Patriarchy is toxic for men, too

IN PERSPECTIVE

 Express no emotions, be the strong and silent types, never depend on anyone, suffer in silence, and win at any cost. That cost is often their mental health. Photo/Pixabay

Ayushmann Khurrana’s soliloquy on what really makes a ‘gentleman’ and how our society is ill-equipped to respond to a man who is gentle, set me thinking about how patriarchy has squashed men as it has women. It has forced men to embrace the toxic masculinity stereotype. While patriarchy definitely eulogizes men and downgrades women and considers men superior to women, it forces men to fit in with preconceived notions, too.

Women are expected to be ideal wives and mothers, daughters-in-law and doormats that don’t let out a whimper despite the demands made on them. Women aren’t given equal opportunity at home, nor pay parity at work. Ironically, it is women who are the perpetrators of the myth of male superiority, even as they are its biggest victims.

We often forget that patriarchy is not very forgiving of men either. It expects them to fit into preconceived boxes. Though they are raised with a sense of entitlement and are labelled as the preferred gender, they too are slotted in fixed moulds early on in life and are expected to toe the line. They too have to live up to the toxic masculinity myth. Express no emotions, be the strong and silent types, never depend on anyone, suffer in silence, and win at any cost. That cost is often their mental health. So many men suffer from depression and anxiety and don’t even want to talk about it as they struggle to fit in with being macho. They are pulled in diametrically opposite directions when they have to choose between giving up their dreams to meet societal and familial expectations. A patriarchal mindset enslaves men to far-fetched ideals and exacting standards of how they ought to behave and act.

The masculine ideal is as exacting of men as it is denigrating of women. If women have to conform to ideals of beauty, men too are forced to fit into the macho image. If society expects women to be soft, feminine and mild, it encourages men to fit into stereotypes of being the strong, resilient and silent ones, sans emotions. If women are expected to put their career on the backburner and meet familial responsibilities, men are thought of as nothing but primary providers and breadwinners.

Men who show the instincts to care and nurture are ridiculed. Things are changing but most people still remain wedded to the ideas of traditional gender roles. The only legitimate emotional expression in a man is often anger, and in a woman, silent acceptance of her circumstances and calm even in the face of the biggest storms.

These gender stereotypes are thrust into our faces early in life. Gradually, they seep through the layers of our skin and embed themselves in our impressionable minds and malleable souls. We become clones of people in the generations before us. It starts when we dress our boys in blue and girls daintily in pink; when we give our daughters a Barbie to hold and tell her fairy tales that endorse the idea that she needs to be pretty and her life’s sole purpose is to wait for her Prince Charming. It stealthily creeps into our psyche when we give our sons cars and guns and overlook their rowdy behaviour and aggression with the done to death and rather blanket “boys will be boys” expression; and when an eyebrow is raised when our daughters and sisters are boisterous and all hell breaks loose at home if our sons are sensitive enough to express emotions or shed tears. They get crystallized when we praise our daughters for their beauty and our sons for their achievements.

Stereotypes perhaps came into being for us to slot people easily based on gender or race, because we can’t comprehend and are intimidated by anyone or anything that we can’t label or put in a box. But they are at their very root judgemental and burdensome. They dilute our individuality and compel us to subscribe to a set of preconceived notions and societal expectations. They are tied intricately with our complex social fabric’s need to maintain the status quo.

Of course, we have the odd rebels and the few thinking intellectuals who break barriers and defy societal stereotypes. When we stop judging an ‘alpha’ female or a woman who is a go-getter at work and stop praising men for pitching in at home or participating in parenting, is when we will truly overcome these traditional societal typecasts.

For people who mock feminism, it’s time to see it in a new light. It is based on a sense of balance, equal opportunities, and a healthy worldview.

It puts the individual before gender, people before labels, and demands equal opportunities immaterial of gender. Women’s liberation not only empowers women, it also liberates men from bearing the cross of traditional gender roles.

Unlike patriarchy, feminism posits that both men and women have equal rights. It is time for us to value individuals for who they really are and not slot them into the confines and boxes of gender stereotypes.

(The writer is a corporate professional)

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