For more than a decade, the Sumedhas offering of ‘Gender & Identity Lab’ (G&I) has been a pioneering series of experiential learning spaces that focus on the notion of ‘gender’, and its deep linkages with identity processes, sexuality, relatedness and systems thinking. Over the years, this annual offering in the shape of a behavioral lab running across 6 days, has enlivened dialogue, reflexivity, play, and creative insights for men and women who seek to work with the theme of gender.
Personally speaking, there came a time, when I could not postpone my participation in the lab.
It was not easy for me to sign up as a participant for this lab – I saw within myself, hesitation, anxiety, and even misgivings. I was aware of my resistance within – as a man, I simply did not wish to discover and then feel burdened, ashamed, and or guilty – that as a captive of patriarchy, I may be having deep prejudices & biases vis-à-vis women, that I may encounter seeds and nuances of sexuality that I may have repressed, and that this lab may reinforce and accentuate my overall blindness to the colors of the gendered world.
In short, the Gender & Identity lab seemed a terrible idea at first!
However, my experience as a participant a few moons ago, was refreshing, energizing, and replenishing. It became clear to me that most men who anchor leadership and transformation processes, should and must invest into exploring Gender & Identity.
Let me articulate five reasons that are important to me – why men in particular should come to the Gender & Identity Lab:
- Release from the inanity of ‘intellectual enquiry’: The lab leverages a series of visceral experiences within as opposed to intellectualized dialectic spaces, offering new ways of learning. For example, working with one’s own body may offer insights and even a release of how a man holds and relates to power, vulnerability, shame, and guilt. The lab moves beyond the tyranny of language and text and invites a deeper dive into reflexivity, using dreams, the body, expression, narratives, films and role-plays.
- Working with Diversity: The lab builds and revives an understanding of power and energy through the principle of ‘Purusha-Prakriti or Shiva-Shakti’ – it offers insights on how masculinity and femininity play within the human psyche, and makes us as who we are. Experiencing this multiplicity within is crucial for a man to remain relevant in the modern world – especially when he has to engage with diversity outside.
- Locating Self in the Gendered World: The lab generates a greater self-awareness of gender politics – how strains of patriarchy imbue and remain unchallenged in all organizations and systems even today. It gives no easy answers but offers perspectives and gifts to really work with these issues in today’s world. Many men are blessed with opportunities of designing and transforming systems today – these opportunities need a holistic perspective as opposed to just hyper-masculinity. Such opportunities challenge current leadership theories that are embedded in charismatic masculinity and invite a greater introspection of how femininity within offers resources and power.
Designing and creating organizations that reinforce such diversity needs a greater self awareness from the leader, and the G&I lab offers many an insights.
- Relatedness with Women: In many ways, this lab offers opportunities for a man to re-wire and re-calibrate one’s relatedness with women – women in relationships, women in authority, oppressed women, women in power et al. Many of us come from a socialized past that does not equip us to relate with women in ways that offer a sense of greater play, mutual dignity, and respect.
I daresay that many of my personal interfaces have transformed over the years and I owe it to the space.
- Desire, Sexuality, Creativity & Violence: I am aware how the Indian man is getting confined to stereotypes. The adjectives to the stereotype are not flattering at all – repressed, violent, cold, aloof, predatory, possessive, insensitive, domineering – the list goes on and on. The lab offers a space to move beyond the stereotype, and in the process generates many a gift around the themes of desire, sexuality, and creativity.
I have come out believing that embracing and exploring the world of desire allows one to release self from violent expression.
This blog has been directed at the men that I know and the men that I have conversations with. The G&I lab traditionally has seen many more women signing up – the latter are more game to courageously work with themselves. I am hoping that men are evoked by this write-up.
I find myself fortunate to join Sarbari Gomes who has invested significantly over the last so many years in designing and anchoring this offering from Sumedhas. Ashok Malhotra, K S Narendran and Roop Sen have joined her in the past – having brought in their angst, their experiences, and their wisdom to an experiential learning forum that has maintained its ‘work-in-process’ philosophy.
I find myself excited and looking forward to the 2017 edition of this lab. It is being held in Bangalore from the 23rd to 29th of July 2017. Do look up www.sumedhas.org for the brochure and more information.
Feel free to connect with me or Sarbari Gomes over the phone or email.