a senior minister brushing aside the incidents as things “that do happen on New Year day and Christmas.” However, the single most outrageous fallout of the whole incident was the ridiculous hashtag #NotAllMen.
Started by an enterprising young man no doubt, the hashtag implies that not all men indulge in this sort of behaviour, not all men touch women inappropriately on the streets, not all men grope women in public, not all men are molesters. The implication behind the hashtag of course was that the outrage being expressed by women online was unjustified and that this was not a gender problem but simply an aberration of behaviour from a few people that night. At this point, I can almost hear you say, “But what does all of this have to do with parenting?!”
The explaining away of this widespread problem needs to stop, the tone-deaf worldview needs to change, this complete lack of awareness of gender based violence needs to be countered. While I salute the brave women, and some men, online who have been calling out the illogic of #NotAllMen, encouraging other women to speak openly about their own stories of molestation and harassment, and organising events and communities to respond to the circumstances as they exist, I also feel that a major area for change lies with the next generation of young men and women in our cities, towns, and villages.
When I see grown men rationalising sexual harassment in public spaces and asking young women to join martial arts and self defence classes, I see that they have already bought into a deeply patriarchal societal conditioning and no amount of factual discussion will change their brittle worldview.
When I see some women claiming the moral high ground to castigate other women, I feel saddened that they have learned to run the mouse maze of patriarchy so well that they are now speaking the language of oppression expertly themselves to denigrate other women. And as everyone who has followed the recent presidential elections in America has by now realised, the story is more impactful than the facts. And that story is what we, as parents, and especially as fathers, can learn to tell better to our children.
We can learn to tell the gender story better to our children so that they grow up not as receptacles for products and services that take advantage of their lack of self confidence in their own identities, but as thinking and self-aware people who can show empathy and concern for those they don’t know, as much as their own friends and families.
And that’s why I want to be a Feminist Father to my children. In this three part series of articles on feminist fathering, I hope to lay out ideas that men can use to tell the gender story better to their own children. And hopefully, together, we can all raise legions of confident, young, gender aware men and women in the years to come so that New Year’s Eve 2025 doesn’t see a replay of the same old harrowing story in the next morning’s newspapers.
Every installment of this series also has a simple activity that those trying out the ideas presented here can use. Here’s the first one. Fire up your web browser and open two tabs: Facebook on one and Twitter on the other. In the respective search boxes, type out “#NotAllMen” and hit enter. Read the first 20 posts or Tweets, clocking whether that post was made by a man or a woman. Go through the responses to each post or Tweet focusing on whether the responses are from someone of the same gender as the original poster or the opposite. Now search for “#YesAllWomen” on both Facebook and Twitter. Read the posts and responses. Then write out 150 words about what you felt reading those posts and responses and email it to me: email@example.com.