The Marlboro Man or the Clint Eastwood Cowboy of The Wild Wild West (1965), the macho idea of being red blooded, angry, refusing to take any nonsense or showing any emotion – theinfamous idea of ‘what a man should be’. While we think of it being‘stylish’ or ‘harmless’, it isn’t, because it trickles down to almost what we really think or say. For instance, the advertisement on air reflects the society and vice versa, and this messaging circles in a wheel. The advertisements exhibit the ideas like, ‘the best a man can get’, or asks a man to ‘be a man’, or portrays an example of ‘what a man should be’. Researchers have now said that toxic masculinity or the traditional idea of masculinity is suppressing or masking emotions, and pretending that they don’t while maintaining an appearance of toughness, or even using violence as the indicator of power.
The only understanding we have of masculinity in general in our country and perhaps in the world is ‘toxic’ by default. From the time of birth, young boys are taught to be men before they are taught to be a human. Gender norms in our country are so strict because of patriarchy that where girls are told to be tender, fragile, boys are trained to be strong, hyper masculine, to not shed tears or be emotional and to focus on goals like career and money since it’s the duty of a man to be a hunter one day. These gender norms are the reasons why any masculinity tends to be toxic.
We are fortunate enough to be living in a world where over the last ten to fifteen years the conversation about feminism has introduced a positive version of what gender can be for women. For young women, the idea of ‘feminism’ has given them a positive movement to be part of where they support each other. Whereas, there is no positive movement for men in our country to look up to or to feel a part of. That’s one of the reasons why I feel any masculinity ends up being ‘toxic’, because there is no positive version of it to be associated with. Men are being taught how to be ‘providers’ and has actually been programming them to be so. Men has still been playing the role of a gatherer or hunter in this modern society.
“When I was 18 or 19 years old, I just passed out of school and were about to go to college. My favourite subjects were psychology, political science and sociology. I wanted to go to St. Xavier’s College but my family didn’t let me study these subjects, because as per their logic a so called intelligent man can’t study ‘Arts’ and build a career out of it. Man has to study something stable like ‘medicine’ or ‘law’ or ‘business’. It was really unfortunate for me because I couldn’t study what I wanted to. I ended up choosing commerce and studying economics as I wanted the free time to be able to pursue the passion that I actually had love for, like writing and acting”, Shivam Patil, Actor, Mental Health Advocate, Socio Political Activist.
“That was the last time I let my family make decisions for me but it had already cost me big time. That’s when I realised how I have been programmed to be a certain prototype of a man, especially in a society that’s largely patriarchal”, he further said.
It’s not after school but a male child is taught to be ‘strong’ or pretend to be an epitome of patriarchy when he is merely five or six years old. Studies have shown that kids as young as six have body image issues because of how they have been conditioned to think regarding how a man’s body is supposed to be. A six-year old feels like his body is not good enough if it doesn’t fit in the so called stereotypical ‘body structure’. It’s more ingrained in the acting, modelling or the entertainment industry. The men in these professions are taught nothing more than to hit the gym, work out, have a sharp jawline, some facial hair etc. The traits that we associate with masculinityshould not be definitive of masculinity.
The problem with ‘patriarchy’ is that it values these male associated characteristics. That’s why we nickname our children as ‘beta’, even to girls, but we refrain from associating ‘beti’ with boys. Even though girls are allowed to work only in our tiny little sub-culture, but the labour workforce participation rate for women is 11% in Delhi. It has gone down from 35% in the 90s to about 25% today in the country.
I remember reading an interesting article about women’s fashion and how in the 80s the reason why those shoulder pads became popular was because women had transitioned from being Secretaries to being senior professionals in offices and as a result they felt the need to broaden themselves physically in order to match up to the men they were working with.
Workplaces can be fairly toxic for men because of the backslapping or what they call ‘locker room talk’ that happen to workplaces. “I came from an all boys’ school and used to play football. It was always based on testosterone fuelled aggression, being able to play the sport harder or be stronger on the field”, Andre Borges, Journalist, and Content Writer said.
In terms of Bollywood and the way this industry has evolved for generations, it has always been represented through a male character and a male icon story. In the 70s and 80s we had the idea of an ‘angry young man’ which was played by the legend, Amitabh Bachchan onscreen and in the 90s and later we had Salman Khan maintaining the legacy. Dil Chahta Hai (2001)is one of the films which talked about toxic masculinity with Akash’s character and with Amir Khan portraying it onscreen.Patal Lok (2020),Mirzapur (2018) and all our best shows on the OTT platforms are about aggression, crime and ‘men being men’. In fact, the role models for all boys are hyper masculine. Virat Kohli on the field is super aggressive and people go gaga over that attitude because of the age old perception of what ‘masculinity’ is. How can one acknowledge the problemuntil one understands it; it isn’t merely a toxic masculine problem, but overall a very severe lack of understanding of masculinity as a whole and what gender spectrum actually is.
In India, we have a horribly missing void of artistic responsibility; we have artists who don’t take responsibility for the messages that they are putting out through their contents, especially actors, and on the other hand, we have an audience that doesn’t hold these artists accountable for the work they do. When this toxic masculinity reaches positions of power or influence it creates chaos in the entire system.