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!
It is no secret that patriarchy, as a system, tends to privilege men in countless ways, from guaranteeing economic, political and social freedoms to providing material benefits through traditions like dowry and generational wealth ownership.
However, even in the most progressive of circles, the harmful impacts of patriarchy on their beneficiaries seems to escape conversations, even among men who accuse feminism to be a “phallus-hating exercise.”
As a cisgender man belonging to one of the most patriarchal states of the country, who is trying to battle the confines of patriarchy himself, I find it my responsibility to share my thoughts and experiences.
Before we jump into the “how” of resisting patriarchy, it is important to understand the “why” of doing so. So, why should men fight patriarchy when it benefits them?
To begin with, because it is the right thing to do. Any system that leaves our fellow humans bereft of any right, which we might exercise almost unconsciously, must be fought tooth and nail. Our identical origins and a shared cosmic history deny any one of us the right to oppress others, and any system that enables this oppression must be dismantled. The fact that men profit from this system should not change anything, besides actually making us feel even more guilty of its existence.
Any oppressive system, including the one in question here, operates through assigning roles. It assigns the role of “the oppressed” to women and that of “the oppressor” to men. Then, it makes sure that these roles never change hands, through the use of force, social rules, customs, expectations and obligations that are almost written in stone. For instance, we have always heard the holy commandment: “Crying displays weakness, and therefore, men must not cry.” This rule exists to reiterate the same basic principle of the supremacy of the oppressor.
In essence, patriarchy does not just regulate how women must be treated. It also controls how men must behave. To men who wish to preserve the system because “it keeps them free,” I say: it really does not.
With the help of another rule: “Talking about our feelings displays vulnerability, and therefore, men must not talk about their feelings,” patriarchy ensures that oppressors prevent each other from breaking out of its chains. It guarantees that those who break this rule must immediately be put down to the oppressed’s level, through the use of phrases like “are you gay?”, “stop being a girl, man”, or, my absolute favourite, “are you on your periods, bro?”, phrases that comprise toxic masculinity today.
Now that we have a better understanding of how patriarchy functions, it isn’t going to be difficult to understand how to ignore it and live a life that’s more freeing than the one that we have been living until now.
For starters, do you remember the rules that patriarchy put in place to control its oppressors from the previous section? Well, break those rules, whenever you can.
Men must not cry? Break this rule!
Cry your hearts out. If you can’t do this in public, cry into your hands when you’re alone. That’s what I still do, at times. Just bawl your eyes and hearts out. Maybe you’ll wash your eyes clean before going out the first time, and the second time, and even the third time. But, soon, your resistance to this rule would force it to bend and let you display your sadness to the world.
Men must not display affection to their male friends? Break this rule!
Hug your brothers-in-arms the next time you see them. Use the phrase “I love you” as graciously as you can with them. I know this is easier said than done. All of us fear being ostracised more than anything else, of being labelled ‘weird’, especially when we are from families where our own fathers hardly showed any such affection towards us. But, telling your friends that their presence means something quite important to your existence is an inherently liberating feeling. Try it out.
Men must not discuss their feelings? You guessed it right, break this rule!
Although therapy in today’s world burns through our wallets, there are still pockets in which some form of therapy is affordable. And while it might take some time and effort to find someone you are comfortable talking to, the experience is deeply moving. Talk to them about your inhibitions, your fears, your insecurities, because no matter how convinced you are of being a more advanced gender, you are only human. If you can’t start therapy right now, be it for material or social reasons, explore the possibility of creating a support system from amongst your close friends or siblings, who might not need to know everything, but just help you through the worst of your days.
Men can’t wear pink? Oh, shut up. Break this rule!
Although my fashion sense is deeply questionable, at times, I’ve been told that pink suits me well, and I see so many men around me pulling it off. Even if you can’t rock it, is the colour of your clothing really symbolic of your worth? This rule is really more stupid than evil, and starting your resistance by breaking it would feel really comforting. Trust me.
While it is important to break these rules in our personal spaces, it is also important to broadcast the same for our fellow men, if you’re comfortable, of course. For most of us, these expectations are accepted involuntarily, so questioning them inside and outside our families only further weakens their legitimacy, making it easier for more men to break them.
Now, it is important to understand that there must be certain rules that are difficult to break right now and all by yourself. For example, the expectation for men to earn more than their partners. Or for men to be saviours of women. Rules like these require a much more collaborative approach, and for them, all you can do right is continue questioning them.
Identify more such unsaid rules, battle with their legitimacy internally and externally, and break them whenever you can afford to do so.