Read part 1 of 4 in Insights From Indian Men here.
Read part 2 of 4 in Insights From Indian Men here.
Read part 3 of 4 in Insights From Indian Men here .
Part 4 of 4
Seven leading Indian men told their stories. They shared what they believe, what shaped those beliefs, as well as their work. Each man, each story, each mission, different but important. Each man and each mission for women. Not synonymous with or exclusive of feminism, how can India encourage and help create more men who support women? After sharing three weeks of insights from Indian men, Shenomics presents our own insights to this question.
Positive role models are vital for people and movements. Author Mark Thomas in Health Guidance explains, “when we are growing up we look to our role models for inspiration and use them as a blueprint for how we should behave when we’re older. This is likely a survival function designed to help us mimic the traits of successful members of our society and thereby help us to be successful too.”
Role models play a huge part in shaping our views and understanding of the world. While India has some outstanding examples of men and organizations that support women, there simply aren’t enough. Pinkathon ambassador Aakash Nambier first became involved with the women’s only race due to his role model and actual model, Pinkathon ambassador Milind Soman. “Knowing Milind has changed me. Two years ago the Pinkathon was happening, and I came to meet him specifically.” Nambier never expected to become a runner, let alone involved with the women’s only race. “I ran the race and was the last person to finish. While running I saw women, more than double my age, pass me with ease. It became one of my greatest motivators. Since I’ve taken up running, my patience has increased. I used to get angry over silly reasons, but now I don’t get angry at all. Beyond that, I’ve learned so many things just from being around Milind and the Pinkathon.” India needs more male role models who are proudly and loudly for women. We need the men we put on television, in movies, and on political platforms to be for women. We need the men in the central roles within our daily lives to be for women.
Soman says, “ I don’t really see myself as a role model but I think it’s our responsibility as human beings to have a good influence within our circle. I obviously have a very large circle of influence because I’m in the media. In this way a lot of people can see what I’m doing, and a lot of people can join me. But every single person has a circle, and it’s our duty to use it.” Though Soman doesn’t consider himself a feminist, he believes in the equality of women and their power to shape society.
We need more men with big and little spheres of influence to step up, men who dare to dissent and speak out for women. Whether it’s a TV icon or a respected community member, having more male role models openly for women helps increase the number of men in support of women. Additionally, the more these men are highlighted by their organizations and the media, the more normalized supporting women becomes. It allows us to reframe the issues from a woman’s problem to a societal one. When the sons of India look up to our men, they should see strong advocates for women.
Exposure to Progressive Ideas
Having a positive role model to follow isn’t always enough. When we expose men (and women) to feminism and ideas of equality, the inherent merit of both begins to shape minds and change hearts.
Many of our leading men found their feminism later in life, often prompted by significant changes in their exposure to progressive ideas and women. Pankaj Rai, Director of Dell Global Analytics, came from a “more traditional society, where most women weren’t working at all.” He found his feminism once he began working with women.
Pritham Raja founder of Threads of Freedom found feminism once he moved to the States for college stating he had to get out of his “bubble and understand people whose lives haven’t been as easy as [my] own.” Similarly for Paras Batra, co-founder of Leaf Wearables, once he moved to the city and gained access to the Internet, he quickly found and identified with feminist movements. Gaining exposure, leaving traditional systems, seeing, reading, and building relationships with women made our leading men more supportive.
An important pattern to note, these three leading men were old enough to question traditional systems and still young enough to be open to new ways of thinking.
Targeted interventions are critical. Gender inequality is so engrained into society that we must confront our blind spots tenaciously.
Targeted interventions in school and the workplace teach men and women to recognize and purposefully deconstruct their own unconscious biases. For Batra growing up “gender education wasn’t a part of the curriculum,” but perhaps it should be. At the very least Stay-at-home Dad, Writer and Comedian Suman Kumar believes there is a huge need to do away will all gender-segregated schools. “If a boy grows up without ever having a friend in a girl, by the time he graduates the damage will have been done.” By teaching children to actively recognize their own biases, we are able to combat the subtle and deeply harmful way society endorses gender norms.
Well-documented examples of unconscious gender bias in the workplace include the “likeability bias: a woman can be seen as competent or nice, but not both.” Or the “performance evaluation bias, which explains why women are hired and promoted based on accomplishments while men are hired and promoted based on their potential.” Mukuesh Bansal, founder of Myntra, has witnessed many of these biases first hand, especially when it comes to women and equal pay. “This is something I’ve seen, not just heard about.”
“Until we all, men and women, become aware of the unconscious ways of thinking (our biases), the workplace will not get the full benefits of gender (or any other kind of) diversity.” Read more on the subject here. Targeted interventions in school and in the work place allow us to purposefully unlearn our own prejudice. By exposing and reducing the unconscious gender bias that exist in each of us, we increase the number of men who support women.
Encouraging Working Women
We need to encourage and support women to not only enter and stay in the work force, but to also thrive and grow in the work force. A recent study from Harvard Business School showed women whose moms “worked outside the home are more likely to have jobs themselves, are more likely to hold supervisory responsibility at those jobs, and earn higher wages than women whose mothers stayed home full time.
Additionally, men raised by working mothers are more likely to contribute to household chores and spend more time caring for family members.”
“There are very few things, that we know of, that have such a clear effect on gender inequality as being raised by a working mother,” says Kathleen L. McGinn, Mayra Ruiz Castro, and Elizabeth Long Lingo who conducted the study.
Giving women the resources and support to be successful in their careers leads to more men who break gender norms and support women.
Feminism is for Men.
Finally, if we want more men to support women and feminism, we need to clarify a key point. Feminism is for women. It looks to solve the issues women face, and endeavors to create more equitable opportunities. But, feminism also benefits men.
Society doesn’t just place restrictive gender norms on women, men are also expected to meet unrealistic and unfair expectations based on their gender. It’s society’s outdated understanding of manhood that inhibits men from being able to feel and express their full range of emotions. It places worth on a man’s ability to earn a living, over his ability to love and care for his family. It perpetuates violence against women, as it believes men are too animalistic to control their baser urges. This system blames women, and in the same breath ignores male victims of abuse and sexual assault. We live in a system that dehumanizes and belittles men. Feminism says men are much more than these archaic notions and expectations. Read more here. By freeing women, men free themselves; by supporting women, men support themselves.
In embracing the full humanity in one gender, the other gender is automatically embraced. There is no single way to increase the number of male supporters in Indian society, but there are many ways in which we can all help shape men who are more inclusive of women and free themselves.
A special thanks to all our leading men for all the work you do!
This article is part four 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.