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Patriarchy affects men too – and one of the ways is the territorial urge most men feel when they think they are being challenged in some way, and often get into a fight. Toxic masculinity.
There are so many shades of patriarchy. The overt ones have gained a lot of attention thanks to the recent spread of feminism. Though most forms just affect women, there are some subtle ones which affect men too. We need to talk about these if we are to bring some real change.
A few days ago when I was travelling by bus, there was a heated argument between two commuters, which quickly escalated and they came to blows. Now the bone of contention was that the person who was sitting claimed that he was pushed consciously by the man standing right in front of him. The latter obviously denied this, and cited that it was a crowded public transport bus, and he got jostled for space.
Both men looked like the average, generally bored, middle-aged office commuters. Yet a seemingly simple matter was enough to fuel an explosive fist fight.
This made me ponder. Why do men always come to blows more quickly than women? Is it something to do with male psychology or there are there some underlying socio-cultural aspects which motivate this? As far as my experience goes, if there would have been two women in a similar scenario, they might have argued over it, even quarrelled, but would not have engaged in a fist fight.
Man is a social animal and as such we are blessed with both compassion, as well as enabled with self-perseveration instincts. However in the fast-paced world, where we are perpetually stuck in a rat race, stress is the unwanted byproduct which somehow might have dulled our compassion. And with the lack of patience, we get irked easily and aggressive.
Survival is our basic primordial instinct and brute force has always been one of the ways to solve any problem. However, our social conditioning, culture, and rational selves have mellowed that urge to be violent. Even then why does one sex get more aggressive?
I remembered how in school the boys used to get into fights more. However, there was this one classmate of mine who always fought with boys. She had earned the tag of ‘tomboy’ for that. She was repeatedly scolded like the others in the fight, but in her case, she was also told that she was not ‘lady-like’ and she was compared to the other ‘good girls’ who did not fight and behaved courteously.
This belief, that ‘good girls’ don’t fight, and ‘only boys do’ is social conditioning. It’s an effective apparatus that developed for societies to function according to certain ‘rules’, which after a certain period of time makes one think that there is only a set of behaviour that is correct thereby rendering all other ways as incorrect – like in the above case. I am quite certain almost everyone has heard ‘oh boys always fight’ or that they are naughtier, which makes it okay for young boys to believe they can fight.
Indian films always have a hero who fights ten goons single-handedly to save the heroine. The heroine is forever the damsel in distress who needs to be saved. No, am not just talking of some black and white oldies but even in today’s movies the leading lady seldom comes across as fighting with the opponents. Though films like Wonder Woman or Mary Kom or Dangal have earned massive commercial success in India, they are either popular comic book characters or biopics on some ‘extraordinary’ women.
Yes, they are extraordinary and not the run of the mill ordinary girls who can fight. The ordinary Indian girls in every commercial movie can be smart and intelligent but in terms of physical prowess, she definitely waits for her ‘knight in shining armour’ to save her. There are some who argue that men are naturally physically sturdier, however, any form of physical acrobatics or sports are performed both by men as well as women thereby proving that concept baseless.
Not all men are adept at fighting like our heroes, yet the urge to come to blows is still rooted in them. The Angry Young Man phase of Bollywood where Amitabh Bachchan strutted around mouthing lines such as “mard ko dard nahi hota” literally eulogized this violence as something masculine and made men conceal their softer emotions, which were no longer considered a normal part of being human but just ‘feminine’ qualities. The men who cannot fight are thus often termed as ‘sissy’ or ‘effeminate’. This conditioning makes it imperative for men to be aggressive and fight, as it has almost become equivalent to manliness and virility.
There were some women who fought against other women but then their fighting were far removed from the actual fist fights of the male hero-villain duo and were instead termed as a ‘cat fight’. Everyone must have heard this term at least once, and it makes me wonder why at all they fought differently and why a special name had to be associated with it.
It is not just in films, but once we unfold the world of fairy tales, fantasies, fiction, or even folklore, this constructed notion of male aggressiveness becomes more apparent. The common sayings like “Men are from Mars and Women are from Venus” further exaggerate this notion.
In a world torn with anger and hate, it becomes the need of the hour to stop encouraging this seemingly innocuous concept of “boys will fight”, and teach children regardless of their gender that aggression and violence is not the only way of putting an end to our problems. Bridging the gender gap never meant just turning the tables around. The harmful toxic concept of violence masquerading as power has to be destroyed as being humans we should exercise our rational sensibilities to deal with our problems.
A version of this was first published here.
Header Image is a still from Singham 3
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