Raising Them Right: From Alpha To Allies

Eliminating gender-based violence necessitates a conscious effort to raise boys beyond traditional gender norms and to empower men as allies. It demands a collective commitment to challenge existing structures and narratives perpetuating harmful behaviours.

Smita Bharti
New Update
Allies credit: invincible_bulldog iStock

Credit: invincible_bulldog iStock

Gender-based violence in India manifests in various ways including domestic violence, sexual harassment at the workplace, and cyber harassment, to name a few. Efforts to curb violence against women in India have seen various initiatives, schemes, and legal interventions such as the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act (2005), Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition, and Redressal) Act (2013), Maternity Benefit (Amendment) Act (2017). Recognising the importance of women's safety, some cities, including Delhi, have introduced separate coaches for women in the metro system, attempting to provide a safer space for female commuters.


While the focus is rightly placed on empowering women and creating opportunities for their advancement, there is a need to challenge and change the behaviour of the perpetrators. By avoiding explicit discussion of their involvement, we inadvertently contribute to the perception that violence against women is an abstract, uncontrollable force detached from the actions of real individuals. It is not an indictment of all men but an acknowledgment of the systemic issues that allow men to be a party to gender-based violence. This involves challenging patriarchal notions of masculinity that not only contribute to the perpetuation of violence against women but also impose restrictive expectations on men.

How Treatment Of Women In Households Impacts Its Boys

The pressure to conform to traditional gender roles can lead to a stifling of emotional expression, creating an environment where men may feel compelled to adhere to rigid ideals of strength and dominance. This, in turn, can lead to heightened stress, mental health issues, and difficulties in forming genuine, equal relationships.

Furthermore, these stereotypical practices reinforce the damaging notion that a man's value is exclusively defined by his financial contributions, disregarding the diverse dimensions of personal fulfilment and overall well-being. This limits individual potential and hinders progress toward more inclusive and equitable societal standards. The strain induced by such expectations may manifest in harmful ways, potentially leading to frustration, stress, and a skewed perception of power dynamics. This can contribute to a toxic mindset where some individuals may resort to violence against women as a misguided expression of dominance or control.

In many households, the treatment of women serves as a powerful lesson for boys. When mothers, sisters, or other female family members are subjected to discrimination and mistreatment, it sends a subtle yet potent message about the acceptability of such behaviours. The absence of consequences reinforces the idea that such actions are tolerated or normalised. Parents’ critical role in shaping a violence-free and equitable society brings to mind one of the plotlines in Zoya Akhtar's show 'Made in Heaven’( 2023). The narrative adeptly explores the challenges of parenting in the digital age, shedding light on how children can quickly develop misogynistic attitudes influenced by explicit content and negative peer influences. In this nuanced portrayal, Jauhari and Bulbul emerge as conscientious parents who refuse to turn a blind eye to their son's troubling behaviour.

Instead of dismissing or ignoring the issue, they actively engage with their son, demonstrating the importance of open communication and parental guidance. By confronting and correcting his misogynistic views, they address the root of the problem. Furthermore, their decision to take their son to the police for his involvement in leaking a girl's private video underscores a crucial lesson – actions have consequences. This powerful act not only holds the son accountable for his behaviour but also emphasises the real-world impact of his choices on others.


Young minds are highly impressionable, and exposure to narratives that glorify toxic masculinity or normalise violence against women can contribute to its perpetuation. As a powerful medium, films play a pivotal role in shaping the youth's worldview, influencing their perceptions of relationships, gender roles, and societal norms. The responsibility of actors, directors, and film boards is heightened when recognising that the audience, especially young men, may internalise the behaviours and attitudes depicted on screen as acceptable or aspirational

Films such as the recently released Animal (2023) make violence and disrespect towards women the core feature of a so-called alpha male protagonist. The film's hero does whatever he wants without facing any consequences. The influence of such narratives, however,  may culminate in tragic real-life incidents.

For instance, in a case of unrequited love, a man fatally shot a woman, marking his third violent act within a short span. What is telling is that he would upload angry villain clips on the social media app. One of these clips was a dialogue from the film Kabir Singh: “Jo mera nahi ho sakta, use kisi aur ke hone ka mauka nahi doonga.” (I will not let someone who cannot be mine become someone else’s either). Reportedly, he was inspired by the film and would share several pictures of Shahid Kapoor’s character from the same.

To effect meaningful change, there is an urgent need to raise boys in conscious ways that promote healthy boundaries, respect, and empathetic relationships with themselves and with girls and women. This transformation must begin within our homes, where parents play a pivotal role in modelling behaviours that foster respect and equality. Parents can instil foundational values contributing to a more conscious and compassionate generation by exemplifying empathy and embracing healthy relationships.

Equally significant is the role of pop culture and social media in shaping the narratives influencing young minds. Portraying characters and stories that challenge toxic masculinity, emphasise healthy relationships, and foster mutual respect can play a vital role in reshaping perceptions and dismantling harmful stereotypes. There is an urgent need for conversations around responsible content creation across genres.

Promoting empathy and respect should extend beyond mere rhetoric; it should be woven into the fabric of everyday life. Schools, communities, and institutions must collaborate to create environments that encourage open discussions about healthy relationships, consent, and equality. Education systems should incorporate comprehensive programs that address gender dynamics.

In essence, eradicating gender-based violence necessitates a conscious effort to raise boys beyond traditional gender norms and to empower men as allies. It demands a collective commitment to challenge existing structures and narratives perpetuating harmful behaviours. By fostering empathy and respect in our homes, reshaping media portrayals, and integrating comprehensive education, we can create a society where men actively reject violence and champion the dignity and well-being of all individuals.

Authored by Smita Bharti (Executive Director of Sakshi NGO) 

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