Stepping outside the prison of gender roles

On the 18th of July, I was with The Gender Lab at their Dahisar office in Mumbai to work with the facilitators of their boys’ program. These people go to schools and conduct workshops that empower boys to step out of ‘the prison of gender roles’ (a phrase I borrow from academic Rita Gross) that keeps them from experiencing connection, empathy and freedom.

While analytical frameworks that deconstruct patriarchy, heteronormativity and cisgenderism can be incredibly helpful, it is important that we do not get so stuck in teaching these terms that we forget to emphasize what lies at the core of this work: respect and acceptance. I am not fond of the current rhetoric around the need to engage with boys and men because they are seen as potential rapists. I think that is not only a narrow but also presumptuous approach.

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While teaching about boundaries and consent is absolutely crucial, it is good to remember that boys are often at the receiving end of violence because of their gender expression or identity, sexual orientation, religion, caste, class, disability, and widely held parental/cultural beliefs that disciplining is possible only through inflicting physical pain and emotional torture.

We looked at various media reports from 2018 and 2019 to understand how violence is normalized in schools and homes, and how vulnerable boys are. This gets missed out when we assume that the experience of growing up as a boy is only about agency, privilege and control.

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