Come March 8th and the focus and attention is on women. They’ve had their share of struggles in the past to get an equal footing with men. The issues they tackled were umpteen. The battle continues and the pressure still looms. Women have and continue to take things in their stride and move through life.
Striving for equality through feminism
Over the years, the struggle for equal rights gave a voice to feminist ideals. The world got a glimpse of how patriarchal the society was. It was convenient to assume that women were the weaker gender. Treating them as second-class citizens was acceptable. Thanks to the effort and perseverance of women fighting for their rights, this narrative has changed.
In the last few decades, however, there has been a disconnect between the real meaning of feminism and what it has generally come to mean. When a woman claims to be a feminist, it’s assumed that she’s a man-hater. The concept of feminism is misconstrued with the idea of women feeling repulsed with men. Unfortunately, this is not what fighting for equal rights is about.
It is about coming together as a society and treating each other with respect. It’s about having equal opportunities and rights irrespective of a persons’ gender, race, sexuality, ethnicity, age, religion, ability/disability, and class.
Understanding Both Narratives
There’s no denying that the cultural, economic, and social oppression that women went through wasn’t easy. However, things have changed, and being a man in today’s world isn’t easy either. Due to the same gender roles that hurt women, men too are hurt. Patriarchy has left a residue that is affecting both women and men today.
This women’s day therefore we are attempting to hold space for the narratives of both genders. By no means we claim to have covered all aspects, after all the narratives are very nuanced. Nevertheless, as psychologists we feel compelled to give voice to our experiences and share them with you.
The Difficulties that Men Face:
This is of course skewed to the men we know in our social and therapy networks and is therefore a more urban perspective. Here are a few points that we have repeatedly observed as therapists:
- Frustration due to Pent up Emotion: Men are unable to show emotion freely. It is not considered manly to do so. They are often seen as emotionally unavailable as a result. However, men who do show emotion run the risk of appearing too sensitive and sentimental. Few men have a space for any kind of emotional sharing with friends or family. The frustration due to pent up emotion in men is very high as a result. This is serious and is responsible for a great deal of addiction and even the higher percentage of suicides in men.
- Difficulty in Taking Help: We find men consistently refusing to take help of mental health professionals even when they are really struggling. They have internalized the idea that getting others to help them with their problems is not being ‘man enough’. They need to appear tough and strong and believe they should be able to deal with their own problems. Also, as a result many men do not even admit there is a problem.
- Financial Pressure: Men find it difficult to be dependent financially without it hurting their self-image. They often feel uncertain about taking up professions they may like but which may not pay adequately. Also, some men find it difficult if they are not the providers in their family, if their partners are doing better. This is not so much because of jealousy but because they have internalized the gender role of providing and feel like a failure if they are unable.
- Fear of Being Misunderstood: With laws favouring women, we often find men worried that they might act unintentionally in ways that will be perceived as sexual or violent transgressions. Also, they are concerned that certain gestures like holding the door or insisting on paying for a meal will be considered condescending whereas not doing so or asking a woman date/friend to go dutch will be seen as stingy or rude.
The Difficulties that Women Face:
From inheritance to domestic violence, abortions, orgasms, rape, financial disparity, and glass ceiling, women have seen it all. Today, the challenges are not the same, but the shadows of the pain continue. The changing world of course has added new dimensions of difficulties too. Here are some common difficulties that confront women today:
- Pressure to Do It All: The old gender roles haven’t quite faded and new ones are here. The expectation is to ‘keep it together’ no matter what’s happening inside. They juggle between home, kids, work, and listen to a barrage of insinuating statements that imply ‘it’s your duty’. They feel tremendously guilty if they miss out an event at the child’s school, the house isn’t clean, the laundry isn’t done or house-help isn’t managed. This is no easy feat and perpetual exhaustion is common for most women.
- Pressure to Conform to Marriage and Children Norms: We are increasingly seeing women who are single or who choose not to have children. However, a simple choice like this is not an easy one. There is a constant pressure to have a family as ‘normal’ women should have and a perception that there is something not okay or missing in your life if you don’t choose the family life.
- Salary Differences: Women often feel overworked, thanks to their multiple roles and both undervalued and underpaid.
- Pressure to Look Good: Despite the exhaustion, women feel inadequate when they don’t look their best. The pressure to look good and stay fit has never been higher. Thanks to social media and gazillions of good-looking, fit images of women, the sense of inadequacy despite accomplishing a lot is huge. There is always a sense of falling short somewhere.
- Struggles in Leadership Positions: Women in leadership positions are a new phenomenon and they find it difficult to be seen as assertive. They are often seen as either ineffective or overly aggressive but hardly as assertive. Often women in positions of power are not seen as easily approachable.
Watch Our Videos On Mindfulness.
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There are barriers for both genders that have their roots entrenched in traditional views of gender roles. Whatever may be the reason for this cycle of misogyny and misandry, it’s real and unfortunate.
In the process of looking for gender equality, one might inadvertently end up undermining the other. Mental health professionals like us too find ourselves confused in this catch-22 situation. All this uproar about equal rights and opportunities can blur the true goal, that of acceptance, compassion and unity.
We hope that putting these points up will help create some understanding and compassion in you for the men and women around you. Being angry with each other isn’t taking us too far and isn’t good for our mental health either.
Here’s wishing you all a Happy Women’s Day!
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