Gender equality and men?! Gender equality is about women, right? No. This time it is about men. But then what do men have to do with gender equality?
Through the eyes of a sensitive man, this world is a harsh reality. It is difficult to survive for them as our culture is built around masculine insensitivity. We live in a performative society where a man’s identity is something that he needs to generate.
Men don’t pursue manliness directly rather they pursue the duties designed by nature and while pursuing those duties as men they develop certain virtues which are “manly virtues”. But over the years, the society has formed stereotypes around genders where a man is always (always!) expected to project certain characteristics which prove him man enough, failing which his masculinity is questioned. There is a great deal of insensitivity and insecurity around masculinity.
Most of the world’s wealth and powerful positions and almost half of the population belongs to men, yet they are predominantly dependent on women for little things vital to one’s existence. Whereas at one hand we prepare our girls in every possible way to face the world, we don’t give enough thought to develop our boys. We cripple their few aspects to make them only financially sound. Our society is witnessing change in education and financial independence of girls, with the cumulative effort of parents, family, government and society at large, making them strong in every sphere of life. However, little has been thought about making men strong in all aspects of life. Most men remain dependent all their life on women, be it his mother, sister, wife for things as essential as cooking. Things are changing for sure where it is not a taboo for a man to be seen inside the kitchen yet there is a long way to go.
All the energies, resources and efforts for men are aimed at their financial wellbeing because being a man they have to run a house; but to run a house in entirety, a lot is required than just money. In the absence of a man, a woman can work, earn and run the house but the same does not hold true for a man if there is the absence of a woman in his life. He can surely work, earn but he finds himself incapable of managing the house, and if we talk about managing children, one can imagine the scenario. We have made women strong where they were lacking, should not we make men strong where they are lacking?
Another aspect where I feel men need equality is to allow them to remain in connection with their normal human sensitivity. Joe Ehrmann, coach and National Football League player says “The three most destructive words that every man receives when he’s a boy is when he’s told to ‘be a man’.”
Privileges are invisible. Being a woman the privilege I get, it is really difficult to gauge what a man or a boy goes through when he is asked not to feel vulnerable, not to feel insecure, not to feel sad, not to vent out crying. It is sad and it is brutal to any human being, being denied the feeling of feeling like a human. The process of disconnecting boys from their natural human feelings is criminal. Criminal, to abdicate half of his humanity from himself.
Babies start off their journey almost equally expressive and emotional regardless of their gender. The only difference, if any, is that baby boys are slightly more emotional and desirous of affection than baby girls. This is where parental and societal conditioning comes into picture and plays a spoilsport. Since early childhood boys are told to suppress all kinds of emotions except anger, for anger is masculine! So that is the only emotion they are allowed to remain in touch with. As early as 3 to 5 years of age, they start learning the essentials of the game, that it is not a good idea to express themselves.
‘Why are you crying like a girl?’ I have heard this ‘n’ number of times since my childhood being said to ‘n’ number of boys. Is crying only a girl’s business? Isn’t crying a normal human phenomenon like breathing, walking and thinking? One cries when feels sad, hurt or frustrated. That’s it. How come does it relate to girls? Why do we tell our boys that it is not normal for them to cry? We condition them right from their childhood to negate, to repress their emotions, then how come we expect them to understand a woman’s emotions when they grow up. Isn’t that a concern that every woman, every wife has? ‘These men don’t understand our emotions!’ Did it ring a bell?
To be a man, and not to sound feminine, they hide their sensitivity which does not mean that they feel less. Men hide a lot of their true feelings inside from the fear of being humiliated, for the fear of being shamed. Anytime a man tries to be remotely loving, caring or heartwarming, he is made fun of and teased by another man. This is how it works in our society.
Boys don’t need to be turned into males. They already are males. With aging into manhood, they eventually will acquire the virtues of a man which does not mean that they have to develop their masculinity by crushing their social and emotional functions. Denying them the access to their emotional side leads to serious consequences, what is clinically termed as toxic masculinity. The effects of toxic masculinity are both myriad and measurable. It’s more specific manifestation is seen as anger, violence and alcoholism, making it rightful and masculine for a man to vent out through anger and not accept that he is feeling weak emotionally and needs help getting through it. Anger has a negative approach whilst crying is healing, it’s high time we understood that.
