Men should be strong, confident, fearless but never vulnerable. Women, on the other hand, can be vulnerable, not too ambitious, expected to be primarily taking care of home, kids and family. Those are the gender roles society has decided for us. Deviate and you will not be spared any criticism. But as an individual, don’t you have the right to explore your individuality and live a life that makes you happy than just give in to the demands of others? You don’t have to follow the set standards just because you have been conditioned to do so since your childhood. Ahead of International Men’s Day, we chat up a few men who have chosen to deviate from the norm and they take pride in it. Does that make them a lesser man? No, they are as competitive, brave and strong as other men and also confident, caring and compassionate.
SHE GETS THE RING
Every girl thinks she is Cinderella and dreams of a Prince Charming who will come riding on a white horse, propose to her and take her away with him. Disney sold similar love stories to us and we happily believed. But there are other stories too, real ones like that of Prince Albert, who was proposed by Queen Victoria for marriage? A man doesn’t always have to make the first move and get down to his knees to ask the girl if she is willing to spend the rest of her life with him? Women too can take the initiative and do a role reversal. We cannot keep fighting for gender equality and then expect the man to take the first step always. Can we?
Pratik Alandkar is one such prince whose princess proposed to him. “We were childhood friends but I never thought of her as a love interest till the day she proposed. I didn’t respond at first as this was unexpected, but after a while, I started having feelings for her and eventually I fell in love with her genuineness and the unconditional love she has for me,” says Alandkar.
Focused on his studies and career, he never was interested in love affairs. Despite being teased by his friends to have a girlfriend he never lost his focus. However, anyone would appreciate a little attention, so did Alandkar.
“When Sneha proposed, I experienced so many mixed reactions at once. I was extremely happy that someone is genuinely interested in me and at the same time, I was worried — what if it does not turn out pleasant? We took time, understood each other and situations around, and now after 11 years of relationship, we are happily married,” he says.
The responsibility to propose is always on men. Speaking of which Alandkar says that society has many illogical notions. They have set gender roles, but he does not believe in them. “It is not a competition between genders. There are so many unwritten rules and regulations that people have made and put out as per their conveniences. Marriage proposal is one of those. I do not think that it makes you a lesser man if the girl takes the initiative. It is as normal as the boy taking the first step,” says Alandkar, further pointing out, “Why would I take pride in the fact that being a boy I got proposed? According to me, it should not be a topic of pride or concern. Unfortunately, we, as a society, have not grown enough to understand that equality comes when we do not need to discuss equality. Or suppress one gender to empower another.”
He says that it is okay to listen and understand society but pick up points which you think are right. Just to prove your worth and masculinity, you need not follow social norms.
Shashank Kharat was physically weak as a child. He never took sports as a passion, unlike many other boys. Sports in school was just a fun time for him. After school, however, he did not follow sports and over the years, he lost interest in it completely.
But in India where cricket is more of a religion than a sport, it’s a given that you are a cricket buff. “If the Indian cricket team is playing a match and you don’t follow, you do feel left out when you are in a group. It has happened to me many a time,” says Kharat.
But it’s not that men have to enjoy sports. They needn’t go gaga over Cristiano Ronaldo’s free kick, Rafael Nadal’s backhand or Sachin Tendulkar’s sweep shot. Men can have other interests. “As a kid, people around would tease me for not showing a keen interest in sports,” says Kharat, adding, “But I learnt to ignore negative comments.”
Instead of watching sports, Kharat loves cooking and baking. What he wants to do with his spare time is his personal choice. “I do not think appreciating sports makes you more macho. This is a myth. According to me, there should not be a metric based on which someone’s masculinity should be decided,” he says.
Kharat criticises that society forces people to pretend. “There are many boys who do not like sports but pretend to show interest just to fit into society. But you have every right to express your individuality,” he says.
Walk with confidence, take long strides. At the end of the day, you should be happy with the choices you have made in life and not feel bogged down by others’ expectations.
WHEN A MAN MAKES A HOME
A house becomes a home when it is filled with love, care and respect for each other. Sharing responsibilities is another aspect that helps any relation and family flourish. When it comes to marriage, kids and home, women are expected to put their best foot forward to make sure that daily operations never have a glitch and everything runs flawlessly. Nobody expects a man to do all of that. But why not? Agree that women are compassionate and nurturing, and only mothers can breastfeed the child, but a dad’s role is not limited to buying toys and saying bye-bye to his toddler when leaving for work.
Mayur, an engineer by profession, did not let any negative thought cross his mind when he chose to stay back at home for his daughter and let his wife continue her regular job. “When our daughter was born, initially, we agreed that my wife would opt for work from home and she would take care of the baby. But her organisation did not have such a facility for a longer period. That said, I did not want to put my daughter in daycare, so eventually, I had to take the responsibility of taking care of our baby. Thus, I chose to work from home,” says Mayur.
He also looks after the house and does the necessary chores. Despite not knowing much cooking, he does help his wife in the kitchen too. People close to him appreciated his initiative at first, but later, they would ask whether he feels bored at home.
“I do, but I have no alternative,” says Mayur, adding, “There are times when I feel bored but then it’s a part of the process. That said, my wife is very understanding. When she comes home from work, she takes care of our daughter and asks me to go out and meet my friends. I believe that understanding is what matters most in a relationship and when raising a family.”
“We are making gradual progress towards gender equality. Also, nowadays, people do realise the need of dual income,” he adds.
If a man chooses to be at home to help his spouse who has better career prospects and raise the kids, it is absolutely okay. A dad can be as caring as the mom. He too can bottle feed the child, change the nappy in the middle of the night and push the stroller when going to the park.
YES TO DRESS UP
Grooming has no gender. Whether you are a man or a woman, you want to make yourself presentable in front of others. Don’t we gape at the good physique, sleek hairstyle, shaved/ waxed chest or shaped eyebrows of Bollywood actors? So when our men and boys take a fancy to grooming, why do we wonder, ‘What’s wrong with him?’ But isn’t the Neanderthal man passé? Wakey-wakey!
Prasad Nagarkar prefers to be well groomed than sport the unkempt look. More so, because his work demands him to be well groomed. Handling his ancestors’ jewellery business, he interacts with customers daily. “Being a businessman I have to look presentable. Our customers include the common man as well as the elite. Many a time, I have to deal with my clients personally, so I have to come across dapper,” says Nagarkar.
Dressing up for work, Nagarkar personally loves to be well groomed. He says that a good personality always works in your favour. What you see sells, he believes.
“I love doing photoshoots. I shave and sometimes wax my chest, do my hair and set my beard. And I don’t feel that there’s anything wrong in this,” says he, adding “It doesn’t matter if you are a celebrity or a common man, it is absolutely fine to look good and feel good.”
He feels lucky that nobody has criticised him for his looks, instead, people look up to him for inspiration. Nagarkar says that if someone teases you for your looks or anything else, just remember that it is their problem, not yours. “I definitely do not feel any less of a man. Most importantly, I do not allow society’s thinking to bother me,” he says.
Ask him whether he calls himself metrosexual, a term coined in 1994 for urban men who enjoy shopping, fashion and grooming,and Nagarkar replies, “I do not find it right to label someone. We are all human beings and we should have equal liberty to express ourselves.”