Soft-Hearted and Clueless: Man in Pakistan?
I had to pause for a while before deciding to pen this down, as I imagined how a typical desi man would respond to the above statement, and whether the association of the two words with their identity would hurt the male ego. However, I find it crucial to highlight the side of gender stereotypes that has been neglected in academic environments and daily life practices. While one can argue that students are educated in this domain, there is a large difference between classroom study and commonly held beliefs. Given the patriarchal culture of Pakistan, a man dominates in all walks of life, be it social, political, or marital. If a man does not fit into the conventional image, he is not considered ‘manly’ anymore.
The recent trend on social media which propagated the idea that ‘Men can cry too’ was unfortunately only limited to the digital posters and campaigns. When you meet the same men in person, you would barely find someone crying out in front of a friend, partner, or a family member. The fear and shame that men carry to show their vulnerable side is real and damaging. The fact that a man could be soft-hearted and not aggressive, is viewed as an anomaly. The characteristic of men being soft-hearted is perceived to be derogatory as it would not let them adhere to the power dynamic that men ‘inherently’ possess. I wonder if men fear losing power and control if most of them started showing their softer sides. Or, is it the inferiority complex or the inability to adopt the trait that they consider human but lack the audacity to accept in front of others? Us women will never know.
Man, not allowed to freely express his emotions has an adverse impact on his mental health when he is stuck in a mid-life crisis, feeling clueless, without having any direction for the future. In the early years of adulthood, the amount of criticism man faces during the period of unemployment is underrated. The stereotype that a man ‘must’ land a job once done with graduation is not only persistent and pressurizing, but leads to constant breakdowns and suicidal episodes that we hardly witness. And this stage is not reached suddenly, it is a result of deeply felt emotions that are constantly accumulated inside and not communicated in the right manner. The financial pressure comes from the cultural norm that men need to lead the family, marry, and feed their wives one day, as well as support their old parents, and there is no room to do otherwise. Especially in love marriages, men do not only assume the fear of not meeting the job expectations of their own parents, but also the parents of the girl’s family where the criteria to marry the daughter is measured on financial stability. The fear of losing out from both sides takes a toll on his self-esteem where man perceives himself as a failure if he does not live up to the requirements. He goes under intense self-criticism for not achieving the goals that could earn him respect and happiness from his loved ones.
For men, feeling lost, confused, and clueless is not only critical in career but also in spatial intelligence. Since men must fit in the ‘know-it-all’ category, their whole identity is questioned if they sound perplexed with areas and directions, a state that has now become gender-specific. Men are not allowed a margin of mistake when it comes to giving directions, which in turn makes them feel ‘dumb’ and shakes their self-confidence. It is sad that these toxic perceptions are not challenged, but reinforced by almost everyone, including the well-informed youth and well-experienced elders.
It is high time that we turn our eyes on to the stereotypical framework created ‘for men by men’ where a man who does not belong to the dominant and powerful category, is blamed of losing his credibility for having characteristics that are only human but turn into a suffering for the rest of their lives. Even if it is men in minority, their voices need to be identified and heard. The voices that are lost and somewhat molded into the chaos where authoritative men who ‘run’ the society have occupied the public sphere. It is about these men that nobody wants to talk about, and hence, they too start acting like the majority to fit in. And it is essential to prevent the damage from happening further.
Amna Sheikh has completed her Bachelor’s in Social Sciences and Liberal Arts with a major focus in Psychology, from the Institute of Business Administration, Karachi. She does not only have an entrepreneurial spirit by running a few small-scale projects in her homeland but also writes reflectively on social issues to understand life from a deeper and holistic perspective. She actively engages in projects making mental health treatment accessible in Pakistan.