Written by Maninee Raj, an 18-year-old student
I grew up in a liberal environment where I could think, analyse and create. Growing up, I observed this preference in our society for male offspring. I saw the physical toll it took on women to bear for their family a male child. I saw this reflected everywhere, even at school. I always fought against this underlying sexism in school, thinking that women were the only ones bearing the brunt of this mindset of encouraging and celebrating traditional masculinity.
Till I was around 15, I had never heard of toxic masculinity. This was because the teenage boys around me were not resisting this culture of masculinity but promoting it. All around school, I saw this toxic practice as acceptable behaviour.
The story of Agastya
All this changed when I met Agastya, a fellow student at school, and now an LGBTQ+ and Dalit activist. Agastya was two classes senior to me, and he had recently come out of the closet. We had a couple of mutual friends, so we became acquainted. Although our conversations were mostly restricted to social issues, he told me about his conflict with his parents regarding their definition of masculinity.
Toxic masculinity is the assigning of excessive importance to certain male gender traits like dominance, hyper-competitiveness, dominance, aggression, and self-sufficiency. The males are socially expected to be ‘Alphas’, to be a MAN. Toxic masculinity is an extreme expression of manliness. It is as destructive as extreme definitions of femininity, and both are structures of patriarchy.
Agastya was “different”. He enjoyed wearing makeup and sarees. He loved dancing at annual functions instead of participating in races on sports day like other male teenagers. The way he talked, walked, and lived was against the acceptable idea of masculinity. He unintentionally opened a door in my life that made me become a better person. Soon my perspectives started to change and so did the way I viewed masculinity.
Phrases like ‘boys will be boys’, and ‘real men don’t cry’ are often used in our patriarchal society, former to justify actions and giving a free pass to the male gender, latter to equating display of emotions in men as weakness. Other phrases like ‘man up’ promote bullying and violence. The narrow and sexist concept of masculinity, as a whole is harmful to any society.
This ideology has a negative effect on mental and physical health. Toxic masculinity puts enormous societal pressure on boys and men to conform to a very narrow and rigid framework. Men are less likely to get treatment for mental health issues as they do not want to be perceived as weak. This stress on self-sufficiency is one of the major reasons why men do not reach out for help. Suicide is significantly higher among men than women in all age groups. Males who adhere to these norms also have body image problems, stress, substance abuse, poor social functioning, and sexual promiscuity.
Influencers like Siddharth Batra, Ned Fulmer, Eugene Lee Yang along with celebrities like Harry Styles, Timothee Chalamet, Frank Ocean, and many others are trying to change this rigid belief by bringing gender fluidity to clothing and makeup. Their popularity can bring change in the definition of masculinity. However, this change is not fast enough in India, though worldwide men are coming together to fight toxic masculinity. Media, especially social media is the key to change, living in such an era where the internet dictates our lives. More ‘unconventional’ portrayal of the male gender is required. Movies like ‘Kabir Singh’, which glorify toxic masculinity, should not be applauded by the audience, which unfortunately is what happened. This is the truth of our dysfunctional society.
According to the American Psychological Association, studies have shown that shorn off gender stereotypes and cultural expectations, the basic nature and behaviour of men and women shows very little difference.
I do not believe that wearing makeup or sarees or skirts makes Agastya less of a man. On the contrary, it shows his confidence in his masculinity. There is no one measure of masculinity so why are we trying to fit a beautiful concept into a box to make it measurable.
Masculinity is different for different people and that is what makes everyone unique.
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