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!
In media and popular culture, friendships between men have been reduced to simplistic narratives and tropes. While deep bonds are shown, these men are only shown to talk about limited things like their next adventure, a (mostly) heterosexual love interest, and banter. These friendships may be ‘ride-or-die but societal narratives often discourage men from talking about a host of issues with their friends.
This article is a mere attempt to tell my fellow men out there that it’s okay to seek guidance, support, or just a friendly ear from your friends on a topic that society considers “taboo” for men to discuss. A good friendship should be inclusive and supportive and allow men to speak about these topics with their friends.
Body image and dysmorphia are something that runs in everyone’s mind. Speaking about these insecurities about the “flaws” society dictates that your body has is something I have never seen men do. And they should.
Calling your friend “mota (fat)”, “Lakdi (stick)”, or a variety of “jokes” about different body types is not funny and has harmful long-term effects they won’t speak about to anyone. They will feel that they have no one to talk to. Instead, encourage your friends to talk about their insecurities, support them and be there for them in their journey to overcome them.
A majority of the conversations that I have heard about sex between men either in media or personally revolves around the physical act itself and crass objectification of their partner. Thankfully, I can happily say that the people who used to speak about these things with me are no longer my friends.
With my current close friends, I can easily talk about my bisexuality, my insecurities, and all the aspects that surround sex and sexuality. My friends find that they can do the same with me. It is very freeing to openly discuss something that society has tabooed to be discussed between men without patriarchal objectification and it is something I wish more men became comfortable discussing with their friends.
Bullying in school or ragging in colleges is something that has become almost normalized. An attitude of ‘seh lo, sab hi sehte hai (endure it, everyone does) has set in. Combine that with the stoic ‘men-don’t-cry’ ideals of toxic masculinity and you have a friend who is hiding a lot within themselves.
Instead of going the ‘seh lo’ route or trying to find ways to get back at the bully, also take time to ask your friend how they feel and how it affects them.
If we listen to toxic masculinity, what’s a perfect man? One who earns enough for his family, doesn’t show any emotion, and gets on with life. Patriarchal gender roles affect men too. The constant pressure of being what society says an “ideal man” is can be suffocating.
Be a shoulder for your friend to cry on and vice versa. Let each other know that you don’t have to be “perfect” and make sure your friend doesn’t fall victim to toxic masculinity.
There were 97,000 male suicide deaths in India in 2019 alone. Mental illness is a very real issue that Indian society completely ignores, and men are told to ‘be a man’. Male friends should encourage each other to open up when they are in need, to talk to each other about what’s on their minds, and to encourage and support your friends who are suffering from mental illness to seek professional help if they need it. Words of encouragement from a close friend go a long way in an Indian society where seeking help for mental illness is already looked down upon.
Society and culture in India tell men that a lot of sexist, misogynistic, racist, and hateful things are okay to talk and joke about. It tells men that ‘boys can be boys’ when it comes to intimate partners. If your friend group has these traits you should always address them and talk about them. No one is born perfect and societal narratives play a role, but urging your friends and yourself to take accountability, learn, and unlearn is a step in the right direction.
Friendship is one of the most beautiful aspects of human life and it should be holistic. Encouraging new ideas and emotions in your friend groups will only help you grow.