As an Indian feminist, I am deeply concerned about the detrimental effect of the media on men and boys in our country. There is considerable talk in the mainstream and intellectual circles about the portrayal and impact of media on women, and while this discussion is welcome, there is negligible talk of its impact on men. Addressing a cultural issue, it is only fair to begin by quoting one of the most influential authorities on the subject:
“Culture is a perversion. It fetishizes objects, creates consumer mania, it preaches endless forms of false happiness, endless forms of false understanding… It invites people to diminish themselves and dehumanize themselves by behaving like machines” – Terence Mckenna, (1946 – 2000) Psychonaut, ethnobotanist, lecturer, and author
The idea of equality between the sexes is based on the fact that females and males are two sides of the same coin, wholly equal in capacity, yet different in capability. Women and men possess both female and male hormones and characteristics in different quantities. This synthesis of ‘feminine’ and ‘masculine’ traits forms the basis of new life. Gender balance is, therefore, the natural order of things – harmonious co-existence of the two energies.
Instead of the balance being maintained throughout history, the ‘masculine’ trait of physical strength, through subjugation, established dominance over the ‘feminine’. Over thousands of years, this led to an all-pervading culture-creation stretching across the entire gamut of human lives – from personal relationships and domestic life to language, clothing, body, sexuality, profession, work, religion, recreation, entertainment, politics, and so on. This process came to be identified as the creation of the patriarchy.
While it is common knowledge that women have been systematically oppressed over millennia due to patriarchy, it is imperative to understand its far-reaching implications on men. Here’s debunking the popular notions of the Alpha Male:
1. Boys Don’t Cry
The Alpha Male must have a heart of stone, own negligible to zero emotional intelligence, and not exhibit bodily responses to physical or emotional pain.
Because: Patriarchy dictates that emotion = feminine = weakness
The pressure on men to refrain from being expressive takes a serious toll on their physical and mental health. It is a known fact that suicide is one of the leading causes of men’s deaths in India. While a majority of these deaths can be attributed to financial pressures; family issues, drug abuse and love affairs are other important causes.
Vogue Empower came tantalizingly close to addressing this problem in the ‘Boys Don’t Cry’ video, but instead of emphasizing their need to be expressive; it turned around right in the end and put the blame on the boys.
2. Always in control
From his wife, to his kids, to his parents, and his workplace – the Alpha Male must always be in-charge.
Because: Patriarchy dictates that control = strength
Men are expected to establish their superiority in the private and public space by controlling and influencing those around them. This has two aspects:
- Controlling the “weaker” group – namely women
- Controlling the ‘opposition’ – other males
This line of thought pervades many spheres of life and is perhaps the most damaging. It shamelessly encourages men to exert power over women and teaches them to view other men as “competition”. This puts an undue pressure on men to stretch their physical and intellectual capabilities, subjecting them to immense and unnecessary stress.
The Alpha Male must be a modern day beast with an insatiable sexual appetite. He must salivate at the very thought of a woman.
Because: Patriarchy dictates that procreative ability = strength
According to this toxic culture, sexual appetite is supposed to be the ‘mark of a man’. A man’s worth is dictated by how many women he sleeps with and/or impregnates, in other words, his procreative ability.
Monogamy and polygamy are separate issues that men and women need to discuss before engaging in physical intimacy. It is also understandable for different individuals to possess different sexual drives.
Notwithstanding, our culture has systematically pressurised men to push towards sleeping with as many women as they possibly can. This is harmful for two reasons:
- Those without a maniacal sexual appetite are deemed to be “less of a man” (Patriarchy is clear that ‘less of a man’ = woman = insult)
- Men, by virtue of their sexual appetite and physical strength, have been made to believe that women owe them sex. This is the root cause of angry threats upon rejection, and in more severe cases, sexual crime.
The Alpha Male must be the provider, securing food, clothing and shelter for his family.
Because: Patriarchy dictates that money = control
Stemming from the control doctrine, this thought commands men to be the breadwinners of the family. They must step out of the home, look for suitable employment, and establish their dominance in the financial affairs of the household. By controlling the financial affairs, the man can effectively control his family (myth no. 2)
This places unreasonable pressure on men to put financial well-being above everything else. God forbid a man be unemployed or stay at home and raise kids!
Where men and women can create a more balanced society by sharing equal responsibility between housework and earning money, this strict division constricts mental and emotional development of both. Sexual division of labour is the single most important cause of social and financial oppression of women. It is no surprise that financial stress related suicide among men is a major cause for concern in India, farmer suicides being the case in point.
5. Hyper competitiveness
The very notion of Alpha Male in humans originates from the ideal of domination established through competition with other males. The Alpha Male must constantly validate his superiority by regularly competing with and ‘defeating’ other males.
Because: Patriarchy dictates that domination = control
While some amount of competitiveness, it can be argued, is necessary for self-improvement for all; the excess fuelled by patriarchy is largely detrimental. Men are pushed to constantly excel among their peers in a largely consumerist culture, measuring their worth by their salary, property, standard of living and other material possessions. They are essentially dehumanized to ‘who consumes better’ and therefore, provides better.
Patriarchy goes a step further and dehumanizes women to a commodity, thereby encouraging men to “posses” a number of ‘desirable’ women and compete amongst their peers while doing so.
6. The Macho Man
The Alpha Male must be strong, virile, and possess copious amounts of physical strength. He must fight unflinchingly for any cause and be prepared to maim and kill.
Because: Patriarchy dictates that man = physical strength = superior
Think about it: all spheres of life in the 21st century have been permeated by the notion that muscle power is the only power. It extends right from nations exhibiting their strength through their military and nuclear capabilities, while exerting territorial control, to sports such as boxing and weightlifting, to the everyday pressures to “man up” – be fearless and strong.
Men are taught to be the first line of defence and attack in times of crisis, and to be prepared to lay their lives. This brainwashing of men, reducing them to hunting and killing machines aims at eroding even their simplest levels of emotional aptitude.
Today it seems outrageous to think of emotional sensitivity and empathy as virtues. In fact, these have been portrayed as substantially inferior qualities to physical strength, thus forming the foundation of the patriarchy. This is perhaps its most far-reaching impact.
Patriarchy has effectively reduced men into mere conquer and control devices, by distorting the meaning of the Masculine; and glamorising physical, financial, and social subjugation of the feminine.
It is important to remember that both sexes are victims of this toxic culture. As stressed by others, male feminists are our most important ally. The informed and active participation of men is imperative in smashing the patriarchy and restoring gender balance for the peaceful coexistence of the sexes in all spheres of life across the world.
Featured Image Credit: Feministing.com