Toxic Masculinities of Progressive Kind

Kumar Sundaram of India Resists, Arunabh Kumar of TVF, Anmol Ratan of AISA are just three examples of a certain kind of masculinity which is allowed and even encouraged in liberal, progressive and activist spaces. This masculinity comes from a sense of extreme entitlement but is disguised as a feminist ally/anti-fascist/activist. The association with a certain kind of progressive space lends huge credence to these men.

Naturally, there are sexual relationships between men and women within activist spaces and organisations, but male entitlement combined with a privileged position, and a significant follower/comrade base provides a sense of dangerous impunity to these men. As a result of this, there are various cases of asymmetrical power relations between men and women, which translates into sexual harrassment at work and intimate partner abuse or both. Then again, because of our usual social fuckallery regarding sexual harassment, wherein a complainant has to bear the burdens of suspicion and victim-blaming and lack of support systems, these men and their coteries can comfortably spin yarns in self-defence, citing everything from supposed mental depression of the abuser to how-the-woman-was-anyway-in-a-sexual-relationship-with-me-so-how-can-it-be-abuse?

The reason why such toxic, abusive masculinity is allowed to flourish in activist spaces is the fact that gender is ALWAYS under-prioritised.

The reason why such toxic, abusive masculinity is allowed to flourish in activist spaces is the fact that gender is ALWAYS under-prioritised. No, let’s not talk about how women are under-present in activist spaces, let’s not call out the men abusing women in the guise of sexual relationships because “thoda bohot toh chalta hai”, let’s pretend our activist spaces are very gender-friendly even though they lack a redressal mechanism to handle cases of harrassment, let’s protect progressive men from being questioned, let’s not have any discussion about whether there is a feminist space for expressions of sexuality, because we have to fight THE LARGER ENEMY! So until the Sangh Parivar is politically defeated, should we remain silent about gender?

While we point to the misogyny of anti-Romeo lynchmobs and how they deprive a woman of her sexual agency, why don’t we bother to introspect if our own collectives adopt feminist accountability to sex and sexual relationships? And please don’t suggest that intimate partner abuse is too personal to merit discussion. The Sangh Parivar has converted every “personal” activity into an arena of surveillance and state control: the food we eat, the people we date, the friendships we form. Unless activist spaces can be honest enough to prioritize the creation of feminist spaces and demand accountability from men irrespective of their positions of power and seniority, the fight against fascism will be meaningless and empty.

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Heba Ahmed Written by:

Scholar at JNU

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