Broken gender stereotypes, strong male role models, an Indian stay at home dad, Mary Kom’s story has it all!
The real-life story of Mary Kom, India’s champion boxer, is now on the silver screen with Priyanka Chopra playing the role of real-life Mary Kom. Stories of sporting legends translated onto the silver screen are exciting stuff for audiences. Such movies can be one way of popularizing sports other than cricket in India since audiences would always be curious to watch the life-struggles of sporting personalities and seek inspiration from the same.
The widespread appreciation and critical acclaim that Mary Kom, the movie has garnered is much deserved. The real life story of a boxing champion from a remote village in Manipur, her hard work, struggles, and eventual success combines all the ingredients of success. Mary Kom certainly presents an exemplary effort on part of its cast and crew, to showcase a talented sportsperson who has done her country immensely proud.
As one entered the theatre to watch Mary Kom in action, one was awestruck with the story of a woman who defied all odds to reach the pinnacles of success, her never-say-die attitude as well as her success in the world of boxing. Certainly, as the story unfolded you could only feel proud and inspired.
However, what Mary Kom also tells us is that an Indian man can be extremely supportive of his wife’s career, rather than act as a hurdle to it. A never before seen side of an Indian man, one must remove their feminist lens and watch the movie from the eyes of an Indian male who continues to be “at the receiving end” in case he decides to support a career-oriented wife.
Three male characters contributed in making the real-life Mary Kom who she is. One, her father, who at the beginning stands vehemently opposed to her ideas and dreams of boxing. Like any conventional father, he is worried about her marriage. The other is ‘Coach Sir’, Mary Kom’s mentor and teacher who unwaveringly believed in her abilities and talent, groomed her and coached her on her way to victory. The third, the husband – Onler Kom who, as Mary Kom has herself acknowledged, left his full fledged career in football to look after their kids so that she was able to continue with her boxing dreams.
All of them play a defining role in Kom’s life in one or the other way. Recall a scene where the father gets emotional at his daughter’s victory, a coach is angry because he knows that Kom is born to be a sporting legend and is at the peak of her career, or a husband who understands his wife’s frustrations at being left behind in her career even as he becomes a rock solid support in her comeback to boxing.
Without an iota of doubt, Mary Kom deserves full credit for her achievements. She struggled it out, believed in herself and was determined to make it big. But what role did the men in her life play? They were equally supportive of her dreams. It is time that both men and women (especially men) look deeply into these questions and introspect as to how both can be mutually supportive of each other. It is time we acknowledge that men too face pressures in society and bear the brunt of being bread-winners.
In the name of feminism (and wrongly so) men have sometimes been demonized. The problem lies not with men but with what patriarchy makes of them. Like Onler Kom, there are many who left their dreams to let the woman in their life be herself. There are men who have supported their partners without inhibitions, without caring for what society labels them with – it could be either as a meek, submissive partner who has succumbed to the wife’s wishes, or someone who is not “man enough”. Men, too, face stereotyping in case they decide to let women take the lead while they themselves remain at the backseat.
An innovative campaign for gender equality #HeForShe, recently kicked off by the United Nations, advocates just that. Gender inequalities, discrimination, women’s sufferings cannot be addressed and eliminated in isolation. Men’s support to it is essential. Gender equality and gender based violence is everybody’s issue, not just a woman’s issue. British actress Emma Watson, speaking in support of the campaign remarked that gender equality is an issue that men ought to be concerned about.
Let us admit that men too face gender stereotyping. Right from facing pressures of being breadwinners to being ridiculed as meek for respecting a wife’s aspirations, to being labelled as weak upon searching for an emotional outlet, to being taught to revel in control, power, and authority, men need to be involved in this fight against gender inequality and gender discrimination.
For every Mary Kom, there is an Onler Kom, a Coach Sir, and a father who pushes a woman to the pinnacles of success. In a timely write up on the same movie, Indian author Chetan Bhagat remarks,
“It is time all this changes. If India has to move ahead, we have to optimize our resources, and women are half of our human resources. We have to help them reach their full potential too. And it is about time we men bring a little bit of Mr Mary Kom within us.”
A very valid point made by Mr. Bhagat, because feminism is about women’s empowerment, acknowledging women’s role beyond the household and shedding those age old stereotypes that have been barriers to their progress. Let feminism move beyond male-bashing for it is against a system that holds men as more privileged, and not against men per se.
In feminism, men and women are partners. Mary Kom, the movie and the life story of the famed boxer is a celebration that acknowledges and appreciates men’s role in women’s success. For women and men to excel, both should push each other and be ready to play second fiddle in the other’s success. We know women are doing it already. However, what Mary Kom acknowledges and rightly so is that Indian men are also capable of redefining manhood by championing the cause of feminism.
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