Part 2 of 4
What shapes a man? This isn’t about antiquated gender norms or archetypes of manhood. This isn’t even about anatomy; it’s about men who believe firmly in the equality of all people, no matter their gender. That simple yet powerful ideology is an essential component of manhood itself according to Bengaluru Pinkathon Ambassador, Aakash Nambier. Previously, Nambier stated that he does not call himself a feminist. He explained, “I call myself a male, and you are a female. We’re all equal here.” He implied that the understanding of equality between the sexes is as inherent to his manhood as it would be to any womanhood. Progressives worldwide have echoed his sentiments, including the British actress known for her compelling role on Game of Thrones, Maisie Williams. She has said “we should stop calling feminists ‘feminists’ and just start calling people who aren’t feminist ‘sexist.’ You are either a normal person or sexist.”
Unfortunately, from social and cultural conditioning there exist far too many sexists in the world. In a society that constantly affirms outdated and unjust gender roles, what makes a man believe in the inherent equality of the sexes? Insights from seven leading India men reveal several patterns.
Naturally, strong matriarchs in a family create men who respect and value women. Nambier, originally from Kerala, explained the foundation for his views. “Kerala is a state where the power in the family goes to women. I grew up seeing my mother and grandmother making decisions, and those decisions were the right ones.”
When young men grow up seeing women as decision makers, it is easy for them to see women in roles of power. Nambier continues, “Women, of course, understand their problems better than men. If we give women more importance- meaning equal importance- they will do a better job of solving the issues they themselves face.” He went on to advocate for more women in government positions, citing a need for more reservations.
Writer, Comedian and Stay-at-Home Dad, Suman Kumar, also grew up under strong matriarchs.
“I have been fortunate to have been surrounded by some great women in my life including my mother and my maternal grandmom. My maternal grandmother bore 11 children. When my maternal grandfather passed away, the family was in utter poverty. This lady singlehandedly raised seven sons and four daughters.”
This superhuman feat created a superwoman to pass down the values that Kumar embodies now. He defies gender norms and is more than happy to revel in feminine glory.
“Right now I would say my daughter is a super girl and my wife a super woman. She’s an MBBS, MD and DM. She has a doctorate in endocrinology. And every morning before she goes to work, she makes coffee and leaves it for me -she doesn’t have to do this. The thing is, when men are nice to you they go out of the way to let you know that they’re being nice to you. But women, you won’t even realize that they’re being super nice to you, until one day it hits you.”
Mother to Milind Soman, Pinkathon Ambassador and celebrity, is also an accomplished woman of STEM. He explains how his life was profoundly changed by the decisions and support of his strong willed mother. “I started swimming at the age of 10, and I was swimming competitively at the national level in India. When I got into my teens, my family started telling me that ‘swimming is not going to do anything for you, there’s no future in it, you can’t get a career out of it, you won’t make any money. Now it’s time to pay more attention to your studies, and focus on that.’ So on and so forth.” Soman’s mother, a biochemistry professor, stood up to the rest of the family. “She said ‘I’m sure he can manage a balance; swimming is good for him, he enjoys it, let him do it.’ And so I was able to swim competitively. That really shaped my life.” Soman’s swimming gave him the discipline and principles that he’s applied to all of his endeavors including acting, modeling, and ironman.
Though not a feminist, Soman has repeatedly identified women as the catalyst for change in society. “I would say that I’m not working, or my ideas are not working, to do things for women, but to do things for society.” He respects the power and influence women can have as change makers, the effects of which can be seen in his own life.
Women Outside the Home
Being raised by strong women creates the understanding of women as decision makers, super heroes, and catalysts for change. Yet, one doesn’t have to be raised by strong women to respect them.
Pankaj Rai, Director of Global Analytics at Dell, grew into his feminist beliefs. “I grew up in a small town. We weren’t exposed to a lot of modern women who were doing different jobs. We were a more traditional society, where most women weren’t working at all. Growing up that way, I didn’t have an opinion on women. It was simply not formed. But I had those traditional models in my head. After moving to Delhi, I was exposed to different ways of living. These ideas and models gradually started to form and change my views, especially as I stated working with women.”
Rai jokes his feminism also changed with his family dynamics, “Growing up we were 2 boys, my dad and my mom. We only had 25% gender diversity. Then I got married and the gender ratio suddenly became 50%. Now I have 2 daughters, and my family is 75% women. In that way I’m a feminist as well.”
Fellow feminist Mukesh Bansal, founder of Myntra, also became a feminist later in life. The foundation began at home, but truly formed when he began working with women. “My mother isn’t very well educated but she had the foresight to make sure me and my two younger sisters got top-level educations. She put our family’s resources towards our educations, and wouldn’t compromise there. She has an inner strength and wisdom that guided us. Though I really became a feminist as I began to manage a lot of people at different levels. I hadn’t thought about feminism too much before, but once I started managing women, it really brought the issue to the forefront of my mind.”
Neither Rai or Bansal were raised as feminists, but as they incorporated women into their lives- either as partners or in the workspace- their perspectives changed to be more inclusive and empathetic.
New Places, People, and Ideas
Pritham Raja and Paras Batra, both in the social enterprise sector, found feminism on their own through increased life experience and access to knowledge.
Raja, co founder of Threads of Freedom, found feminism once he left for college. “Get out of your bubble and understand people whose lives haven’t been as easy as your own.
I grew into feminism. In college I started realizing how much more difficult it is for the average girl than it is for the average guy to succeed -whether it’s at school, work, or at home with the family.”
Similarly Batra, cofounder of Lead Wearables, found feminism when his world expanded. “I come from a small background, and gender education wasn’t apart of the curriculum, or taught to us at all. So, I was never really aware of things. I was 16 when I moved to Delhi, that’s when I started getting exposed to a host of new ideas and concepts. I gained access to the Internet. Slowly and gradually I began reading about all kinds of revolutionary ideas and watching documentaries; eventually my mind opened up. It was then I decided, ‘Yes, I am a feminist.’” Batra’s world view changed when he gained access to the world.
“My family doesn’t have a lot of strong feminists. But now that I’m older I can advocate for the women in my family. If they want to pursue something other than homemaker, I can- I will- take a stand for them. ”
The understanding of universal equality is the basis of humanity, and what makes someone human. Our leading Indian men don’t just believe in the equality of women, they are our allies. Within our seven leading men, there were several roads to alliship. Strong matriarchs naturally raise men who have a deep respect for women. Though strong matriarchs need not always imply decision maker. A matriarch’s power can come from her wisdom, her resolve, and her ability to guide and care. Additionally as men meet, interact and grow to care about women as individual people, they become more invested in women and their access to equal opportunity. When men learn of women’s hopes, ambitions and struggles on the micro level, they care about the hopes, ambitions and struggles of women on the macro level.
Many of our leading men found feminism and their belief in equality later in life; men who are now advocates for women. As women, we aren’t just someone’s mother, sister, daughter or wife. We are nuanced, different, and real people. We deserve respect and opportunity. As we share our experiences and form relationships, we may find our friendship and understanding can change hearts and perspectives to increase our networks of allies.
This article is part two of a four part article series which was originally written for and published on Shenomics.com.
About the Author
Misha Rahman recently uprooted her life in Boston to move to Bangalore, India and work with Shenomics. She is completing a professional certification in social enterprise through IDEX Accelerator’s Global Fellowship Program. She spends her days on facebook, twitter, and linkedin- also known as marketing and strategy. In addition to empowering women she is interested in conflict resolution and human rights work. Misha enjoys traveling, reading, and binge watching Netflix.