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!
Since childhood ‘gendered’ roles have been established, starting from colours (pink associated with girls, blue with boys), toys(dolls for girls, guns and cars for boys) dresses, behavioural patterns and even choices in life. Everything has been gendered. These roles have been so deeply ingrained in our patterns of upbringing and have become so universal that they now exist very visibly, often hiding in plain sight.
Through the multiple waves of feminism, we’ve constantly tried to challenge Patriarchy i.e., the men’s world. But in this tussle, many of us forget that feminism as Bell Hooks said is to “end all kinds of oppression against each member of the society”.
Sexism, misogyny and toxic masculinity have stifled even men. They have to pretend to be a ‘MAN’ always- pretending to be strong even if they feel weak, to be confident even if they feel insecure and tough even if they are hurt. So in this so-called men’s world, ‘patriarchy alone triumphs’.
Our society tends to believe that male hormones always push men to be strong, chivalrous and violent. We all have come across the phrase, “Men will always be men”, but this egotistical attitude and sense of entitlement are pumped into the system by ‘toxic masculinity’, the genesis of which could be traced to age-old traditions where men had to fight bulls, run on fire or fight a male counterpart to get married.
Like women, even men do not have an option to step back from performing their assigned roles. If they try to deviate from their responsibilities, they are teased as being ‘girl-like’, ‘coward’ or ‘unfitting to be a man’.
There is constant pressure for them to be the breadwinner or karta-dharta (sole doer) of the family. This pressure suppresses their innermost dreams and aspirations. If anytime they fall short of the expectations of society, they are mocked for being effeminate. They are made fun of for being ‘dependent on a woman to survive.’
In this wrongdoing, the first thing parents ever do is snap out at their young boys while they nag or cry by telling them not to ‘cry like girls’. Next on, we never see boys playing with dolls because we assume that these are made only for girls, even punishments given to boys in school are harsher as they are considered to be ‘more naughty and mischievous’. And now we have started ‘glorifying’ men doing household work in the name of gender equality because we wrongly believe that these roles are only to be performed by women.
Patriarchy for years has given unreasonable power and a sense of entitlement to men in society. They reign over in the hierarchy and control major decisions. However, this machismo is unverifiable and men are often bullied by it. If we notice carefully, patriarchy is also restrictive to males as for any other gender or sex.
It is time that we redefine the qualities of being a man:
“By far the worst thing we do to males – by making them feel they have to be hard – is that we leave them with very fragile egos.”
“Mard ko kabhi dard nahi hota” (Men don’t feel pain), “Man up”, “male ego” are the ideas that stop us from acknowledging that crimes like rape and sexual assault can also happen with men. Movies like Udaan and Patrick Melrose have tried to throw light on this where men refrain from sharing their horrific experiences with anyone due to the fear of being made fun of and sometimes end up being more aggressive and violent and are more likely to take it out on their loved ones.
According to an NGO Hands Hope Foundation, of the 71% of men they surveyed who said they were abused, 84.9% said they had not told anyone about the abuse. The primary reasons for this were shame (55.6%), followed by confusion (50.9%), fear (43.5%) and guilt (28.7%). Statistically, more men die from suicide than women. Some have argued that the high rate of suicide for men could be traced to masculinity, which causes men to be less likely to seek help for emotional problems.
As much as men may benefit from patriarchal societies on the surface, it’s clear that the disadvantages have far outweighed the advantages.
In India, unfortunately, we have no exclusive laws pertaining to the protection of men. Khap panchayats are ready to end life in order to protect the ‘maryada’ (women) of the house. But society is quick enough to hide the atrocities being committed to men. They are considered strong enough to protect themselves and are never considered as the victims of any crime.
In my opinion, toxic masculinity has internalised the idea that men can’t be raped or harassed.
So in order to bring about a change, it is important to read, understand and analyse feminism as a concept in its entirety.
It is not just to bring equality rather it focuses on the idea of neutrality. We need to stop placing labels, definitions and define specific roles for one another. It is time to change the standards that men and young boys are held up to. It is time that we show them that being an “alpha male” is not something to aspire to, that being violent and destructive are not traits that we normalise, and that the display of emotions is both normal and encouraged. By doing this, we can restructure society and the way that society treats each and every person.
In the end, it’s not that everything we’ve learnt till now is toxic and that we have to stop being ourselves and men have to stop being men. But what we need is to create a balance and unlearn those negative scripts of traits that have been subconsciously passed on to us from generations to generations.