Recently, in June, a team of Penn State University researchers conducted a study. The paper studied the relationship between gender roles and responsibility towards the environment. It focused on men and women who either avoid or engage in, masculine and feminine behaviour. The research found that people categorised certain pro-environmental activities with being more feminine or masculine. Furthermore, it also suggests that individuals, especially some men, might avoid indulging activities that they assume are ‘feminine’ as this can influence people’s perception of their sexuality.
This paper became the inspiration for Fifty Shades of Gray to conduct our own little social study. FSOG asked Indian men of different age groups to either participate in an interview or complete a survey. The questions covered diverse topics to understand men’s perception on gender roles and outlook towards the opposite sex. It also gauged their perception and reaction towards the LGBTQIA+ community.
Brief History on Gender Roles in India
India is a country where religion and traditional attitude defines the thought process in society. Under close observation, it can be seen that patriarchy has had the upper hand in forming most traditional norms that exist in the country. Boys, traditionally, from birth, are favoured in comparison to girls and receive higher respect. In fact, in a 2012 survey conducted by UNICEF, more than 50% of young boys, in India, felt that the act of their father beating his wife, in certain circumstances, is justified.
Women, with every passing generation, have been fighting the rigid stereotypes. The purpose of the battle has evolved with each generation, moving from the elimination of patriarchal customs such as Sati to fighting for gender equality in pay and the workplace. Furthermore, In recent times, the LGBTQIA+ community has joined the battle, demanding greater recognition and rights. But despite laws being eliminated and rights being introduced, is there a change in the thinking process within society?
Religiously there are many customs that require women to maintain a fast for their brother, son, and husband. On the other hand, men keeping a fast for their female counterparts are almost nonexistent. These days, however, men are bending the religious norms and are keeping a fast along with their wives as a mark of love and support.
To gauge the progress and change in society, FSOG interviewed men from ‘Today’s India’ to understand what their opinions are. Do they believe in gender roles or are they against stereotyping? Do they support inclusivity or prefer patriarchy?
The study had participants that either submitted a survey or participated in an Interview. About 66% of the participants were between the ages of 21-30, 24% were 31+, and the rest 10% were below 21 years. Out of those who were above 31+, 80% were 50+. Employing questionnaires and interviews helped in capturing both the quality and depth of answers. Furthermore, about 90% of the respondents were heterosexual, while the rest identified themselves as homosexual or queer. Finally, participants were a mixture of those who were single, dating, engaged and married. All those who participated are well-educated and informed.
24% of men were interviewed while the rest 76% took the survey. From those who took the interview, 80% were between the ages of 21-30, while the rest 20% were 31+. On the other hand, survey respondents comprised about 12 % who were below the age of 21, 62% between the ages of 21 – 30, and 25% who were 31+.
Childhood and Upbringing:
Understanding an individual’s upbringing shed’s light on their past experiences. It also helps identify factors that influence their existing outlook. Most of the participants had mothers’ who were predominantly homemakers, or homemakers and employed. Most of their fathers, on the other hand, worked.
However, even though Mothers predominantly took care of household chores, fathers either supported the activity or equally divided the responsibilities with their partners. While many mothers did jobs within the house such as cooking, laundry, and taking care of the family, father’s supported them by doing outside chores such as getting the groceries. Finances were seen as something done by both or by the father. In fact, one of the respondents who were part of the 50+ age group wrote,
“Yes. While dad was predominantly focused on income generation and outside chores, he significantly participated with home tasks like cleaning, laundry etc. And my mom took care of cooking, upbringing her children including teaching. Certain tasks were jointly performed such as homeplanning, savings, vacation and responsibility towards extended family. “
Irrespective of the age group, participants have seen the household work being divided or shared among their parents. A gender division in work wasn’t a common phenomenon were mothers purely took care of the home, while father only focused on income generation. What is even more reassuring is that when asked if they took part in household activities. Almost all of the participants said yes. They helped with groceries, cleaning the house, and small chores in the kitchen etc. Some even said that they cooked or assisted in cooking while growing up.
Daily life of the participants:
Over 75 % of participants live with their families. The rest live alone or with a roommate. While work and studies take up most of their time, irrespective of their living situation, contributing to the household is part of their daily agenda. However, those living alone, of course, have the job of managing their house and work.
When concerning the workplace, all of the respondents said that they either have women in leadership roles or wish to have more women holding such positions. We also asked whether they prefer having a male or female boss. All of them had one common answer. The gender doesn’t matter. What matters is their capabilities and capacity. One of the participants, between the ages of 21 – 30, said,
“From my experience, I’ve had great women bosses who have been amazing mentors. Having said that, I do not necessarily believe gender should play into the idea of “good boss”, especially today were gender is no more binary. “
Femininity and Masculinity:
Penn State’s paper found that individuals tend to stereotype activities as being more feminine and masculine. So FSOG wanted to gauge if its participants also had similar thoughts. When participants were asked if they possessed feminine traits, the answers were a mix of no, yes and maybe. But when they were asked if they view responsibilities and traits as ‘divided by Femininity or Masculinity’, almost all of the responses were ‘Not really’.
According to one interviewee (50+), traits cannot be categorised by gender. It is a spectrum and everyone falls within that spectrum. Every man will have femininity in them. It might be a mere 5 or 10 %, but everybody is a combination of the two.
