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!
Masculinity is a social construct, while gender is the social expression of masculinity, femininity and various queer and alternative genders, which is why chromosomes don’t determine the social construction of gender. Let me elaborate this a little for everyone to understand:
I addressed my younger sister as handsome the other day. What followed was a tide of facial expressions that listed only disappointment. I wasn’t much surprised because that is how our notions have been nurtured. Handsome boy and pretty girl.
Well, to begin with, when we read Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, at the grand ball, after Mr Darcy remarks to his friend Mr Bingley that there aren’t any good-looking women to dance with. We have the following conversation, “You are dancing with the only handsome girl in the room,” said Mr Darcy, looking at the eldest Miss Bennet.
Back then, handsome was just a word that would interchangeably be used for either a man or a woman, but with time its usage became limited to only complimenting men as being “striking”, “imposing”, another socially accepted norm for men because men are masculine, men should be imposing, well-built, tall, not timid but courageous, emotionally strong or can also be devoid of emotions completely.
Why? Men don’t cry. Well, that is the social construct. The traditional rules of masculinity dictate that we’ll take our men striking and imposing as a default.
Recent years have seen a revolution of the sorts with feminism and topics in and around it rampaging every newspaper headline, becoming campaigns for the political rallies, being discussed in every round table conference. But with such revolutions, we forget that gender stereotypes are inherently political.
Gender stereotypes such as the categorisation of men as masculine become self-fulfilling. If we expect certain behaviours, we may act in ways that, in fact, create and reinforce such behaviours. Let’s take it this way, for a man to be socially “acceptable”, they have to have a good job, be emotionally strong (even if they cry silently back home), be a perfect amalgamation of good looks (plus 10 if they have abs and muscles) and brain, and of course, a “secured” future.
This gives rise to false categorisation, unrealistic expectations. It might even lead to some major mental health issues for some when they try to “fit in”, and in that attempt, they often fall out. We already witness how little we talk about mental health issues and such topics especially raise an alarming concern when it comes to men.
Why? Because given society’s fabricated wisdom, men tend to show lesser emotions, thus, succumbing to their psychological problems.
The continuous research and more revelation of such topics show that gender is constantly in flux and under negotiation; therefore, inequalities are not fixed. They are there because they confer power to some groups over others, which is where masculinity also comes into the picture.