Boys who feel deeply emotional do feel that they don’t fit in the cruel boy culture and have a really hard time growing up denying their true selves. They have to showcase certain society adjudged masculine attributes to be accepted. Sometimes they end up playing rough sports even though they don’t want to or simply act rough just to portray that they are men enough, not wanting to be humiliated, not wanting to be called names.
A man is asked to be strong, to be a man. But I think the real strength of a person is in being himself, acknowledging who one really is, ignoring what others think of it. It takes the strength of a warrior for a man to admit that there is an emotional crisis. For a man to be man enough, first of all, he has to be human enough for his own wellbeing.
While women tend to internalize pain, men externalize it and tend to act out, against themselves and against others too. It is a way of masking their emotional vulnerability. Their depression and frustration largely go unchecked, undiagnosed and often end up having problems in their relationships, their work and their health. For them revealing their pain is tantamount to failing as a man. They feel more accepted walking with unattended open wounds rather than having anyone tend to them.
At the end of the day, men are humans. They do feel sad, do feel nervous, do feel like crying. And why not?! They too have a connection with their nervous system!
This severing that we do to our little boys is a serious issue that we all should think about. The brutality that turns emotionally whole little boys into emotionally debilitated men, I have been witness to this in every phase of my life. And witness to this as well that when a man has tried to express his sadness, has cried, has expressed his weakness, has been put off by another man saying ‘you are reacting way too much, be man enough’. How sad is this, how terrible, how inhuman!
Why my teenager brother didn’t feel free to cry his heart out when our father passed away, why was he meekly sobbing? Was he lesser hurt than me? Didn’t the heaven break loose for him too the way it did for me? He was equally in pain like me if not more. But he was not supposed to set his pain free. The poor boy repressed the way he was expected to. Ahhh! Cruel society.
One more instance from my world I would share here that pertains to my husband which many of you might find relatable. At one point of time while he was going through a rough patch in his career, rather than sharing and discussing his problems which could have made it easier for him to cope with and in a better way, he found it easier to vent it out being agitated and angry over every little thing. Then it was for me to understand that his anger was not directly related to the situation, but just a way to ease down his emotional disturbances. We can bring a change in these behaviour patterns only if we make a mental shift.
The person ends up losing empathy, compassion, and kindness when he is asked to supress. For their violence, for their indifference, we tend to turn individualistic and blame them for their aggressive and insensitive nature. But then we need to think about the root cause. It is us who have taught them to be indifferent to emotions. It is us who have left them with anger as the only accessible emotion. It is us again who blame them for all the unjust behaviour they have for situations, for people in their lives and most importantly, themselves. I don’t think it is fair on our part as a family and as a society collectively. One needs to think why the prisons are filled predominantly by men and not women when this journey called life commenced for both of them from the same emotional phase.
“Be a strong boy” and “be strong like a boy” are two very different things and it is really important for all of us to understand the difference. I find my little boy way more expressive than my girl. He is one emotional little being whose little, soft, emotional, vulnerable side I ought to preserve, I ought to nurture, for him to be a strong individual. I take it as my responsibility that the strong connection that he has with his emotional world is not severed by the society and make sure that his expressiveness matures because he is growing into a teenager and an adult and not because he is turning into a boy, a man!
Men and their sensitivity need to be recognized, validated and celebrated. It is time we infuse masculine sensitivity in our culture and bring about a change in the upbringing of our children where duties and responsibilities are made equally important for all regardless of the gender.
I believe change starts from home. If we all do our little bit, we can form an equitable society, empowering both the genders rightfully. Men and women are made to work in unison, one cannot do well without the support and understanding of the other. So, let’s not typecast them in certain roles, let’s set them free from the stigma of being strong every damn time, let’s set them free to acknowledge what they really feel, to feel free to be what they want to be!