I shared prolonged dialogues and discussions with women of varied beliefs and standpoints in the fields of Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh as a part of the “Holistic Development of Tribal and Rural Children and Communities” and “Child Marriage Prevention“. Here, I am relocating myself to share the echoes of varied voices to convey and share perspectives. I indulged in rigorous conversations with narratives, books, and people. Why is it that gender and implied pals are seldom part of the conversations and discussions where they should be granted a central space to be examined?
This blog brings forth the wandering thoughts of women, girls, boys, and myself to question issues wanting to be seen and heard, looking for people to acknowledge their lived experiences and struggles with and beyond their gender roles. Here, I present the hostage thoughts seeking shelter in my mind. Additionally, my positionality and lived experience impact my interpretation of the experiences and narratives of communities and people I operate with and try to understand. So here is an eloquent expression of my understanding in the form of poems.
The poems provide space to give the reader a choice to attach and explore their meanings, perhaps understanding gender, especially of ‘Being a woman’ in their existence and subjectivity. I work prominently with young women, adolescent girls, and boys, so I take no liberty and have no intention to represent or share narratives of people who are associated with or carry different gender identities. This blog is an honest attempt to share my field observations creatively with curious minds.
“I am- Who?”
I am a ______ _________ (To be filled afterwards by you, the reader)
I can see and feel,
I am the length of my clothes and choices
I am a reflection of my non-heard voices,
I am the topic of gossip,
I am known for my walk and curves,
Character ripped in bright markets,
In the home by relatives,
In the workspace by co-workers,
At times by hands, mouth, and instrumental tools
Not all men, they say…?
I am the carrier of patriarchy, they say,
Is there any other way?
I am the one sshhhing and huuuussing
I am the laugh with a smile
I am the one denied the night-life
But welcomed by the morning sky as I cook a meal before school,
But god-forbid, I denied and said ‘NO,’
I am expected to react when a boy approaches me,
I ask, when was I taught this?
I am the one whose education is a luck
I am the one who is married off at 13 or 14,
I am the blood I bleed every month,
I am the one attracted to boys,
I am prepared to marry from the very inception,
I am a burden, they say?
Am I a mere dowry?
Am I the dread my family carries?
Am I the one my brother protects?
I am the one who is left at the mercy of many?
But who am I?
Has this poem left you perplexed and wanting to understand the context? Context is not so different; this is the mere price of being born as a girl for many. And if you try to look around, you will see many asking, “Who am I”?
Gender and Mental Health:
Gender plays a significant role and critical determinant of mental health and illness (WHO, 1997).
The Indian culture is distinctive. The culture of the joint family system, patriarchy at the core, marriage a must, especially for women; marriage is a holy union, permanent union, and the subservient status of daughters-in-law at home. Preference for the male child, the practice of dowry, lower educational level of women, and strict code of conduct for females. Women’s primary roles are childbearing and child-rearing leading to various physical and mental health complications.
And the “Indian Paradox” (the married woman with severe mental illness, subjected to domestic violence (DV), makes frantic efforts for a rebate of conjugal rights rather than for separation or divorce) (Sharma I et al., 2015 ). These factors significantly affect the occurrence, manifestations, treatment, and outcome of mental disorders in women of India. Thus women’s mental health can be conceptualized as having a wide range of related areas, including reproductive health, psychopharmacology, psychosocial determinants of mental health, and legal issues. However, traditionally, women’s mental health is conceived in terms of reproductive health, and other areas have received little attention.
The other side: Men
We often talk about how patriarchy affects women and girls, but while working with adolescent boys, I was introduced to a different victim of the cynical structure of patriarchy.
Man-up they say,
Your emotions are spilling,
But discard my violent act as spillages,
My ego acts on divine voice-
It isn’t a representation of my insecure defences,
I can act the way I want,
Yet I can’t talk to the opposite sex,
With humble words?
What is in my touch and presence that,
I am framed as an obnoxious evil?
I ask, was I taught to be polite?
