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!
Masculinity is frowned upon by just about everybody, but most of us can’t shed the baggage of it because we have all been taught to embrace patriarchy.
“Be a man, Gullu. Why are you scared of hitting the ball hard?” My friends yelled at me as I defended a juicy full toss. “You know what? I could have hit that for a six,” said the wicketkeeper whilst taking a dig at me. The bowler, too, smiled at me in disbelief. “He ain’t a man. He couldn’t hit a full toss,” he said to the non-striker.
Playing cricket on Sundays has been a practice ever since I was a teenager. The incident mentioned herein happened a couple of days after Christmas. The verbal ‘bouncers’, however, did nothing to hamper my concentration. I drove the next ball past a diving fieldsman at extra cover with surgical precision. Moving on, I was brave enough to stare the bowler right in the eye as he was making his way back to the bowling crease. The non-striker, too, had a wry smile on his face.
“Do you find it hard to smash the ball out of the park?” asked the bowler after the match was over.
“Not really. I just love driving it all along the carpet,” I replied after the match was over.
Well, 26-year-olds, such as myself are expected to smash the ball out of the park right from the word go. According to some, bludgeoning the ball is synonymous with masculinity.
It goes without saying that everybody, even mothers, expects boys to be masculine. According to many, you are not a man if you can’t run 2 kilometres at a stretch. Such is life, you see. As men, we are expected to be aggressive, fearless, belligerent, and reckless (to some extent). Men are expected to be stoic. Moreover, they are, for often than not, expected to remain in a silo. Many believe that men are born with a will to repress their emotions. Nobody expects a man to talk of his struggles.
On a largely personal note, I never opened up to anybody after being bullied at school. Back at school, I wore a turban and those wearing turbans were bullied regularly. However, I could never bring this to my parents’ knowledge. I couldn’t complain either, for I was always told that ‘men’ do not complain.
Well, that didn’t come as a surprise to me. Men aren’t expected to open up. There’s immense hostility to men having problems. As men, we are not supposed to cry out loud in the public. We can’t talk of it even whilst texting on WhatsApp. The very thought of typing it out makes me feel weak.
Furthermore, men, in all fairness, are expected to look good. Take this for an example: everybody expects a man to have a stout and sturdy physique. Men with flowing beards and rippling muscles happen to be the hottest of properties. However, a man in my position does not care for such intricacies. Well, that’s perhaps because I have other better things to do in life than to cry over my lean physique.
To be very honest, there’s a lot more to ‘masculinity’ than just recklessness, physical strength and aggression.
When I hear it, I am made to think of the various stereotypical scenarios that are often spoonfed to us by the media. Men with rippling muscles are everybody’s favourite. Those seen riding a Harley are called ‘hunks’. All of these are nothing but stereotypes.
Well, in case I haven’t made myself clear: I am not against the idea of masculinity, but I have come to dislike the stereotypes that end up barging into the narrative out of nowhere. Action movies are an integral part of my daily diet, but I also like light-hearted comedies. Sporting a beard isn’t a problem, but getting it shaved regularly isn’t a problem either.
Burning down and burying the age-old definition of ‘masculinity’ is a pressing concern. You’re a man even if you can’t lift dumbbells. You’re a man even if you aren’t a gyming freak. You’re a man even if you don’t have a million-dollar job. Your choices are your own, to say the least.