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!
We live in a capitalist world, and there’s no denying that. We can observe a distinctive divide between classes and gender in our daily lives: the structure is inherently competitive and patriarchal. When we are so focused on getting ‘more’, we build hierarchies so that we’re not on the bottom level, which can sometimes result in problematic behaviour. Toxic masculinity is one of those problems.
The deep-rooted capitalist culture that runs through our economy severely impacts our perspective on checkboxes we must attain to ‘move up the ladder.’ This mindset allows us to normalize toxic behaviour like shaming other men for not conforming to gender stereotypes.
As the global economy begins to face a large slowdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s important to understand how capitalism fuels toxic masculinity and how we can limit its manifestation during one of the most volatile times the system has witnessed.
On a global scale, toxic masculinity is used to generalize sexism and any form of male aggression. The term allows us to distinguish toxic traits like aggression and violence from healthy ones. It also allows us to recognize that masculinity itself is not the sole cause of male-incited violence. Toxic masculinity needs to be discussed because it is the root cause for a significant number of crimes globally including domestic violence, murder, and assault.
These crimes are more likely to be committed during a government-imposed lockdown when there is a restriction on movement outside our homes. So many are unable to escape, trapped with their abusers. The National Commission of Women has already announced that it has received double the number of domestic violence complaints during the first 25 days of the lockdown than previous periods. Toxic masculinity is real and can have a crippling impact on us, regardless of where we come from.
Capitalism’s focus on moving up a hierarchy can directly be linked to less empathetic behaviour and the development of gender biases. Looking at my own life, I was motivated to perform well in school and college so that I could be successful when I grow up. Success roughly translated to wealth i.e. the accumulation of “capital”. Through each milestone of my life, I’ve focused on achieving the most for my personal development. This is true for a lot of us. We cannot deny that a capitalist mindset makes us more selfish and goal-oriented; it’s not necessarily a bad thing but it can make us care less about others.
This mindset alters our perception of strengths and weaknesses, which in turn impacts the way we judge others and ourselves. A man who is ‘feminine’ is made fun of because he is different and unwanted in the ‘professional club.’ How often do a group of men in an office mock each other for speaking softly or feeling anxious? Personally, I spent a large amount of time ‘un-feminizing’ the way I laughed, walked, and spoke so that I could fit in and become “successful.”
In his book Healing from Hate, Michael Kimmel argues that men who were involved in violent political acts felt that “they had not received what they are entitled to, or what they had expected to gain through the virtue of being a man.”
Essentially, the belief that they had not received the ‘capital’ they were entitled to mean that they had to take extreme measures to obtain it. The goals given to us by capitalism are that we should accumulate the most amount of wealth. If I cannot achieve that, it is only a matter of time before I start believing that I’m not manly enough and I need to do “more” to take control of my life.
Sometimes, this ‘more’ can translate to healthy actions of discipline, but a lot of the times it can also manifest into the development of toxic traits like aggression, violence, or bullying. The ‘Bois Locker Room’ Instagram group is a clear example of young boys feeling like they need to do ‘more’ to prove their masculinity. This desire can take over our sense of judgment and normalize toxic behaviour in our minds. In this scenario, it allowed these boys to normalize the horrific crime of sharing photos of underage women.
We must identify and address potential toxic behaviour around us, even if they don’t seem extreme. The best way to deal with this is by having a conversation about those actions with a mental health professional. During this lockdown, being in some of the most stressful professional situations while working from home can result in toxic behaviour: being slightly rude to family members or feeling too entitled to help with household chores. While these actions may not seem as drastic as domestic violence or an obscene Instagram group, they are still toxic and must be addressed through conversations.
Given that capitalist society is inherently patriarchal, the burden of expectations can be extremely heavy on men and cause us to place unrealistic expectations upon ourselves. If capitalism tells me that I must accumulate as much as I can and patriarchy tells me that I’m the one who’s primarily responsible for it, it’s going to result in the development of significant insecurity and anxiety issues.
During a pandemic, when hiring has been frozen and salary raises have stopped, it’s crucial to remember that the global economy’s state does not reflect personal abilities, even if capitalism makes us feel smaller for not earning enough. However, it is important to acknowledge the privilege men receive in such a structure, regarding opportunities for employment and career growth.
Toxic masculinity manifests differently in different cultures. There is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ solution to identifying toxic traits within others and ourselves. Personally, I know that my motivation for succeeding in a capitalist world has made me develop biases that I need to be more aware of. Writing this article made me think about all the times I could have been complacent in the mockery of others who were not ‘masculine enough.’
It also reminded me of times when I engaged in conversations with my friends about objectifying women. Just because I was a victim of toxic masculinity doesn’t mean I don’t possess those traits myself. We need to start calling ourselves out to limit the manifestation of toxic masculinity. As we deal with one of the most stressful times in our capitalist society, it’s easy for us to feel a lack of ‘control’. It’s important for us to identify toxic behaviour that this time may bring by engaging in productive conversations so that we don’t engage in unproductive behaviour in search for that ‘control’.