Patriarchy has deemed it necessary to divide humanity into two neat blocks; the feminine and the masculine. It is ordained that you must belong to one group or the other, playing by rules set out by this system.
This implies that women are closely policed for conforming to femininity, while men are policed for conforming to masculinity. For a man, masculinity is essential to his place in the world. However, as patriarchy grants men with privileges, we tend to ignore the harm it does to them. The omertà of silence around it only compounds the problem. “Mard ko dard nahin hota” isn’t just a cheesy cliche, it’s a credo for men and most believe in it wholeheartedly.
Masculinity is the model most men grow up with and it is natural they emulate it, mostly unquestioningly. Sexism is the practical manifestation of patriarchy. Men get better treatment, than women, in most spheres of life. Male domination, a consequence of sexism and patriarchy is accepted in our world as normal. These attitudes have been normalized over centuries of building up patriarchy.
Given this conditioning, it’s hardly surprising that, when men find themselves accused of sexism, they are taken unawares and most may consider it an unfair charge. After all, in the set-piece world they are used to, this is the way things are arranged. Granted that these structures have been around for centuries, but each man who plays his part, helps the patriarchy project along.
Let’s look at the unique characteristics of toxic masculinity and how it affects men.
1. Suppression of Emotions
No soon is a baby boy born and the grooming to be a macho male begins. Being a man means keeping a stiff upper lip, and not letting your emotions show. The reprimand of “boys don’t cry“ and “man up”, are repeatedly made to little boys, enforcing this socialization. The only legitimate emotion men are allowed to express is anger and aggression.
2. Men and Outdoors
Men are expected to step out of the home and go into the wide world to earn a living, to play sport, to be adventurous. Women are expected to stay home and do the nurturing and caregiving work.
3. The Provider
Men are expected to be the main (and in some cases, sole) providers in the family, to earn enough to keep the home fires burning. No wonder, men with working wives are ridiculed as “not wearing the pants!”. And the ultimate horror – a woman who earns more than her partner; the man is emasculated beyond repair.
4. Men are Strong
“Women are weak, men are strong.” Male domination would have us believe that the powerful and strong have precedence over the weak. As a consequence, not only do men dominate women, but also weaker, less powerful men, or men of lower class. In the Indian context, this means lower castes are beholden to higher castes. This thinking is justified by patriarchy.
5. Men are Violent
Masculinity implies strength and power, with violence or the threat of violence underpinning the power exerted by the dominant men. We think it is acceptable that men express almost all emotion and respond to any and every situation with a violent response, if not in actions then certainly in words. The outcries of “hang the rapist” or the calls to castrate men who commit sexual assault are only a reflection of the acceptance of violence as a means to solve all problems. Violence in personal relationships is often accepted and normalized. A recent court order stated that “minor incident of beatings on small issues can take place in any household” in a case in which a woman had committed suicide.
Sexism and its accompanying violence leads to women being beaten, murdered, raped inside their own homes, by people known to them, be it family or neighbours or co-workers. As NCRB data for 2015 shows, in over 95% cases of rape the offender is known to the victim.
Yet, much as it harms women, the double edged sword of patriarchy hurts men too. It may help men gain power over women but it also keeps men tied to roles they may not always like or be comfortable with.
6. Men are Sexually Aggressive
Masculinity demands of men the performance of more than violent gender roles; it demands that men be unemotional, and sexually aggressive. The violence we demand of men often spills over into every sphere, from the public to the private. The dominant male often carries this violence into the bedroom, into the realm of the sexual, the intimate, too. Sex and an aggressive performance of sexual desire are intrinsic to the macho man image. The stereotypical male is expected to be interested in sex almost at all times. For a lot of people, emotional and psychological intimacy are often part of the bond formation while having sex. Yet, patriarchy calls for the decoupling of emotion from sex as the norm, and present it to us as a basic male trait.
7. Fear of Emasculation
Masculinity is all about being the tough guy but at its heart lies a deep seated fear of the feminine. Any appearance of the traits seen as feminine, such as being emotionally expressive or vulnerable, and a man is termed “weak.” It follows that emasculation is the idea that regardless of what other “manly” pursuits he may indulge in, certain feminine acts will render a man “unmanly” or “girly.” The horror of appearing weak is well imprinted in our lexicon- “wimp”, “sissy”, “pansy” all refer to men not deemed manly enough. Our language itself is replete with the idea that emotional stability is linked to gender, whereas we know this is not true.
8. Stunted Relationships
Forced gender binaries also mean that men and women cannot have shared interests. How do you build partnerships and relationships with no shared passions?
9. Caste and Patriarchy
Being the result of a difference in power, male dominance normalizes violence not only against women but also against other weaker men. In India, this is how the caste system works. The “inferior” weaker men with no economic or social power are kept subservient to the upper, dominant castes. Patriarchy and caste are bosom buddies.
10. Patriarchy and Heteronormativity
It is no secret that all sex and romance in our culture is expected to be heteronormative. Macho men are supposed to fall in love with only girly women and a cis straight manhood is normalized. Once again the fear of emasculation leads to violence against queer men perpetrated by hetero men.
11. Imperialist Nationalism
Imperialist nationalism and militarism can be seen as an extension of this model of male domination on the world at large. When extended to relations between nation states, it has lead to war and military contests. In the age of nuclear weapons, the perils of such brinkmanship cannot be stressed enough.