In the month of March where the world celebrate International Women's Day, Cactus Foundation highlights it's unique and crucial initiative of *Key to Change - Raise Responsible Boys*
Empowering women is just one end of the spectrum to end gender based violence, another very important and ignored aspect of this fight is to raise males to step outside of the toxic standards set for them of looking at females as inferior to them.
Key to Change suggests 12 Action Points that can be put to use by families and parents to Raise Responsible Boys. This blog post addresses in detail, action point no. 3
“She is the sanskari type”, “Oh, she is the bossy type”. Have you ever labeled someone this way, either intentionally or subconsciously? Or have you ever been labeled this way? We tend to categorize people as good, bad, beautiful, ugly, based on looks or choices, based on education or for holding certain belief systems. Our everyday conversations, popular culture and mainstream media normalizes such remarks. And, children grow up with these undesirable and rigid attitudes towards a particular gender.
Labeling or applying a label is the process of describing someone or something in a single word or short phrase. While the act of labeling in itself helps in identification and bringing a clarity or pattern to information that might otherwise be confusing, the fact is that labels often lead to distinction, stigma, exploitative and abusive actions. While it's true that we all become victims to the act of labeling and categorization at some point of our lives, women and the transgender women are indeed more vulnerable. The reason being that these groups have always been under extreme pressures on how to behave, talk, roles to take on and so on. Their freedom, dignity and modesty is always at stake. Then, in this conversation it becomes increasingly important to involve one important stakeholder of society: men and boys. Following are the 8 reasons why parents should make sure their children do not learn to categorize and label women.
1) Gives Rise To Microaggressions
“Oh, you're a total tomboy”, “That girl is too clingy in relationships”, “ Her clothes are really revealing, I wonder if she's available”. These are some narratives that are common around young males who are either looking for or already in relationships. And, you might find these stamps as completely alright due to their normalization in daily language and conversations. But microaggression is a negative comment or action directed at a person or group who is already marginalized. A microaggression can be intentional or unintentional, but it is still discriminative. People who engage in this type of aggression may not intend to cause harm to another person or to target a specific group. They may simply be unaware that they are uttering or acting in a micro aggressive manner. Regardless, these can be excruciatingly painful for those who suffer from them.
2) Belief of superiority over Females
Young men and boys generally tend to believe in their superiority over females, both in terms of their intellectual and physical abilities. Even our cultural setup is such that men are viewed or encouraged to be more aggressive and in control or power position. This makes things difficult for them in the workplace when they see women in control or in-charge as leaders. A modern and educated woman will often be perceived as too bossy and pushy while most leaders that are men are perceived as “the boss” or persuasive.
3) Negative perceptions towards females
The popular descriptions around working women are often pleasant. We all can agree on that.
“She does not pay attention to her kids”, “ she is a modern woman, prefers to go out and drive alone”, “She does not take care of her husband or child and neither does the household chores.” These are the conversations that adults, no matter female or male engage in. Most of the time we are not even aware if our assumptions about a woman are true or not but we nevertheless engage in such talks. Children who grow up listening to such discourses among adults, develop certain rigid ideas that they carry all through their life. The child carries the same impression into adulthood. And, you might hear him saying after marriage, “ I don't want you to work, just take care of the kids”.
4) Opinion of Women is taken for granted
As mentioned before, labels are harmful. It can negatively affect someone's self-esteem and hold them back. Furthermore, labeling people can lead to the perpetuation of negative stereotypes.
How many times do you take the opinion of a woman in your family or other relations as valuable and important? This is about familial and financial matters but also about a person's right to make a decision that will impact their own life. The label of sanskari woman or trophy wife does not mean that she does not have views. Or similarly the label of bossy woman does not mean that her views are unimportant or unworthy to pay a heed to.
5) Categorizing and labeling women has side effects on men
If you think that labeling women will only impact the women population you would be wrong. When we label women and girls as sweet, emotional, expressive, weak, too feminine(usually called girly), it sends across the message that men can have any qualities except the ones associated with the other gender.
To avoid being compared to a woman, men end up suppressing their emotions, lean towards a macho style, push towards self-sufficiency, put on a stone cold face and run away from their feminine side even though they find it appealing.
6) Young males start objectifying women
The act of labeling and categorization itself leads to commodification. Objects can be categorized not human behavior because every human is a unique creation. An object can be thrown away, manipulated or fixed. But we as humans are not objects, are we?
When we label someone, we fail to notice anything but that quality of theirs. These categories of behenji, sanskari, loud, gold digger are just exaggerated stamps of human behavior. And their intentions are derogatory which is clearly visible in the practice of bullying, sexual harassment, exploitation and abuse towards women.
When men objectify women, they are inconsiderate of their opinions, wellbeing, their say and moreover their consent.
7) Young males who observe and learn labeling women early on, grow up to be men with the same attitude.
It is very important that elders around children do not display thoughts and behaviors that label and categorize women, as children in their early years learn behaviors that they inherit for life through observing the behaviors and thought process of people around them, especially of their parents.
Habits and ways of thinking of men that portray they have a set perception of a certain kind if women do not learn it instantly. These beliefs become firm throughout the developing years.
Let's keep in mind that women and people are more than their labels. The if and then sentences that most people use of “If she is wearing skimpy clothes or smiling, then she is available”, “ If she is working, then she is not a good mother or wife” are corrupting the mindset of our young boys.
As parents and adults around your children it is your responsibility to PAUSE, SIT DOWN AND DISCUSS the perceptions of your child. Tell them that it is inhumane and disrespectful to decide for their female counterparts no matter if it's about the clothes she'd like to wear or a career she'd like to take on. And that girls are not trophies, medals or prizes that are supposed to be flaunted. Speak about people having their own individuality, inner worth and identity. Most importantly, discuss about the role of media, advertisements, books, products and movies in perpetuating thoughts of inequality and insensitivity towards a particular gender, also about gender roles and gender biases.
Do you still think that labels are justified?
Watch this video by Cactus Founder Director, Nusrat Khan talking about the Action Point no. 3