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

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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.

You must be to comment.
  1. B

    Being manly does not oppress anyone. This article very cunningly emasculates men. Men and women are two completely distinct beings. Men and women are different biologically, psychologically, mentally, emotionally, physically, anatomically. Men and women behave differently, think differently, react differently, do things differently. Men and women are different.

  2. G.L.

    Women ask men to lift their car out of the snow, change their tyre, carry their bags because men are masculine. That is the way God intended it. Men are masculine. Women are feminine. Deal with it.

  3. Batman

    Proud to be manly.

  4. Jigsaw

    Another highly retarded article. Go tell my wife to toil in the office while I sit in front of the TV all day.

  5. The Joker

    Being manly is good when you want a financial slave, and a big dick at night. Or someone to take you shopping or pick you up in the dead of the night. Being manly is so good when he pays your restaurant bill, or buys gifts for your parents. Being manly is good when you have a dumbass to cater to your needs, without realizing what an ungrateful, selfish bitch you are.

  6. Monistaf

    I missed reading this until now. This article is “feminism in disguise”, because it tries and equates patriarchy to masculinity in an attempt to emasculate. Let us take these one by one.
    Plenty of boys and men express their weakness. If a person is afraid of how he is perceived based and that controls the expression of their emotions, it sounds like the person is insecure.
    The onus is on men to be protectors!! Yes, by the feminists who fight for legislation that only allows the husband to pay alimony to a wife, the feminists who are screaming for women’s protection and security in public. Not the patriarchy.
    Men with girly interests are shamed!! Really? There are plenty of men involved with fashion, advertising, cosmetics, pottery, tailoring, chefs etc. Some of them are celebrities on TV.
    Men cannot be sexually assaulted is a belief rooted in Feminism which fights really hard to preserve one-sided legislation like IPC section 375 (Rape). Only women can be victims and men perpetrators. It is NOT the patriarchy that is doing this. Oh, and by the way, they cannot talk about it because, there is no law against it. Who can they talk to to redress their grievances? The feminists made sure that no body gives a damn about men being victims of sexual assault. Not the patriarchy.
    Men want more sex than women. Men more aggressively seek out and pursue women, but no one said they want more sex. The aggressive nature of men to pursue women is rooted in millions of years of evolution. Watch the Nat Geo channel sometimes and you will it in action in nature. It has nothing to do with patriarchy.
    Men have to be breadwinners, yes, that is what the feminists want. Alimony always from husband to wife, Wife has rights over husbands assets, but not the other way around etc. A feminist creation, again not the patriarchy.

    If the Patriarchy was real, how come we have so much legislation that favors women?
    If the patriarchy was real, how come, *nothing* is ever the fault of women?
    If the patriarchy was real, how come all discussions are framed with “women have problems and men are the problem”
    If the patriarchy was real, how come there is such a huge public empathy gap when it comes to gender?
    If the patriarchy was real, how come the vast majority of victims of violent crime, majority of suicides, majority of workplace deaths, combat deaths and homeless are all men?
    If the patriarchy was real, how come there are no shelters for men who are victims of domestic violence.
    If the patriarchy was real, how come we have laws like 498A that allow men and their families to be arrested without probably cause or evidence, striping them of their universal human rights of presumption of innocence and due process under the law?

    You cannot fight the patriarchy, simply because it does not exist. Shooting in the dark and hoping to hit something does not count as a strategy.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

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Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

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MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

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As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

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