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!
Sushant Singh Rajput’s death by suicide is a heart-rending piece of news and a telling instance that toxic social constructs of masculinity, under its performative pressure, can break a person apart. Depression is a worldwide phenomena afflicting more than 264 million people from all ages, genders and spectrum of identities. All of us are vulnerable to emotional breakdowns, but ‘being a man’ implies performance —where you pull up a façade to show that the world matters more than who you are.
We as a society are so deeply vested into the task of creating and sustaining the myth that maleness is equivalent to strength and endurance that spaces and means to express emotional vulnerability for boys or men of various age groups have shrunken into miniature holes with very little breathing spaces.
Talking about one’s emotions and feelings is perhaps feminine. But femininity is beautiful. If what was once traditionally masculine, such as being the breadwinner of a family or being a saviour of your loved ones, can become desirable enough to evolve into a collective aspiration, then ‘feminine’ modes of being need to be universalised just as much.
Men have inflicted this burden upon themselves and their same-gender peers for too long. This obsessive need to retain one’s ‘manhood’ (a concept not devoid of problematic notions and assumptions) and to act as a stoic, casual, chilled-out guy who does not get affected by things that happen to him is a culturally created normative aspiration that is killing the emotional instinct of boys right from the moment they enter school.
We need to de-stigmatise mental health disorders, and make therapy and counselling services more accessible, for sure. But we also need to de-stigmatise male emotional vulnerability. Males lack adequate psychological support-systems within their relationships and friendships because performing the role of a man demands suppression of your fears and inhibitions, and a denial of any prevailing feeling of sadness, trauma or despair in your psyche and being.
Manhood has been largely portrayed in popular culture and literature as a free state of being that is devoid of any kind of societal repression; but it comes at a grave psychological and emotional cost. We seek to remember the dead as martyrs who upheld the virtue of bravery until their last breath. Perhaps, the virtue itself is overrated? Perhaps, it would have been easier if one did not have to be a man at all times, at all costs? Or if the definition of ‘being a man’ was a little more flexible?
Perhaps, we need to normalise expressions of a broken, flawed and vulnerable self, and lift off the hegemonic embodiment of man as a stoic, perfect, unflinching human being from its pedestal of glory? ‘Being a man’ has been a trend for too long. We have forgotten to be human enough.