“We need to talk to men, not talk down to them,” said Harish Iyer at a panel discussion on Friday (June 30).

He was one of the panelists at The Bellevue Salons’ discussion — ‘Raising Feminist Sons’. Others who spoke included Bishakha Datta, co-founder of NGO Point of View, Vidya Kamat, a visual artist and scholar of ancient myth and culture, and Shilpa Phadke, professor of Media and Cultural studies and co-author of the book ‘Why Loiter’.

Harish Iyer spoke about his own childhood — how he had been raped at the age of 6, and how the abuse carried on for 11 years.

“You cannot raise a feminist son or daughter without dealing with the subject of sex” 

“I went into a shell. I realised what being subdued is. I realised the pattern of subjugation,” he said.

Iyer also spoke about how people ask him why he kept quiet about it for so long. “I know they want to ask if I was enjoying it for 11 years. I am always asked if I turned homosexual because of this.

Children aren’t told about sex, and there is a certain casualness among mothers when it comes to taking care of boys, said Shilpa Phadke. But little boys are just as vulnerable to abuse, she said.

Another thing that people must realise is that sexual abuse is not always penetration, said Iyer. “Boys get exposed to a lot of things at a young age. My abuse started because my mom thought it was ok for my uncle to give me a bath.”

“My male friends have spoken about being uncomfortable about being labelled the protector. There is anxiety about what it means to be a man.”

The panelists agreed that boys have to be included in the gender conversation. Iyer recalls how his mother used to actively tell him to cook, and encourage him to be vulnerable and to cry if he was upset.

The idea that the man has to be the protector, or the one making the sexual advances is counter-productive for men as well as women.

“My male friends have spoken about being uncomfortable about being labelled the protector. There is anxiety about what it means to be a man,” said Phadke.

“When it comes to sex, if the man is always the subject and women is the object then that equation can easily tip into violence,” said Dutta.

“You cannot raise a feminist son or daughter without dealing with the subject of sex,” she said.

And ultimately, it is important to remember that raising feminist sons has to be a means in itself, not a means to an end.

“We do men an injustice by thinking of them as instruments,” Dutta pointed out.  The real reason to raise feminist sons is because qualities of equality and sensitivity are good values to instill and will give them a diversity of emotional intelligence, she said.

Also Read: Why we should stop making a big deal out of sex and sexuality