No word rankles more than ‘womaniser’. It bristles with patriarchy and entitlement. It reeks of the rot that has run deep into the marrow of mankind. The suffix ‘ise’ is most irksome — rooted as it is in the smug foregone conclusion that it takes a man to make a woman effeminate, a right we have assumed and asserted for all of remembered time.
Our language wallows in misogyny. Our lexicon has no room for ‘manisers’. When women cross the Rubicon of male-determined virtuosity, they are strumpets, vamps and sluts. The male vocabulary for bold women is vibrant with bruised vanity. When men seek free love, they are libertine. But when a woman does so, she is loose. She is fallen. A fallen angel who, as our scriptures questionably aver, once led a godly life but is now ineffably tainted.
Not only has this load of medieval crock made an alarming comeback to coexist alongside electric cars and space travel like an antibiotic-resistant disease strain, it is being endorsed by influential figureheads in high places. Open Twitter and you’re besieged by these motormouths. Their tribe has proliferated. To out the pandemic, we must out the vectors.
Such enlightening realisations come thick and quick when you’re ruminating over a newspaper in the potty (probably the only place where men under 45 still read one). But they hit home most when you’re raising a child in a crappy world.
As men with a conscience, we must embrace and evangelise new ways to man up. Meanwhile, there will be blood. And plenty of soiled newspaper.
Missionary zeal is pointless if it doesn’t provoke. WhatsApp is the place to start. Slyly become an admin and start being the conscientious troll in your boys-only groups. Forward the occasional feminist video from Eve Ensler or Ellen Degeneres (watch them first since you’ll have to answer questions). Praise LGBTQ rights. Diss beer jokes. Use the eye-roll emoji in response to the really crude ones. If you must laugh, do so in private. Or you’ll be seen as a man who is having an off-day.
At first you’ll be booed. Those Class 9 bullies whose respect you have grudgingly earned will seek you out and bait you. This is familiar territory, remember? It’s the stuff that got you beaten up in the first place — for speaking up for girls, for ‘being sissy’. They thought age and experience had sorted you out, but no. Now you’re the fly in the ointment, the thorn in the flesh, the kaala in the dal. The Great Betrayer. The Judas of WhatsApp. You crossed over, you Trojan Effing Horse, you!
Hold your nerve. Persist. Boys don’t cry, do they? The denouement of this script is in your firm control. Don’t baulk now. Hurl your brahmastra — your pro stance on women’s entry to Sabarimala. That will strike more than one hot iron.
When you receive your first concerned private message or phone call, you know you’ve made a dent. Use your admin powers to ban serial offenders, even buddies. They’ll smart, they’ll cuss, they’ll foam at the mouth. They’ll take the extreme step of calling
your wife to check if you’ve not been
drinking of late.
Next, gear up for the school PTA meeting. Demand an end to the segregation of boys and girls. Don’t fall for the head-lice excuse — tell them you’ve stocked up on permethrin. Inform the principal that you want to make a presentation on menstruation to the high school boys. Wait for her to stop hiccuping before you repeat your request. If your child isn’t served a transfer certificate within seven days, you’re making real progress.
Time to ace the ultimate test. Get elected as an office-bearer in your apartment complex or society. Object to sexist language in the circulars. Lift the ban on conservative swimming pool costumes for girls. Name and shame the pervert tuition teacher on the fifth floor. This will set the cat among the pigeons — and all apartment complexes have pigeons. If you aced the first two tests, this one is a cakewalk. And all the cute aunties will know your name.
All of this will look highly suspect if you are not already walking the talk at home, in the office, or at the pub. So, have the difficult conversation. Drop those patriarchal pants. Apologise sincerely for having been a male chauvinistic toad — we’ve all been there.
Don’t wince when your boy brushes Barbie’s hair. Or if your girl doesn’t.
At first, you’ll make enemies. But you’ll be left with friends you deserve. You’ll be attractive for more than your money or your car. You’ll do your bit to raise a generation right. And you’ll have the cleanest WhatsApp inbox in town.