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A patriarchal society run by toxic masculinity has taught us that men need to be ‘strong’ and ‘tough’. But don’t men have feelings that get hurt too?
In the movie Kabir Singh, Shahid Kapoor runs behind a house help to bash her in the opening scene because she has broken a glass. The audience jeers while I cringe in my seat. In another next flashback scene, he bashes his opponent’s team in a football match. The angry young man act has girls swooning in their seats.
And the lead actor then goes on to assert his territorial rights over a fresher in college whom he has taken liking to. He controls almost every action of hers, dictates which friends she must have how she must dress. In one scene he slaps her, hard, when the her father does not give consent for their marriage.
He goes on to become a raging alcoholic and drug-addict in order to ‘forget’ the girl. And we have the audiences eating out of his hand by the time he indulges in a purely physical relationship with another woman. All this because women are just sexual objects, anyway.
Finally all becomes well only after the girl in question agrees to marry the ‘hero.’ I walked out of the theatre hitting my head. When will this view of ‘manly’ behaviour change? This, my dear readers, is a classic portrayal of toxic masculinity.
Traditionally, whenever we see misogynistic or patriarchal behaviour, we justify it. ‘Boys will be boys’ or it is ‘normal guy behaviour,’ we say. Acts of bullying, aggression, harassment and violence are considered normal.
So what does this “toxic masculinity,” or “traditional masculinity ideology,” mean? Researchers have defined it, in part, as a set of behaviours and beliefs that include the suppression of emotions and masking distress, and maintaining an appearance of hardness. It also includes using violence as an indicator of power, you know, ‘tough guy’ behaviour?
Toxic masculinity also includes believing that men cannot be victims of abuse or if they are, talking about it is an act of shame. Men who like traditionally ‘girly’ things like romantic novels or books, and the ones who express their feelings are being silly or aren’t ‘manly enough.’
In other words, toxic masculinity is what can come of teaching boys that they can’t express emotion openly. It comes from them having to be tough all the time. And that anything other than toughness makes them feminine, or rather, weak.
Well, such patriarchal beliefs don’t just hurt women, they hurt men too! Such emotional repression leads to increased stress, depression and substance abuse in some cases. Men are more likely to attempt suicides than women, says one study.
Since childhood we teach our boys not to cry. We teach them if they are bullied, they must become strong and hit back. Nowhere are they told that it is okay to feel weak and pour your heart out. Worst part is that they are taught to hit back and aggression. Violence is considered part of normal ‘boy behaviour.’
Some statistics also reveal that most boys who were abused as kids, never open up about it till much later in their life. This is mostly because it is considered a sign of weakness. They may even be taught that had they been strong enough, they would’ve never been abused.
All of this ‘tough-guy’ act can lead to harmful effects such as violence- sexual assault and domestic violence, promiscuity. It could also lead to risky or socially irresponsible behaviour including substance abuse, and dysfunctional relationships. Stronger men seeking power over women and sexual promiscuity or the ‘playboy’ behaviour is considered normal.
Most men are never able to break out of this mould and talk about what could be hurting them or affecting their mental health. They might feel vulnerable and stressed but need to put up the self-reliant, ‘tough’ guy act all the time.
Let us recognise these misogynistic behaviours and work towards changing them for the coming generations. Let us tell our boys it is okay to cry. That they do not have to be strong all the time. They most definitely do not have to hit back. It is okay to feel vulnerable and weak – we all need a listening ear and a hug sometimes.
Change lies in not only empowering women but also educating our men.
Picture credits: Still from Bollywood movie Ae Dil Hai Mushkil
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