By Ila Ananya
When I first joined The Ladies Finger, I got stuck in a long conversation with a once-close friend who told me I should write a piece on why feminism is such an unpopular word.
Of course, he didn’t mean unpopular with men, but in life, because apparently feminism was a marketing tool — an idea that began as a ‘Good Cause’, but grossly morphed into a way for ‘bad women’ to take advantage of ‘good men’. You know, by falsely accusing them of harassment, rape, abuse, and dowry, and giving women reservations when poor men had none.
“Sure feminism’s good, but in its limits,” he said.
Exactly a year after this conversation (it’s a sign, my friends say), Women & Child Development Minister Maneka Gandhi spent 29th June on Facebook, answering every question that anybody had about the work that her ministry had done in the last three years.
But what she probably hadn’t expected (and none of us did either), was to have a barrage of men stealing the show. She spent a lot of her #AskManeka time occasionally answering (and often ignoring) victimised men who seemed to believe that her ministry exists only to deal with their problems. And they had a lot of problems. So what if it was called the Ministry of Women & Child Development? Men’s problems always come first.
In case you were wondering what Indian men are worried about, here are some questions (directly reproduced) that deeply, deeply bother them.
1. What our Govt is doing to reduce higher suicide rate among men, majority of which is due to Gynocentric GenderBiased laws?
2. #AskManeka madam, being a ministry for WCD, what will u say then laws made for empowerment and protection of Women are grossly misused and there is NIL punishment being given to such women who file #fakecases.
3. What to do if wife is cruel, abusive, harass aged parents and younger siblings of husband? Under which law husband or his parents can ask for relief from that woman.
4. Why should an organisation pay for non-working pregnant women for 6 months?
5. Do u think that Women in India, are the only gender that needs all the support in every form whatsoever, thereby r u not making a gender discrimination yourself.
Their questions reminded me of those large signboards with bright backgrounds (often in bright yellow) on small side roads announcing a ‘distressed male helpline’ in capital letters, ‘Are You a Victim of Misuse of Law by an Unscrupulous Woman? Don’t Feel Helpless and Dejected!’ Or advertisements in papers, asking all men, ‘Scared of your Wife or Girlfriend?’ before telling them that at Rs 700 an hour, a ‘learned expert in GK-2’ will ‘cooly [sic] guide you on how to escape female dominance’. Of course, the advertisement didn’t end there (because how can it?), going on to assure us all that in the process, men will surely ‘win her love and respect’. Because that was what this was about.
Perhaps it was the men putting out these advertisements who wrote in to Gandhi with the smart idea in their heads that somehow, this was about them. Their questions are fascinating to read: there are very few men who didn’t seem to see the need to ask hundreds of questions about false cases and suicides with statistics that sounded made up. Then they told Gandhi she didn’t know anything. They were like the victimised men I went to college with who brought up men’s rights when we were talking about women because they felt ignored, and as though we didn’t talk about them enough. They were also the same men who wouldn’t have brought these ‘manly’ problems up if you weren’t talking about women at that point.
Gandhi’s dismissive answers telling them to take their problems up in court only angered them (judging by the number of angry face reactions to her comments), following which some men even amazingly called Gandhi and the Bharatiya Janata Party as feminist (really). One commenter has started a new hashtag — apparently, “#MalehaterManeka is empowering the ill motivated n characterless women to destroy Indian men n familyship.” If it wasn’t hard to take these terribly worried men seriously so far, this was sure to do it.
What made the whole exchange funnier, was the more than stark contrast between these rants and the kinds of questions that women were asking. Women were concerned about adoption laws and the long waiting list they were expected to be on. They were worried about how difficult it was to get back to work after maternity leave because it seemed like nobody wanted to hire them. They asked about child sexual abuse and wanted to know whether POCSO was non-bailable. One woman wanted to know about ICDS schemes, and another wanted Gandhi to do something about the young children being employed at a municipality undertaking solid waste management.
The women obviously had a lot more on their minds; they weren’t concerned about the men asking ridiculous questions. Gandhi answered these women more seriously, either promising vaguely to take up a case, or giving them a self-congratulatory list of all the things the government had apparently done.
When the session ended, Gandhi announced in a short Facebook Live video about how ‘fruitful’ she thought the discussion had been. Many people thanked her for deciding to have a session like this, but some men decided to tell Gandhi that her answers were “hypocritical”, while another man said both dejected and sagely, “This circulation is for kind attention of all victimised male in India. Government is not going to save your life, rather they have made your life intolerable.” It didn’t take long for a man to comment saying grandly, “Soon there will be a ministry for man and only man.” Gandhi said she would happily support such a group, but it seems like there already is.