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!
Women are from Venus, Men are from Mars- the opposites, the yin and the yang balancing the world, constituting the natural order of things. Right? But ever stopped to ponder whether this “natural order of things” is all that natural, or is it yet another social construct?
Simone de Beauvoir, a well-known sociologist is known to have popularly said that “One is not born, but rather becomes a woman.” But the reality is that as a woman, man is also not born as one, rather he becomes one. Because, isn’t every man, atleast genetically, after all, half a woman?
A man inherits only half of his genes from his own gender, i.e. his father and the rest from the opposite gender, his mother. So it’s unnatural and paradoxical that when genetically and biologically a man’s traits should be ideally akin to his other gender, yet in our society, in reality, they are forced to be opposite to that of woman. Women are supposed to be characterized by nurturance, sensitivity, sweetness, supportiveness, gentleness, warmth, passivity, cooperativeness etc.
Masculinity is defined as constituting the opposite- strength, courage, independence, leadership, and assertiveness. We can only say that a boy is not born rather becomes a man against his natural and biological instincts, through a process of socialization and acculturation aimed at establishing agender inequitable and a patriarchal society. Now the bigger question that arises is- can anything that is against nature be healthy, even for men in the long run? This article is aimed at exploring along these lines- perils of the social construct of patriarchy for men in general.
There is no denying that patriarchy harms the females more as it is essentially a power construct that channelizes all opportunities and resources for men alone, ridden with violence that seeks its manifestations in crime against women- dowry deaths, rapes, sexual harassment, acid throwing, reproductive coercion, female infanticide, prenatal sex selection, obstetric violence etc. The list goes on. But this unnatural social construct does not even leave the men untouched.
First, patriarchy creates a psychological dissonance for men. In a traditional male-centric household, the young boys are used to having things their away. They are filled with this sense of entitlement borne out of their gender, laying greater claim to the education, nutrition, health, financial and decision-making opportunities. But this false sense of entitlement shatters the minute they cross the threshold of their houses into the real world where their entitlement is then determined by their calibre and talent and not just their gender.
This dissonance only breeds discontentment, anger, frustration and many a time even violence, against manifesting in forms of abuse against the women in their own household. And thus the vicious circle of violence continues.
Second, the gender-based division of labour is essentially unjust, but not just for the womenfolk. The women are no doubt relegated to the sole job of childbearing and household rearing responsibilities in many traditional households denied even the basic educational opportunities. But let us also empathize for a moment with all the sole male breadwinners in the family. How heavy must be the burden of ensuring a decent standard of living for every member of their family and not just two square meals a day?
How heavy must the burden be to break the curse of poverty for his children and the subsequent generation? A burden compounded by the social expectations no doubt, forcing so many fathers to take loans to wed off their daughters adequately in style, or farmers driven to suicide by their failure to provide for their family. It’s said that heavy is the head that bears the crown, and forced by patriarchy to become the sole earners in the family just proves that patriarchy is not offering a rosy life on a platter even to the men.
Finally, let us also understand the emotional burden of it all, where social notions of masculinity force the men into burying their fears, insecurities, pain, tears and close all vents of emotional release, because after all “mard ko dard nahi hota” (men are not supposed to feel pain).
There was this advertisement a while back attacking this very notion of ‘men don’t cry’ that struck the right cords. These wrong ideas propounded by patriarchy tag emotional men as weaker, even effeminate, and force them to suppress emotions only breaking them psychologically further. The lack of emotional release also has its spin-offs in terms of violence, aggression and frustration amongst men.
It’s sad that patriarchy steals the right from the men even to grieve at times because they have to be the pillar of strength always for the others around them.
So finally as a woman writing this piece, I am left wondering who patriarchy is ultimately beneficial for except a very few, privileged men? Isn’t gender equality a more natural order of things, beneficial to all? Through this article, all I seek is to implore all, irrespective of their gender to step away for a moment from the standpoint, and look upon neutrally at the way things are and the way things should be.
The concept of ‘purusha‘ vs prakriti, men versus women needs to be discarded and we all need to understand that men are victims of patriarchy also. Let’s seek instead harmony and synergy between the two genders as already conceptualized traditionally in our culture through ardhanarishwara and carve our way towards a more gender-equitable society which is the only sustainable solution to all problems.