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!
If you took birth as a man in this society, you might have heard statements like “boys don’t cry” or “don’t be sissy”. All this starts even before children can even speak their first words. A boy from his very birth is given a toy—usually a car, a truck, or a toy gun. And, in case a male child is seen to be interested in a toy reserved for a female gender say, a Barbie doll, he is instantly rebuked—”boys don’t play with that.”
Boys are taught that they must be strong, dominating and soldier-like; hence, cars, trucks, guns and soldier figurine. Any male child found to be interested in the ‘softer’ things is considered to be “someone who is not normal or has a problem” and family considers it to be a phase, “hopefully”.
But, what does this do?
It distinguishes between gender roles which aren’t only harmful to those who don’t adhere to those social gender norms, but also hinders individuals from accessing the full range of emotions that are available to the human mind.
“Patriarchy is not only harmful to women, it also chains men and forces them to adhere to behave in a certain way.”
You might have come across a situation where a child with scrapped and bleeding knee is forced to stop crying because “boys don’t cry?”
But, isn’t it human instinct to react to pain?
Young boys are expected to adhere to masculine ideals, and it leads to an emotional vacuum in the later years of their lives. So terrible are the consequences that they grow up into someone who is afraid to appear caring. It makes them feel that it is “cool” to be “bad boys” and “heart breakers”.
Let’s take a moment to think back to conversations that our families have around a good looking male child –“He will grow up to be a heart breaker”, they’ll usually opine.
The suppression of emotions make them aggressive and in the long run, they are unable to form healthy relationships.
The worst insult you can throw at a boy is to question his masculinity. This insult is often paid back with violence—young men are encouraged to fight to prove their machismo. This isn’t just restrained to brawls on school grounds; they can and do lead to far worse incidents like rapes and murders.
“When males feel that their privilege or masculinity is threatened, they often resort to violence.”
In 2014, Elliot Rodger said: “I don’t know why you girls are not attracted to me, but I will punish you all for it.”
The above statement is the appropriate example of such a consequence.
It is worthy to mention, even though we all know, restraining men from showing emotions leads to depression, and in some cases, the consequences can be as grave as suicide.
What is worse is that men often refuse to seek help for the fear of appearing “sissy”. But let me ask you, is appearing macho really worth all this?
If you think that toxic masculinity is detrimental to straight, cis-gendered men, give a moment and think of the effect it has on transgendered folk and homosexuals.
Calling a boy “a faggot” is worse than calling him a girl. This insults a gay man, thrusts them deeper into a closet and denies them happiness for years.
In the book, Love, Simon, the protagonist states, “While it has been his experience that girls indulging in lesbian activities are perceived to be ‘cool’, men showing homosexual traits are instant pariahs. Toxic masculinity may be discomforting to most men but for gay men, it is an instant poison.”
In order to create a more equal and happier society, it is imperative that we discuss how men are discouraged from crying and feeling things. Toxic masculinity affects people from across the spectrum, and hence, we should encourage men to come forth with their problems and empathize with the same.
“Accepting the patriarchy from a place of false benefit will prevent you from even truly loving yourself or understanding others. It is OK to cry and to have loved your mom and dad growing up. It is OK to feel sad & having missed them or wanted to feel more affection. It is OK to take a moment when you are reminded of these truths. When you allow your brain to access these emotions, it knows exactly what to do. So nurture yourself, talk honestly to the people around you and welcome the notion of understanding them more than you ever have done before”, writes Jordan Stephens in The Guardian.
As more boys are able to express their emotions, empathize and ask for help in community that celebrates rather than bullies them, I believe that fewer boys (and men) will struggle with mental illness and suicide.
This one’s for you, boys:
“You are allowed to cry, you are allowed to feel, you are allowed to speak about your emotions. And, yes, you are also allowed to be the little spoon if you so want to.”