The term ‘toxic masculinity’ has been present in feminist parlance since the 90s. Its many meanings and connotations have, surprisingly, changed from then to now, when it is being used more assertively to highlight conventional masculine behaviour that wrongly prioritises aggression and physical and intellectual superiority of those identifying as male.
Conventional understandings and representations of masculinity are warped, to say the least, and its effects have been borne by women throughout human history. One way in which it manifests itself is the suppression of feelings among men, replaced with a mean focus on physical aggression and subjugation of the ones they identify as inferior. Even the imagination of an alternative to this model of masculinity has been rare. But redefining masculinity is an essential aspect of addressing gender-based violence, and a few gender activists around the world have taken up the cause of addressing men and including them in conversations that had for long left them out.
Addressing the hugely detrimental, and very often murderous effects of so-called ‘manly’ behaviour is what spurred Harish Sadani to reply to a newspaper advertisement by veteran journalist and author, C.Y. Gopinath in 1991. The ad’s headline read: “WANTED Men Who Believe Wives are Not For Battering”. Harish was one of 205 men who had responded to the ad and this sparked his journey of co-founding MAVA – Men Against Violence and Abuse – in 1993. Since then, the organisation has explored street theatre, workshops, talks and many other formats to reach out to men of all ages to help them break down their male privilege and understand that patriarchy works against men as well.
From June 20th to 22nd 2019, MAVA partnered with Vimochana, Radio Active CR 90.4 MHz, and the British Deputy High Commission, Bengaluru to organise a film festival titled ‘Samabhav’ at the Jain University campus on JC Road. The films picked for the fest explored themes on gender, masculinity, and relationships, and the discussions that followed encouraged students to look inwards and outwards to the kind of gender messaging they have been absorbing and been exposed to.
I caught up with Harish on the sidelines of the fest to talk about his work and his beginnings. In this interview, he talks about that life-changing newspaper ad, his childhood spent at a Mumbai chawl, and an unlikely pen friendship with the late actor, Smita Patil.
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Written by Shruti Sharada.