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!
Manliness is akin to masculinity everywhere. How often have we heard parents telling their toddler sons, “don’t cry like a girl”? The factors that bring masculinity, however, are like Newton’s third law. In a critical society, one ends up blaming the reaction: manliness/masculinity itself, not the reasons that have contributed to this rise.
Society, including educated people, expects men to earn decently and be the only bread earner. Men are told jokingly by their girlfriends and fiancees that their incomes would be used to run the house, whereas hers would instead run the homes of H&M or MAC. Men are, moreover, expected also to be chauvinist! If you are not, then, “Is chivalry dead?” Opening doors and giving up your seats for women are signs of a good and ideal man.
Body idealization is another big indictment of masculinity, and it begins by impressing the opposite gender. For instance, I have seen random Q&A videos on YouTube where a girl nonchalantly explains how “her man” should look like Hrithik Roshan, dance like Shahid Kapoor and have a body like Salman Khan. Without insulting anybody, we need to ask if this what masculinity really is.
But, this is precisely how ideal men are portrayed in our society. Coming from an all-boys Jesuit institution, I have been privy to the excitement and high burst of testosterone levels right before the college fest. We all made sure we dressed well, spoke loudly, and combed our hair well to impress them.
This attitude is still prevalent where I live currently. In the most prominent dating festival for numerous Bengalis, which is Durga Puja, dates are earmarked. Two months before the pujas, men can be seen slogging it out in the gyms and fasting incessantly, religiously following that keto and GM diets only to give all that up and gorge on vanaspati-laden biryani once the pujas begin. In contrast, those faithful to their fitness regimes behave manly by wearing half sleeve t-shirts, screaming intensely, as they rack their brains and their arms only to get her attention.
Bench presses are done to beat personal best records; friends pretend to be squatters to show the lengths that we, as men, can travel.
Next up is the concept of love and sex, and the norm has been established to keep sex first and love last. Sex, these days, is no-frills, frankly speaking. I feel it’s merely bodily love to relieve stress. However, it’s the love part that is murky. By societal expectations, men are forced to earn handsomely to win their partner’s hand, even when the pair believes in equality between men and women. These expectations are portrayed as something their partners want to show off about, ignoring the entire mechanism that prevents them to actually become self-dependent.
The evolution of porn, thanks to cheap data and cheaper smartphones, has created a fog in the head, making it more about one’s ego in terms of performance, and I am sure men can relate to this scenario. The rise of cheesy and mushy heroes like Shahrukh Khan has wooed not only women but also their moms, with both wanting a man that knows how to love a woman, sans the stammering, of course.
A father-son relationship in masculinity is, however, personal and cannot be generalized. I know guys who have been taught from an early age to make their beds and help in the household chores. On the other hand, I know some who don’t even dry their undergarments because it’s not their jobs as breadwinners.
Therefore, let’s ask ourselves, what indeed is a man?
Is it just the outward picture that movies, friend circles and societies associate with us?
Is it not deeper?
Someone who complements and not flatters?
Someone who invests and not splurges?
Someone who loves and not just lusts?
As a man, we also have mood swings; we also need adulation and pampering; we cannot always “man up.”
So, when you hear someone saying, “Mard ko dard nahi hota” (Men don’t feel pain), please ask yourself, “Kyu? Kya mard insaan nahi hota?” (Why? Aren’t men humans as well?)
Bibliography: Using my personal experiences, I’ve tried to make my story interesting and funny, and I don’t seek to belittle anybody!