Editor’s Note: This post is a part of What's A Man, a series exploring masculinity in India, in collaboration with Dr. Deepa Narayan. Join the conversation here!
By Sanjay Mucharla:
One set down. The team was heading towards losing the second set too. And this meant the underdogs would be out of the school’s volleyball competition. Even before the league began everyone was sure that this team had no chances of winning even a single game. Except the captain of the team.
He did his best to keep the team’s spirit high. High-fives for every point scored. Pats on the back after every successful serve. Quick huddles between points. Everyone was giving their all.
The team lost by a huge margin. There was celebration on one side of the court, and silence on the other. Everyone shook hands and were getting off the field to head back home. The captain of the losing team though, a 14-year-old boy, was devastated. He was leading a team for the first time and was disappointed with himself. “Could have done so much better!” he thought to himself. With his head down, he started walking slowly unaware of the direction. He barely walked a few steps after which his knees felt weak. And he slumped right next to a bucket of water.
All the boys were watching him. In a second, everything he was brainwashed with since childhood about social masculinity flashed through his mind. His team lost and he was already feeling ‘less of a man’. He didn’t want to go down another level by crying, but without his approval tears welled up in his dejected eyes. And before he knew, he was crying his heart out. He poured a few mugs of water on his head to hide his tears, but that didn’t help.
The boys walked past him, and everything he feared came true. Some of the guys laughed at him, some told him to ‘man up’, and some simply said, “Don’t cry like a girl!”
The boys were not at fault as they were growing up into the ‘men’ that society expected them to be.
On his way back home, the boy was lost in thought. He felt embarrassed like never before. And it wasn’t because of the game that was lost.
It’s been 13 years now. I have cried a few times since then and have felt ashamed every single time.
It can be quite devastating for boys when they are made conscious of the emotions they are exhibiting especially the ones that are categorized by society as ‘weak’ or ‘feminine’. Boys (and men) experience pain too and they should be made comfortable to express their feelings. When we as adults fail to do our part in having meaningful conversations with boys and instead simply tell them to ‘be a man’, boys learn to put on a mask to hide their emotions and insecurities from a very young age and start equating emotion with weakness in the pursuit of becoming ‘strong’ men. This can turn out to be dangerous in the long run for boys and their relationships.
It is going to be a long battle to redefine masculinity and undo the damage done, but like every change, this one too begins with each one of us taking responsibility.
Let’s start having meaningful conversations with our young boys. Let’s redefine masculinity that is worth striving for.