We often discuss about the pressure women feel because of patriarchy. The hardship that they suffer in various roles that they play in their lifetime is an easy subject for writers and poets. Much has been written about a mother who bears a child for nine months, a wife who sacrifices her career, a daughter who is taught to behave in a certain way and a human, who at the end of it all, is subjected to the mercy of her caretakers.
Amidst all the chaos in her life, we neglect other subjects that revolve around a woman. We centralise our focus on these roles so much that, our lens of understanding a woman’s life becomes myopic. The purpose of writing this paper is to flip the coin and look at another group that is suffering because of patriarchy but, is very little talked about: Man.
“Men don’t cry.” “Men can’t complain.” “Men have to earn the bread and butter for the family.” “Men can’t be weak.” “Men need to be physically strong.” “Men can’t wear pink.” “Men should be tall, dark and handsome.” “Men need to be macho and ‘manly’.” These are a few of the million connotations attached to the definition of an “ideal man”.
Surprisingly, these “ideals” have been in place since the age old era of Ramayana and Mahabharata. Men are expected to be strong and this is imbibed in them since childhood. As a son, he is taught to be responsible; as a brother, he has to play the role of a protector and a husband, he is expected to be the nurturer and caretaker.
Like any other kid, I also never liked when my parents fought. The topics were petty but when both of them decided to revisit the past and involve both my mother’s and father’s side of the family, things got ugly. I often saw my mother crying and wailing about the pitch of my father’s voice. She complained of how hurt she felt and how she had no one to discuss it with.
At that time, I felt miserable for her. I felt she was fighting the battle with her husband’s anger and ego, all alone. She was away from her mother and her brothers who might have just taken a stand and protected her against unwanted mess. I felt a sense of anger when my father left the house after the fight, or just slept over it. I wanted to confront him but, I was too scared for my mother.
I termed his silence as his emotional unavailability and an inability to accept his mistakes. For the longest time, I thought him to be the culprit for all their feuds. My mother was very vocal about every small thing that happened between them but, kept complaining that she found it tough to express. On the other hand, my father’s silence compelled me to think again. I could not believe as to how someone could be so negligent and unaffected by the whole emotional fiasco.
As I grew up, I started understanding that it is never one party’s mistake that leads to a fight. I understood that my mother over-reacted in certain situations and my father chose to ignore it. Also, when my father chose to react aggressively, maa chose to keep her calm and not add fuel to the fire. My understanding of their relationship changed over a period of time.
Even though maa complained of having nobody to speak to, I was always there to listen to her whereas, papa chose to keep it to himself. He was actually the one who had nobody to speak to. He never brought it up, nor did he share.
I never hated my father but he, just like anybody else, had some untold stories buried deep in the past. He was misunderstood for a long time by his own family. Men have certain responsibilities which prevent them from opening up. Their actions are often misunderstood as having a hidden agenda behind it.
My father was misjudged for being egoistic and emotionally defunct, but in reality the ongoing norms of patriarchy prevented him from crying, or even feeling lonely. Even after numerous attempts, I failed to make him comfortable about sharing. He still feels he is the only one who has to be strong, no matter the situation. He taught us to be calm in any situation.
He would not get stressed even when Maa refused to talk to him for days but, one of the recent events changed our minds drastically, especially Maa’s. While working in the kitchen early one morning, my mother tripped over a tomato peel and fell straight on the floor. My father heard her scream and came running to see what had happened.
As usual, we thought he would take it easy and take her to the doctor; but we noticed he was trembling at the sight of my mother struggling to get up. He held her tight and kissed her forehead. Surprisingly, Maa was calm, this time, papa lost his “all cool” attitude.
He quickly realised he was being weak and in that moment pulled my mother’s leg to lighten the situation up. I saw him weep gently that night. My mother was asked to be on bedrest, she was in pain. I hugged my dad while he was weeping and he abruptly started breathing calmly, pretending to be asleep.
That night I questioned feminism, patriarchy and a lot of other things from a neutral viewpoint. I wondered if it was just about blaming and putting all men down or, was it about understanding genders neutrally.
Is it about always considering men as the culprit or is it about broadening the horizon and accepting that even a chunk of women are at fault for a patriarchal society? Is it always the man who is to be blamed or is it the age old silence of a woman adding to the worsening of the situation. Is it about bringing the genders under one lens, that of human rights?
Isn’t feminism about humanity, where people are equal, irrespective of gender? Sadly this term has been misunderstood and misjudged. It is often used in the wrong sense. What needs to be understood is that, it has no clear definition nor does it have a universal approach. It may mean something to me and it may mean something entirely different for others.
What is important is that we don’t look at the problem in a biased manner. It is imperative to understand both parties and work towards an environment that gives all genders the freedom of expression. An environment that does not pressurise them to behave in a certain manner and conform to the existing norms but, gives them a sense of liberty. It ensure the people their right to not just express but, have that sense of “individualism” that does not call for fitting into specific gender roles.