We also asked another individual about their thought on comments such as ‘men don’t cry’. He said he completely disagrees with such statements. Looking back at his childhood, he shared that he has been told the same thing. However, when he got exposed to other families, he realised how wrong advocating such comments were. To one person he said,
“The reason why most of the men have a heart attacks is because they don’t vent out their emotions. They keep it within themselves. Saying that you cannot cry just because you’re a boy is absolutely stupid.”
Homemaker or Office Goer:
I’ve been helping to baby-sit my year old grandson this past week & it’s brought home to me the stark reality of this image. I salute every working woman & acknowledge that their successes have required a much greater amount of effort than their male counterparts pic.twitter.com/2EJjDcK1BR
— anand mahindra (@anandmahindra) February 5, 2019
Most men were ok with the idea of assuming the roles of homemakers if their partners wanted to take up a full-time job. Some explained that if their partner is better suited for the role, or if this was the best option available, they would be supportive.
However, around a third of the participants said that they don’t see the necessity for taking up the job of a full-time homemaker. Maybe they could work from home or the two can share both house and well as outside responsibilities. One of the surveys read,
“I do not equate homemaking to ‘not working’ at all. I’ve been a stay at home dog parent when I bought home a pup, doing freelance writing work. When situations call for it and if necessary, I wouldn’t mind being a homemaker.”
Another respondent, above the age of 50, shared his viewpoint on this matter. He wrote that our system has taught the society that a man goes to work and earns for his family, while females take care of homemaking. Having said that, he also noted that females have the patience and are trained (in cooking) but their work doesn’t give them holidays or any pay. It is, as he wrote, a “thankless job”.
Thoughts about LGBTQIA+:
About 95 % of the participants are aware of the LGBTQIA+ community. However, when we asked about when and how they first found out about the community, the answers varied. Some knew about them in school or college, while others only found out in their late 20s or 30s. On of the respondents in their 50s said that in their childhood, they were only aware of transgenders. However, knowing that an entire community exists is a more recent phenomenon. One of the interviewees (21 – 30 years), recalled that he really wasn’t aware of the community until one of his closest friends came out to him. According to him, he didn’t think there was any other possibility since as a society, we are taught only about heterosexuality.
First impressions v/s Today:
The survey then asked its participants about their first impressions on the community. Again, the responses were varied. Some said that it sounded weird and different from the general notion, while others said they were indifferent or curious to know more. We then asked their feelings about the community today. Almost 67 % of them said that they have accepted the community. About 33 % said that they were neutral or felt indifferent about the community. What is interesting to see is that none of the participants opposed or felt negative about the community. About 62 % of the participants also said that they have people in their life who are a part or allies of the community.
What kind of future do you wish for the community:
76 % of them also said that they are in support of the community while the rest felt neutral. In Addition, 95 % of the participants said that they wish only a happy and bright future for the community. The underlying feeling for most was that human rights should be everyone’s rights, and slowly but surely positive changes will take place. The rest 5 %, once again felt neutral on this matter.
One of the interviewees had an interesting observation. He said that irrespective of having laws and rules in place, it is not going to be effective if it is not embedded in society. He said,
“More than laws being applied in society, it’s about making it as part of one’s conscience. It should be embedded in their conscience that this is the way it should be, and why it should be.”
We gave participants a hypothetical scenario and asked them about their future. When asked whether they would teach their children tasks and responsibilities depending on their gender. The vote was unanimous. Everyone said that they will teach their children everything irrespective of gender. This also connects back to their thoughts on traits or jobs being gender-less.
We also asked how they would feel if their son preferred barbies dolls or pink clothing, or their daughter preferred playing with toy guns or gaming consoles. The votes were once again unanimous. For them, only their toddlers’ happiness matters. However, few of the participants did say that it might be initial weird.
What if your children are a part of LGBTQIA+?
Almost 81 % of the respondents said that they will be in support of their children. The rest 19 % said that they are really not sure about how they would react. However, for the wellbeing and happiness of their children, they would support them. One of the respondents wrote,
Depends on how old the kid is. At 8 years old, its a discussion for another day. At 16, we probably need to sit down and talk. I need to understand their feelings and ensure everything is ok for them. The world is cruel enough. And so, Kids don’t need cruel parents as well.
All of the participants also said that they would tell their families about their children being part of the community. Furthermore, some of them noted that they would tell their families after getting consent from their child or only if their child is ready. However, on the other hand, most of them weren’t sure if their families will be accepting of the same. One of the interviewees said,
I’ll be happy. My only concern would be how will i explain it to my family. Not because i’m concerned about what they think. But, they shouldn’t hurt my child, emotionally or physically. That is my only concern. [He continues] I will however definetely take the initiative to talk to them and make them understand.
Slowly but surely:
It is reassuring to know that there is a part of society that encourages diversity and inclusivity. While some might still be unsure or want to further educate themselves on different matters, most want a world where ‘human rights are everyone’s rights’. Also, upbringing and exposure play a vital role. Since most of them have never really seen gender, define roles, they also believe in the same. For others, exposure to the outside world has changed their views. Therefore, to see a world where capabilities and responsibilities are independent of gender or sexual orientation, it starts with educating the people around you and cultivating the next-gen to believe in these morals. As one of the interviewees said it has to become “part of one’s conscience”.
Source Credit: FSOG, Hindustan Times, News Week, Pacific Standard, Pink News, Poverties, Quora, Times Now News.