Sexist tropes in public discourse aren’t uncommon in our country, where gender bias and stereotyping run deep. Even top politicians in India aren’t immune from making remarks questioning someone’s manhood or ridiculing them for letting a woman defend them. Congress president Rahul Gandhi recently targeted Prime Minister Narendra Modi at a rally in Rajasthan for being absent during parliamentary discussion on the Rafale deal. But in his eagerness to take a jibe against the leader of the BJP-led government, he made some uncalled for remarks against his rival and Indian defence minister, Nirmala Sitharaman.

SOME TAKEAWAYS

  • Congress President Rahul Gandhi tweeted out from his official handle asking Modi to stop shaking and be a man.
  • It is disheartening that a probable candidate to lead the country sees being defended by women as emasculating.
  • Their comments actually are a clever ploy to play on our cultural obsession with masculinity.
  • This trope is so often used to box all men, in that much revered Indian idea of masculinity.

“The watchman with a 56-inch chest, ran away and told a woman, Sitharaman ji, defend me. I won’t be able to defend myself, defend me. For two and a half hours, the woman could not defend him. I had asked a straight question – answer yes or no – but she couldn’t answer,” said Gandhi, as per an NDTV report. He even tweeted out from his official handle asking Modi to stop shaking and be a man. It is disheartening that a probable candidate to lead the country sees being defended by women as emasculating and a sign of weakness.

But time and again the deep-seated stereotypical beliefs which we grow up with clouds our rationality, and Indian politicians and public figures are no exceptions. Just last Saturday, Union Minister Smriti Irani “challenged” Rahul Gandhi’s manhood at a rally in his constituency. She said, “Amethi ka vikas Rahul Gandhi ke purusharth ko chunauti hai.” (The development of Amethi is a challenge to Rahul Gandhi’s manhood.) She also stated that while the BJP president had earned his position through his manhood, Gandhi had earned his post through his mother’s blessings.

This battle of manhood in Indian politics is just so bewildering and weird.

Their comments actually are a clever ploy to play on our cultural obsession with masculinity. The phrase “be a man” or mard ban though, isn’t just a jibe, it is so much more. Many times male friends use it to instigate other men into embracing their masculinity. Peers use it to force manhood and toxicity on impressionable youngsters. It is also a figure of speech used to instigate men to resort to sexually inappropriate behaviour.

Be a man and grab her by her waist, be a man and take her by force. Be a man and stop sitting like that or dressing like that. This trope is so often used to box all men in that much revered Indian idea of masculinity. The result is that manhood is firmly attached to the male ego. Like a voodoo doll, you can use the prick of masculinity to hurt or manipulate men in our country anyway. Which is why the public discourse on manhood needs to go away.

Indian political parties have enough ammunition to burn each other to grounds today, outside of such sexist jibes.

When we have the top politicians in our country resorting to sexist jibes like these, it normalises sexism and the notion of toxic masculinity. It deems women incapable of placing arguments or fighting in battlefields exclusively on basis of their gender. Certainly, Mr Gandhi can come up with better jibes, and so can Smriti Irani. Indian political parties have enough ammunition to burn each other to grounds today, outside of such sexist jibes. All it would take is the will to respect and treat women as equals and understand that being a man in traditional ways is truly over-rated.

PTI Photo by Subhav Shukla (PTI)

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Yamini Pustake Bhalerao is a writer with the SheThePeople team, in the Opinions section. The views expressed are the author’s own.

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