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Isha Singh Sawhney

Isha Singh Sawhney is a writer, musafir and obsessive people watcher. She loves seeing new places and hates leaving them.

Abuse grows from shame: Vogue India’s ad campaign

A still from “Boys Don’t Cry”.

PSA on domestic violence doing the interweb rounds has seen some serious online hostility in the last fortnight. Directed and produced by Vogue India, it starts with a series of vignettes of boys in different stages of their life crying, and people sounding them off with the oft heard "Boys Don't Cry".

As we reach the end, one last man is shown, his eyes red, tears clearly held back, twisting his girlfriend's arm. And slowly as she turns around to the camera we see her crying face, bruised and battered. And a voice intones, "Instead of teaching our boys not to cry, teach them not to make girls cry."

The angry questions and responses on various forums across the internet wherever the video had been posted echo a frustration with feminism that men seem to have been feeling increasingly. With the focus so militantly on women, there's a shift towards what's otherwise been only on the fringes, but is now growing into a toxic "men's rights" movement. It's what Time in March called a movement "driven by misogyny and misinformation (that's) appealing to frustrated men struggling with changing definitions of masculinity".

These angry men toe a confused line of thought, epitomised in one commentator rant on a Huffington Post piece about the Vogue public service ad — "Even today," he wrote, "women still play at that game of 'little helpless me'. "I NEED the toilet seat down" as if her putting it down is more of a pain than for the man to have to put it up... if she's so capable, why can't she just put it down herself instead of making it into a battle cry of victimisation?" This is the dilemma where men mistake the battle for equal rights and the ideas of an independent woman with chauvinism. It's a confusing time to be a man. And further confusion stems from the prescription that women are traditionally weak and men traditionally strong. The next step after that is dangerous advice, like "boys don't cry". Spouted unthinkingly, by many an authority and peer figure.

Despite these intentions of uber machismo, “Ladke rote nahi hein” is really just code for don’t be like a girl .

"Don't cry or I'll give you something to cry about." "Stop being a sissy." "You p**sy. Stop your blubbering!" or more obviously, "Grow some b**ls." Ah, the well-meaning traps of gender divides.

Despite these intentions of uber machismo, "Ladke rote nahi hein" is really just code for don't be like a girl. The admonishing you hear all your life, revolves very basically around the "b**ls versus p**sy" argument. The former being strong, masculine and unemotive, supposedly like a man's anatomy, and the latter being, well, not like a cat.

And can't we resist the need to pressurise young boys into becoming macho, tough and stoic? Like, Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan or Salman Khan. Man up, we intone over and over, till emotions are shame. And everything is tucked away in a little black box that they hope will never see the light of day. Until that plane crashes, of course.

But where does that leave them — men and us — as women? One thing I'll agree with men's rights groups is that societal and gender stereotypes hit men, as hard as they hit women.

Being emotionally stunted, repressed and unable and not allowed to process emotions as a child or young adult, leads to a world of grief, and self-destruction. And all that pent up anger, love, confusion or hurt only heads in one direction, towards people closest to them — parents, wives, children and girlfriends.

Which is where the PSA finally headed itself. The girlfriend who gets beaten up. Men who first reacted with relief to the PSA were showing autonomy from an archaic idea of masculine, and an inclination towards a sensitivity, and yearning to feel, emote and be fundamentally more like women. But when the PSA ended on Venus's side, they were soon sulkily asking, to no one in particular, "Why is everything about women?" While claims of "Feminist Terrorism" are harsh, they also shed a light on the dystopian present men feel they're living in. Mirrored in this is the video's shift from "empowering boys to feel" to "preventing boys from being misogynistic". Violence in relationships doesn't just materialise from thin air. That's not to say, there is just one right answer.

But at least someone is talking about it. The platform provided by a ridiculously popular fashion magazine may seem hypocritical to some, but it's a non-didactic platform for a conversation not too many people are having, and know where to have. As someone who has been in an abusive relationship with a man whose actions I can only begin to understand as those of an infantilised man, there are no outs. And anything, any word and any campaign, helps. Here, the roots are traced to men who are emotionally stunted, but at least we are beginning to understand why abuse takes place. As this campaign would have.

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