Boys shouldn’t cry ever. Men should be strong and robust. A real man always keeps his wife in control. Real men don’t use condoms. Boys will be boys. Asli mard always has multiple girlfriends!
These are just some statements that we – irrespective of our gender – have heard multiple times through eternity. The gendered stereotypes, which these statements reinforce time and again, contribute to maintain the status quo – or in other words, keep the patriarchy alive and kicking.
In scholarly debates around gender and feminism, there are arguments galore on how patriarchy significantly affects men too, which make many wonder: Is that even possible? Can patriarchy ever affect men? Does the patriarchal system have a negative impact on men’s lives and emotions?
Making such a controversial statement without going into the nuances may trigger unwanted reactions; therefore, it is imperative that they are addressed.
I believe that one of the most critical elements of patriarchy is assertion of masculinity – or conforming to a masculine identity, socially. Masculinity involves fulfilling responsibilities and performing tasks which conform to the societal standards. In other words, masculinity is a role which men are supposed to play and conform to – else they risk being ridiculed, abused or bullied.
How a ‘Male’ is Called a ‘Male’
If I were to define patriarchy vis a vis masculinity, it would be: Patriarchy is a system where masculinity is first imbibed, then performed, eventually internalised – and finally institutionalised.
In the dominant societal setup, a male cannot be called a ‘male’ unless he fulfils his masculine responsibilities. As we are aware, often, men use masculinity as a tool to oppress women, inflict violence and portray it as a matter of pride – prominent examples being marital rape and domestic violence. Multiple studies have demonstrated that quite often, rape is a tool to assert power and prove one’s masculinity, rather than for sexual pleasure.
Though many men conform to masculinity without any inhibitions due to their internalised conditioning, several men – including me – choose not to do so.
Right since childhood, I have been subconsciously conditioned to do – or not do –certain things because I was a male. I had to constantly remind myself to perform my gender. And performing meant conforming to masculine ideals such as not crying, wearing dark coloured clothes, not wearing pink at any costs, not using a floral perfume as they were considered feminine – among many others. None of my behaviours and interests synced with masculine ideals – wearing pink coloured t-shirts, using women’s perfumes, buying and using skincare products, etc.
Why are some men opposed to masculinity? Or why I am opposed to it?
It can be different for different men, but in hindsight, I can say that being masculine never appealed to me. I wasn’t as well read and aware about gender as I am now, but the idea of asserting my thoughts and value system over others without respecting them just didn’t make sense.
Of ‘Masculine Duties’ and Depression
When I was doing my undergrad 7-8 years back, losing one’s virginity for a boy was considered a dream – an achievement which could raise one’s masculine credentials by several notches. Most conversations about girls involved fantasising having sex with some girl or the other – and if one did succeed in having sex with his girlfriend or a casual crush, he would be showered with praises: Bhai, you are a real mard. You belled the cat!
Today, the relationship between sex and masculinity has changed. Since the Indian youth is far more open about sex – thanks to the internet revolution – being ‘masculine’ is currently often about not using condoms while having sex and claiming expertise of the pull-out method.
But the pressure of conforming to masculinity can have negative impacts too.
Our society highly values the male breadwinner model where a man is supposed to work, earn and take care of the family, while women are supposed to cook and manage the household. Research has shown that this can have disastrous effects on men, who are unable to perform their ‘masculine duties’, pushing them to depression.
Austerity measures led to a rise in male suicides in the United Kingdom – according to a research study.
In India, of 91,528 male suicides in 2015, most were committed by daily wage earners (20,409) – followed by men in the farming sector (11,584) and self-employed persons (11,124). Furthermore, many men, who are biologically born as men, but their gender identities are different, are frequently harassed and bullied, as they don’t conform to masculine ideals.
However, non-assertion of masculinity isn’t always a choice – even if one is strongly opposed to it. I’ve been guilty of this myself – as I wrote in an earlier column on The Quint – about how I had ‘done gender’ by prioritising my orgasm over my girlfriend’s, while having sex.
From the lens of masculinity, it can be rephrased as how I unknowingly asserted my masculinity – or masculine right – in achieving an orgasm and not caring about hers.
(Devanik Saha is a MA Gender and Development student at the Institute of Development Studies, University of Sussex.)