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Awasthi, Ramesh (2015) – Engaging Men to End Domestic Violence in South Asian Communities in the United States


Engaging South Asian men in the movement to end violence against women is fraught with difficulties as various factors such as immigration, colonization, patriarchy, and masculinity are likely to intersect to complicate the task. To persuade boys and men to engage and act to end violence against women, advocates need to develop arguments that are effective. Manavi recognizes that a one-size-fits-all plan to engage men in anti-violence against women work cannot be successful in the South Asian community, a community that is highly diverse in religion, language, nationality of origin, class, caste, sexualities, education, age, immigration history, etc. From this standpoint, it would be appropriate to provide all South Asian Women’s Organizations with a template to create their own custom-made programs.

When addressing the issues of violence against women, anti-domestic violence organizations characterize men as bystanders at best and batterers or potential perpetrators at worst. The fact that men can be women’s partners in stopping, and ultimately ending violence is a recent realization. The contemporary rise in studies of masculinities as an area of extensive research has opened up a wide range of discourse on addressing hegemonic and violent masculinities. The fact that all men are not violent and all masculinities are not hegemonic and aggressive has given the hope to engage with men and masculinities to redefine societal and family relationships based on gender equality.

The conception of masculinity means that rather than a single masculinity, different masculinities exist and have existed in diverse cultures, geographical locations, and in different times. Divergent masculinities may exist simultaneously in different communities in the same geographical location. Societies and cultures are not monolithic and never static over time; hence masculinities too keep changing, evolving, and adjusting to changed situations and challenges of modern thoughts and ideologies. In India, men had purposefully gone about restructuring masculinity in response to the colonizers’ derogation of Hindu Indians. They redefined their masculinity in varied mixes of strong, self confident, silent, virile, ethical, patriotic, nationalistic etc., in an effort to salvage the national masculinity. In the framework of social and cultural hierarchy in the U.S., Asian American masculinities are subordinated, as are all other forms of masculinity, such as those of men of color, gay, transgender, and bisexual men. Furthermore, on the backdrop of colonial history of feminization of native men, South Asian men in the U.S. are stereotyped as nerdy, weak, tech-coolies, unassertive, sneaky, sexist, and short. In contrast to the White or even Black American masculinity based on characteristics of independence, individuality, strength, aggression, and go-getter spirit, South Asian men seem weak and feminine. They are further marginalized and emasculated by the myth of their status of ‘model minority.’

Gender relations with hegemonic masculinity and subordinated femininity are fundamentally about relations of power. However, several power structures operate simultaneously in the society beside patriarchy. The intensity and toxicity of these power structures may vary from region to region and in different times of history. A man’s power, due to his multiple social identities, then, depends on where he stands on the social power grid in terms of intersectionality of the above factors and in relation to women or other men. A man may experience multiple power differentials and feel all powerful vis-à-vis his wife but in his social interaction and work relations, he is always navigating between the experiences of power and powerlessness while interacting with men and women situated on different intersections of the power grid. These experiences also affect his power relation with his wife in the same way a woman’s relationship with her children and other women in the family gets affected by her relationship with her intimate partner.

In addition to the caste, class, and gender superiority, the professionally and financially successful South Asian men in the U.S. internalize the ‘cream complex’ that arises from their self- assessment and is reinforced by their families. It is the feeling that ‘I made it to the U.S. because I am superior to other men in my country who could not come.’ This self assessment inflates men’s egos and peaks their feelings of entitlement that their wives should be eternally obliged to them and therefore subservient, because they have brought them to the U.S. to enjoy a better life.

