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Toxic Masculinity - Why we need to rethink what 'Being a Man" means

Often the first thing you hear when someone talks about feminism is, “ yeh tau aurton ke liye hai”, and “Mardon ka isse kya”

This is perhaps the biggest misconception regarding feminism,seeing it as something only applicable to women. Feminism encompasses all genders, classes and divisions. In doing so, it also targets an evil we may not even recognize - Toxic Masculinity.

Toxic Masculinity is a concept commonly used to describe certain cultural norms that are associated with men and masculinity and can cause harm to society and men themselves. Because of the common idea that “boys will be boys” and how deeply entrenched some of these norms have become, particularly in highly patriarchal societies, it has become increasingly difficult for most people to identify these toxic traits.

It’s no secret that Pakistani society has historically often been a male dominated one, which has of course led to a lot of male privilege. It has also created a culture that is harmful to both men and women and yet the negative impacts are covered up by the glitz and glamour that power brings. We’ve managed to create a culture that prides itself on the “mardangi” of its men, and their ability to make everything a matter of ‘izzat’ . There is culturally almost no recognition that some ideas about masculinity can in fact be harmful. Everything surrounding the idea is seen in a positive light. It’s not that Pakistan is being singled out in this regard. Many of the responses we see here are comparable to global reactions as well.

In early 2019, Gillette changed its tagline from “the best a man can get” to “the best men can be” and launched an advert that targeted commonly excused behaviours such as aggression, harassment and bullying in an effort to call on men to break these cycles and do better. Responses ranged from letting boys be boys, to the advert being called an attack on men. These responses perfectly described the kind of mindset Gillette was targeting, and it is a mindset Pakistan is victim too as well. As long as we keep defining masculinity by the same toxic traits, it’s unlikely we will find a reason to change.

Toxic masculinity is part of the system that forces these narrow gendered ideas onto us to the point where it takes away from our individuality. Men are pressured to hide their emotions and told not to be “sissies.” There is also a societal expectation of being ‘macho’, and kindness and the ability to be gentle are discouraged. Being discouraged from certain actions and emotions can lead to men repressing these feelings which then come out in other more negative ways such as aggression, anger and violence. Forcing men to adhere to such strict guidelines of masculinity that restrict their ability to be themselves can lead to much more serious consequences as well. Despite women suffering from more mental illnessess, the rate of suicide is actually higher among men.

It’s not just men that are affected by this. Their projection of these toxic ideals onto their relationships and the people surrounding them, especially their children, creates a cycle that gets progressively harder to break. Fathers in particular, are discouraged from being fully involved in raising their children because that role is assigned to mothers. Not only does this impact the relationship between father and child but can also have equally negative impacts on his relationship with his wife. The negative impacts of such a culture are also equally visible outside the home and immediate connections. Even in urban supposedly progressive areas, public places are unwelcoming towards women and catcalling, staring and harassment are far too common.

To say that the first step towards change is dissociating harmful behaviours with masculinity is far too simplistic. As a society, that change in mindset still feels pretty far. What is important at this stage is having open, honest conversations with young boys - and girls - and teaching them the difference between harmful and helpful behaviours. This is not a change women can bring about alone and men need to understand that removing themselves from this movement has adverse impacts on them as well.

Cover image - www.citr.ca/discorder/june-2018/wavaw/

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