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!
“A woman simply is, but a man must become. Masculinity is risky and elusive. It is achieved by a revolt from a woman, and it is confirmed only by other men. Manhood coerced into sensitivity is no manhood at all.” – Camille Paglia
This quote sums up the notion of masculinity which our society possesses. A lot has been written and spoken on gender, sex, feminism but masculinity hasn’t got much attention. These topics should be discussed not just at the literature festivals but at the dinner table and on the college campus as well. This article is about the notion of masculinity in our Indian society and its effects on both men and women. Every culture has a different notion of masculinity but this I’m concerned with the Indian notion in this article.
My 11 years niece laughed at me when she saw me cleaning utensils and asked me, “Why are you doing a woman’s job?”
Don’t be surprised by this question. We have raised our kids in this manner. We have taught them that women produce children, women are mothers and wives, women do the cooking, cleaning, washing, etc. and men go on duty, men are busy in offices for work, they earn bread for the family, men are strong, men take the important decisions in the family, etc. These all are stereotypes which are stuck with the biological concept of being ‘men’ and ‘women’.
From colours and toys to books and movies, we expect the men and women to follow the societal approved way of behaviour. In the history books as well, we see men hunting or standing with sticks in hand and women feeding the babies or dancing. Intentionally or unintentionally, we are feeding the kids the creepy and problematic idea of femininity and masculinity that men are protectors and providers. In mythical texts, men are shown competing for a woman.
This culture of projecting men in a certain way exaggerates the biological potential to create a patriarchal hegemony. No doubt that men benefit from this hegemony but there are men who are victims of this notion of masculinity.
Women are pretty, men are tough. Women are sweet, men are naughty. Women are emotional, men are aggressive. Women watch daily soaps, men watch football matches. Women are vulnerable, men are saviours. You can add more to this list.
If you are not a perfect fit for this behaviour, then you are considered as weird.
Society associates masculinity with fast cars and heavy trucks. Our advertisements also conform to the behaviour of men with strength and power. You all must have seen the Hrithik Roshan ad promoting mountain dew which says “darr ke aage jeet hai.”
Why must this ‘darr’ (fear/dangerous stunts) always be faced by men? Why do we have sci-fi movies showing male robots as tall and muscular while female robots as thin and short? Why do people shame a man when he is shy by saying “kya ladkiyon ki tarah sharma raha hai?” (why are you blushing like a woman), “kyu ladkiyon jaise ro raha hai?” (why are you crying like a woman?).
And, of course, the legend film that quotes “mard ko dard nahi hota” (men don’t feel pain).
Are men made of iron? Even iron is allowed to melt but men are bullied for crying.
The answer lies in our culture. Connel, a sociologist, says, “bodily performance is a part of being masculine-feminine. It can enable people to act in gendered ways, prevent people from acting in gendered ways or persuade people to reinterpret their own gender.”
The porn industry is adding up to this notion by projecting men who can last longer to orgasm. This mentality takes a toll on many relationships in the real world where a common man does not take steroids. You can laugh at this. But these notions of masculinity, according to Siedler, are harmful and destructive which are damaging personal relationships and making it difficult for men to build strong relationships with women.
Not only this but the career choices of men are also affected. Men don’t often choose a career in teaching and dancing or cooking because our society associates these jobs with women. Many people find it awkward to watch a man crying at his own wedding and a girl who does not cry at the farewell. Society associates emotional behaviour with weakness.
This suppression of emotions often causes cardiac diseases in men as well as affects their mental health too. Let’s take an example of a man who is fed and nurtured this notion from childhood that a wife should be submissive to her husband, should not counter his decisions, should meet his sexual demands whenever he asks to do so. Now when this man encounters a woman who is nurtured in a family that’s liberal and treats a man at par with a woman, the anxiety of this man might take a violent form.
The way out for annihilation of this notion of masculinity and femininity is large scale campaigns to promote gender equality. On the government front, it should be the policies integrating men and women equally. And the most important way is to give gender equality education to our kids. The bodies may be biologically different but they may have the same feelings. ‘Nature’ may have created us as men and women, cis and gay, trans and lesbian, etc but it’s the ‘nurture’ which plays a significant role in the life of any human being. This article isn’t complete here. Because the discussion must go on.