While men’s violence against women may be a learned behavior it is certainly not a ‘simple’ behavioral problem. Gender violence is a manifestation of unequal gender relations and hegemonic masculinity produced by patriarchy interacting with other structures of power. It is propagated as well as protected by male domination in all social, economic, political, and religious institutions. Unequal power relations between men and women, fortified by male control over all institutions in society, strengthen men’s dominance over women. Men use violence to assert the power of their masculinity and to ensure their control over resources and decision making. Power is known to be addictive and many enjoy it when they perpetrate violence with impunity to assert, exhibit, and consolidate their power. When violence yields results in terms of submission and compliance by the victim, it ends up satisfying the perpetrator, thus reinforcing and helping violence recur. Hegemonic masculinity has been confronted by powerful voices of strong women throughout history. Masculinity has shifted and changed in face of this challenge; that is, it has not been static in history. Men cannot reject the latter standards of gender equality summarily, as they often look to women for approval of their masculinity. With the continual challenge from women’s movements, the hierarchal masculinity, under threat of losing its power and meaning, may ultimately be obliterated in a gender equal world. In the mean time, how do we convince men or inspire them to join the efforts for ending violence against women and work for gender equality?

Role models play significant roles in the molding of boys into masculine men and girls into feminine women. The primary role model for a boy is likely to be his father or another significant man whose behavior he observes, analyzes, and struggles to internalize. The images and observations formulate his aspirations and influence how he performs his masculinity. Gender training programs for teachers, even at the early childhood education level, of sports coaches, etc., are now being addressed by various agencies so that these individuals become role models of positive and gender fair masculinities and influence socialization of children in non-hegemonic masculinity. To establish gender equality, South Asians have to develop their own role models and come to terms with and reject a dualistic image of masculinity, which they have internalized over the years. They must develop their own confident and independent self image in all its positive and negative realities to move toward egalitarian gender relations.

There are many structures other than patriarchy operating in society that determine power relations. The dynamics of hierarchal relations laid down by these structures also affect masculinities and femininities and their mutual interactions. Hegemony of some masculinities as well as subjugation and subordination of other masculinities and of women and LGBTQ communities will have to be opposed by a counter-hegemonic approach. In order to discover their autonomous self-image, the second and third generations of South Asian American men will have to rise above their racially subordinate status in American society and oppose hegemony and discrimination based on race. If they cannot do that convincingly, if they decry racism and adhere to beliefs and practices of subjugation and discrimination based on gender, caste, religion, sexuality etc., there is little hope that they will create a more gender-just society.

There are multiple institutional structures and value systems that support hierarchy, hegemonic power relations, discrimination, and oppression in society, patriarchy being one of them. These institutions and social values contribute to the construction of hegemonic and violent masculinity and the ensuing violence against women. A broader appeal to fight against all forms of discriminations based on gender, race, caste, class, sexuality, etc., would inspire men and women alike to come together and work out new images of masculinities and femininities based on gender equality or ‘gender democracy.’ Along with the comprehensive approach to redefine masculinity of South Asian American men, the pressing task for South Asian Women’s Organizations is to make violent masculinity socially unacceptable and thus create intolerance toward violence against women.

In South Asian communities across the U.S., faith has acted as a focal point of organizing and providing identity, cultural continuity, and comfort to community members. A few religious organizations are slowly recognizing the importance of their roles in keeping women and children safe and maintaining peaceful families in the community. The SAWOs must take on the responsibility of educating and training the faith based leaders so that the assistance they offer to women is effective. Furthermore, by working not in opposition to but in partnership with anti- domestic violence agencies, faith leaders can generate an environment in faith based organizaions that would encourage women to disclose their experiences of abuse and seek help. Religious centers may offer their premises as community centers for initiating dialogues with the community.

The second and third generations of South Asian Americans, who have weaker bonds with their larger family networks in their countries of origin, might be more likely to accept gender equality. Over-night camps for boys and girls involving participatory training with lots of fun-filled activities have the potential of becoming very popular with the youth. Such programs could train a cadre of young men in gender equity, who could then become peer communicators, role models, and powerful voices in redefining and reshaping masculinities that counter violence against women. SAWOs, then, have the objectives of supporting women against male violence and working with men to restructure democratic masculinity.

-Excerpt from Text, Executive Summary, p. 1–3.


Awasthi, Ramesh2015. “Engaging Men to End Domestic Violence in South Asian Communities in the United States”. Manavi, Occasional Paper Series, Paper 12.

Mahila Sarvangeen Utkarsh Mandal (MASUM): masum-india.org.in

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Awasthi, Ramesh (2015) – Engaging Men to End Domestic Violence in South Asian Communities in the United States

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