September 1, 2018 was an intense day for me. I facilitated a four-hour workshop called ‘Mardon Waali Baat’ with a group of eight young men at the Blue Ribbon Movement’s office in Dahisar, Mumbai. It was hosted by The Gender Lab, an initiative I have been working with since the last two years. Mine isn’t a day-to-day engagement with the organization. I consult with them on their curriculum for the boys programme, which serves students in Mumbai, Delhi and Indore.
I am writing this blog post not only to serve as documentation for myself but also to make available a set of questions, prompts and resources that other facilitators and educators can use in their work. The group I was facilitating had men in their twenties and thirties but some of this material can be used with other age groups. I hope people who are reading this take a moment or two to leave their feedback, and offer suggestions if they have any.
The format of this workshop included three kinds of activities:
- talking in pairs about a specific set of questions, and switching pairs frequently to avoid sharing too much personal information with one person
- watching videos and discussing them in the circle
- using chits of paper to note down questions playing on one’s own mind, and putting them in a bowl at the centre of the circle
The questions that pairs were asked to discuss were meant to help them reflect on their own tendencies, biases and behaviours. The same situation can be approached differently by people based on their values, family conditioning and peer group. I hoped that this activity would enable participants to talk about topics that can be a bit uncomfortable even among close friends.
- What is the difference between flirting and sexual harassment?
- Is it sometimes confusing for you to understand the difference between flirting and sexual harassment?
- How do you feel when women say that all men are potential rapists?
- What are the things you would love to experience sexually but are too scared to ask your partner for?
- How do you feel about using porn or sex toys for pleasure?
- How do you know/find out whether your partner is also feeling pleased/fulfilled?
- What do you do to make yourself desirable/attractive?
- How do you feel about sharing emotional, physical and sexual intimacy with other men?
- How would you respond if a colleague tells you that he is gay or bisexual?
- In what way would your friendship change if a male friend told you that he is gay, bisexual or asexual?
- If a man told you that he found you attractive, how would you react?
- How would you support a male friend who tells you he is a survivor of sexual abuse?
The videos were not shown one after the other. They were placed at different points in the workshop to break the monotony of the talking and listening, and also to connect with different themes being explored with the participants. The discussion after each video was led by the participants’ responses to the material they watched. I am grateful for the curiosity, kindness and vulnerability they brought to the space.
Love in the garden of consent (https://youtu.be/cY_F5RO-wps)
Indian men talk about sex (https://youtu.be/IZBsY-ii7aE)
Periods according to Indian men (https://youtu.be/iN5eHCAFN_c)
Men’s standards of beauty around the world (https://youtu.be/tneKwarw1Yk)
Before the final circle, I asked the participants to close their eyes for a couple of minutes and later pick up chits of paper to jot down the questions that were playing on their mind. There was soothing instrumental music streaming out of a laptop, and everyone found a quiet spot for themselves to curl up and scribble:
- How do I become more emotionally present for my partner?
- Why do people look down upon men who don’t marry?
- How can I understand my own feelings?
- Why are men and women conditioned to not talk about menstruation?
- How to end rape in the world?
- Why are my male friends so scared of emotional vulnerability?
- How do I forgive myself or seek forgiveness for making a woman uncomfortable?
- Is it really necessary to shave my balls?
- Why is feminism considered a bad word by men?
- How do I control my sexual urges?
- Why am I so affected by people’s ideas about what it means to be a man?
- How do you stop seeing girls with the thought process of getting laid with them?
- Is it possible to not have any gender bias, and view humans as humans?
- How do you not stereotype girls in terms of the way they look?
- Are men afraid of sexual intimacy with other men because they might actually like it?
- How do I feel confident in my own skin?
- What if a guy gives everything in a relationship but it is not reciprocated?
- How do you express your sexual desires/fantasies to your partner without the fear of creating an uncomfortable situation?
- Is it wrong if a guy tries to get intimate with his partner even after his partner is done but he is not?
- Why can’t men think of hanging out together beyond drinks and go beyond typical conversations about sports, politics, property and women?
My invitation to each participant was to hold the questions within themselves, not necessarily looking for answers, but also be open to the wisdom in the group. The bowl of chits was passed around the circle. Each participant picked up a chit that was not their own, and offered a response that was true for them and not meant as a piece of advice for the person asking the question. This instruction was necessary because we often make the mistake of assuming what works for us works for everyone. And there are times when we are afraid of admitting that we really do not know. It is alright for men to not know, and to say so.