7 Ways In Which Being ‘Manly’ Oppresses Men As Much As It Oppresses Women

Posted on November 25, 2015 in 16 Days Of Activism 2015, Lists, Masculinity, Staff Picks, Taboos

By YKA Staff

India is a country steeped in centuries of patriarchy. A country where traditions and rituals, as well as our upbringing, ensures that there is a clear power dynamic in the way men and women are treated and behave. Growing up as we do, this conversation about the all-pervasive patriarchy that dictates our lives is one that most of us haven’t had or are unlikely to have in our lifetimes. From the time we made a beeline for this world, right out of our mother’s womb, thrust as we were with a blue suitcase or a pink one each, the journey ahead was dictated by our gender and genitals, while patriarchy showed us the way – and not once were we allowed to question why men and women were supposed to behave the way they were.

Competitors flex their muscles during the "Mr. Senior Gujarat 2010" bodybuilding contest in the western Indian city of Ahmedabad January 31, 2010. More than 200 body builders across the state on Sunday participated in a contest organised by the Gujarat state body building association in an aim to encourage youth in body building sports and to aware common people about their health, a media release said. Picture taken January 31, 2010. REUTERS/Amit Dave
Image source: REUTERS/Amit Dave

So, the boys with their blue suitcase were told to ‘be strong’, ‘not cry’, ‘toughen up’, ‘hit hard’.

The girls with their pink suitcases, on the other hand, were asked to be ‘shy’, ‘demure’, ‘pretty’ and ‘soft’ in their every move.

And that is how we grew up.

When enlightenment did strike, it again was narrow in its approach because it highlighted and perhaps only peripherally managed to address the issues of violence against women (ignoring caste, class, sexuality and so many other aspects), and their dis-privileged existence within this social system. What it failed to analyse was the oppressive tool – ‘masculinity’ – that was being used, generation after generation to maintain this gender hierarchy that posits men at the top – in the home, at the workplace, in public spaces and at every physical and psychological level. Men themselves, of course were and remain invested in a system that benefits them. But here’s where things get murky, or actually, clearer. Masculinity, in the way it pressurizes men to be more ‘like a man’, ‘manly’, ‘man enough’ is equally oppressive and exploitative of men. It forces them to behave a certain way when it comes to those who don’t identify as men, only so that they may hold their own position within the social system. That’s hardly a fulfilling way to live your life if you are constantly battling for it.

And that is exactly why we need to address this pressure. Because it uses one against the other, men against women, harming both in the process. This idea of ‘masculinity’, ‘mardaangi‘ or ‘being a man’ has hurt men as much as it has hurt women:

1) We think showing weakness is a ‘girly’ trait, and men don’t cry: Because crying is for girls? Masculinity forces every man to believe that they are not supposed to feel pain or emotion. Be it a young boy or an older man, everyone is ridiculed or scolded for “crying like a girl”. What patriarchy forgets is that when you are upset or hurt, crying is an absolutely normal reaction – just the way laughing or smiling when you’re happy is. And ‘weak’ men are bullied even more. It isn’t like men are born with fewer nerve endings!

2) The onus is on men to be the ‘protectors’: Because women are incapable? Masculinity also forces men to believe that they’re the ultimate protectors of this universe. Remember when Wonder Woman bashed all villains but could not win until Superman came along and saved her? That is indeed the problem in real life as well. Not only does this force women to believe that they always need a man to save them, it forces men to believe that their gender is responsible for being a saviour, hence encouraging the power structure and belief that men are inherently more powerful. And on top of it, if a man is ‘effeminate’ or ‘shy’ then he’s not man enough to protect a woman.

3) Men with ‘girly interests’ are shameful: Racing cars for boys and dolls for girls? No sir! What if my daughter wants a racing car and my son a doll? And this is the case for most cis-gendered men. Forget trans men and women, and those who do not fit in ‘normative’ gender and sexuality binaries. Understand now why movies show a gay, or an effeminate character as the one who’s always made fun of? Patriarchy and masculinity ensures that men subscribe to being manly. And in case they don’t, then they better not turn out to be ‘girly’, because well, their genitals have already decided what their interests would be, for years to come. Congratulations!

4) We think a man with a negative body image is ‘unmanly’: No abs!? Well, that’s shameful, isn’t it? As much as women bear the brunt of patriarchy dictating how they should look and what they should wear, men also face the burden of being ‘manly enough’ and having a muscular body. So when a man is thin or on the heavier side, they’re considered to be unmanly.

5) We believe that men cannot be sexually abused, and the ones who are, are ‘pathetic’: The scales, when it comes to sexual violence and abuse, heavily tip towards women; but as children, and even as adults, many men too face sexual abuse – but they’re not supposed/allowed to talk about it. Generally, it is believed that the bed is a man’s forte, and hence, if they even think of complaining against abuse, they’re made to believe that they are not man enough.

6) Men want more sex than women: As if people from other genders do not have sexual needs at all. This line of thought is exactly why women and denied sexual agency and are expected to not have any desires at all. And how it affects men? It stereotypes men, leaving no space for an equal sexual relationship where men and women both play a levelled role. Moreover, it denies completely that men can also be asexual, and forces men to conform to the stereotype that their consent is implicit in their existence.

7) Men have to be breadwinners: A stay-at-home father is considered less manly as opposed to one who goes out and works. Furthermore, this is the very belief that has, for centuries, deprived women of education and access to careers because well, aren’t they the ones who are supposed to stay at home and take care of children? No. Moreover, men who find it difficult to earn a living for themselves AND their families are put at a lower pedestal in the social hierarchy. And it remains a mystery why it is just so unthinkable to see men as primary caregivers in our society when everything from scientific studies to what not have denied there being any genetic difference.

It’s important to remember that the fight against gender-based violence is not about us vs them. It is about the beliefs that stem from an unequal society that force these ridiculous power structures on us. Because talking about women’s issues does not mean we are belittling the issues that men face because of patriarchy and masculinity. Because if we get together and work towards it, we can end sexism, patriarchy and masculinity that hurts both men and women. Because listening to each other, and agreeing that we need to break away from the shackles that have kept us in binds for the longest will help us all.

Disclaimer: The views presented in this article are the author’s, and do not necessarily represent the views of UNFPA.