To respect consent and choice,
When I spoke of being touched in an area that scared me,
I was told to enjoy it?
Wasn’t I plagued by this disease of patriarchy?
It wasn’t in a day that I believed women should cook and stay at home,
I saw my mother being beaten up at home,
My sister being ridiculed by all,
As a family with no father,
I fear my sister being harassed and punished for the sin of fatherlessness,
To the gossip that surrounds my innocent sister,
That I no longer see her innocent and blame her,
I am as brainwashed as her,
I need rescuing too,
We live in a spiral or a cycle,
If you don’t work with me,
And work with the other victim of the plague,
Then I continue to plague her/him,
I need to be rescued to see the pain I inflict and carry,
I am also a victim but on the other side of parody,
My responsibility is to feed the family,
Look at my shoulders; they are dripping
I can’t decide who to marry?
I can’t go out after 8,
I need to mediate issues between women
I am blind to the harm I inflict,
I drown myself in drinks,
I am safeguarded by the other sinners,
I, too, need to be rescued from my plague
The plague of patriarchy is spread over to all in this society. The trick this plague uses is to put men and women in front of each other to fight, but aren’t we all affected by it in various ways? We often forget to indulge in how you and I are affected by the unconscious structures and unwritten rules. I am leaving this open-ended for you to indulge in the conversation with yourself and look around at the prominent and not-so-obvious structures of patriarchy that we carry in our pockets (If you are fortunate enough to get pockets in your pants). These structures are not foreign; they are readily available at our disposal. I write this blog hoping to ignite a conversation of self and social awareness.
Men and Mental Health:
Masculinity is frequently expected by mass culture to be a fixed component that is labelled by expressions like “real man”, which reduces masculinity to an essentialized component of men’s character, subsequently suppressing “an exploration of diverse cultures of masculinity” (Connell, 1995). Connell approaches masculinity through a socio-structural lens, proposing it is “a place in gender relations, the practices through which men and women engage, and the effects of these practices in bodily experiences, personality and culture”. Hegemonic masculinity equates stoicism with strength, even while facing risk, where it quickly becomes imperative to either dismiss or not acknowledge feelings of fear, vulnerability, or defencelessness (Kia-Keating, 2005).
In January 2019, the American Psychological Association (APA) described hegemonic masculinity (sometimes referred to in the report as “traditional masculinity”) as “psychologically harmful when combined with strict and rigid adherence to masculine norms”. There is also research proposing that boys are more often associated with negative attributes than girls (Heyman, 2001). In trying to adapt to psychological distress, men choose to “act in” by blocking out issues, frequently resulting in “acting out” through aggressive and risk-taking practices (Brownhill et al., (2005). It is likely that men who stick to the violent norm may grapple to manage their emotional issues and may act out violently when suffering (Magovcevic & Addis, 2008). These men might be additionally dominating and aggressive, which might hinder the nature of interpersonal connections and overall emotional health (Elliot, 2016), hence increasing vulnerability to depression.
Substance abuse and hostility are included as secondary outcomes to capture an enhanced definition of men’s depression. Based on evidence that standardized measures of depressive symptoms do not measure externalized symptoms of depression common among men, such as alcohol and substance abuse, aggression, anger, irritability, emotional suppression, and somatic symptoms (Vogel et al., 2011). “Men predominate in diagnoses of alcohol dependence with lifetime prevalence rates of 20% compared with 8% for women, reported in population-based studies in established economies” (WHO report, 2000). Toxic masculinity has been associated with substance abuse, stress, depression, suicide or death by lung cancer or cirrhosis of the liver. It is evident that the hegemonic structure of this personality trait is displayed by a powerful commitment to the oral drive as a locus of the disorder. Toxic males may end their own lives, or impair themselves to the point where they die of over-consumption and utilization of toxic substances (Kupers, 2005).
Way out: Discussion and Training
So it is time to start understanding patriarchy as a plague not just affecting women but men and other genders as well. It is essential to work towards ecosystem upliftment. To attain this, it is vital to work with boys and men, and address gender-based violence.
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