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!
Trigger warning: Mentions of homophobia
Toxic masculinity is a subject I spend a lot of time writing about, mainly because of my own experiences. I’ve found this subject to be perceived as a little silly, or even elitist in a country like India. Some of the responses I receive to my articles are ‘Why should we prioritize a discussion on toxic masculinity in a country where much “larger” problems exist’. Additionally, we’re home to some of the poorest and richest individuals of the world.
How do I highlight the importance of having a conversation on toxic masculinity and make it relevant to such a diverse group of people? I guess the goal isn’t about making it relevant for everyone; it’s about understanding that the detrimental impacts of toxic masculinity transcend the socioeconomic and age divide that characterize our life.
A radical feminist would reject the existence of masculinity and femininity saying that it confines us to binary gender norms, which create institutionalized structures of power that leads to discrimination and harassment. I agree wholeheartedly. On the other hand, I’m also a basic Bombay boy that recognizes gender binarism isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. For that reason, I think it’s important to talk about gender norms; and in this context, what masculinity is.
For a very long time, I let prevailing gender norms cloud my judgment of what it meant to ‘be a man’. More importantly, I let it impact my decisions and actions in life. I wish someone had given me an alternative definition of masculinity earlier on in my life. How do my personality and actions impact how much of a man I am? What does being a man really mean? Talking about these questions with other men allow us to develop open-minded values that prevent us from making incorrect decisions in our life just to prove our masculinity. One such conversation can be all it takes to prevent a violent incident from taking place.
Whenever I’m asked about why talking about masculinity is so important to me, I am taken back to a long list of memories. Memories of feeling insecure about not having friends, living in the fear that one more person will use a homophobic slur against me the next day in school. The pain and fear that I went through for several years were largely not addressed until a much later stage in my life. It was masked; I can’t say that every day was a struggle, or I didn’t have anyone to talk to.
But living in fear that every action you take will be used against you to make jokes about you is suffocating. At the time, I didn’t feel like I had an outlook to reach out to. I genuinely thought that I deserved the shame I was receiving because I wasn’t ‘manly’ enough. Toxic masculinity is real and can have a crippling impact on our morale, regardless of where we come from in society.
What are the elements we need in our lives to be happy? We seek purpose and love, isn’t that it? We all want to believe that we’re a part of something bigger. We want to believe we exist in a specific place to achieve something; it may not be great, but it must be special.
To be able to achieve our dreams and feel like we’re a part of our communities, we all deserve acceptance. I truly believe this acceptance for men comes from recognizing that we shouldn’t be shamed for not conforming to our traditional roles or personality types. Toxic masculinity exists, and it’s something we need to stand up to. Putting other men down for ‘not being manly enough’ is behaviour that has a damaging impact on our ability to be happy, and it should not be tolerated.
There’s no ‘one-size-fits-all’ answer to why it’s important to talk about toxic masculinity. For everyone, it’s different. For me, it’s important because maybe if I had a conversation about toxic masculinity at an earlier stage of my life, it wouldn’t have taken years to rebuild my confidence.