Ayan Roy finds out what Toxic Masculinity is, how it is affecting the male community and if there is some change taking place in society
The toxicology report is back. It reveals that a majority of men, knowingly or unknowingly, are infected with the Toxic Masculinity virus and if it isn’t dealt with there could be a shortage of ‘real’ men soon. Many men reading this with their morning cuppa will instinctively stand up in protest against the targeting of all men for the actions of a few. But, dear sir, please understand and don’t confuse masculinity with Toxic Masculinity. For one can be masculine without having Toxic Masculinity.
Masculinity becomes infected and toxic only, and I repeat, only if one harbours exploitative, rigid and unhealthy ideas about gender roles. Psychiatrist Dr Kersi Chavda explains, “Toxic masculinity refers to a repressive, archaic set of ideas about the male gender role, that defines masculinity as exaggerated masculine traits like being violent, unemotional and somewhat detached, physically and sexually aggressive and so forth. Also suggests that men who act too emotional or maybe aren’t violent enough or don’t do all of the things that “real” men are supposed to do… are not real men.”
Masculinity is not toxic at its core, but these repressive ideas limit our understanding of what constitutes manliness and manhood.
…in the post-#MeToo phase
With the emergence of the #MeToo movement, a lot of focus is on how men should behave, talk, etc. But this has led to many people feeling that men as a community are being targeted. But is that the case?
Dr Chavda believes that the current trend is about focusing on all the negatives associated with the gender and blaming the entire community. He said, “There does seem to currently be an emphasis on all that is negative… so the public is bombarded with images and stories of men who are vicious, angry, cold, aggressive and negative… rather than a balanced viewpoint of their being warm and supportive, which is also not uncommon.”
More bashing needed?
Comedian and political satirist Cyrus Broacha, though holds another view. He doesn’t feel there is too much male bashing. He, in his imitable way, says, “Oh God, no I can’t stand males. Bash away, I say. As a pseudo feminist, (we side with women ’cause we fear them), I think there’s a lot of redressal coming through finally. However, call me old fashioned, but I’m a sucker for, innocent until proven guilty.”
Software consultant Murtuza Chhil echoes the same thought. He says, “I don’t think there is enough male bashing for all the crap we (as a male gender) have put the other genders through. I am happy that feminists across the genders are taking the “bull” by the horn. The positive I see is that male bashing is done not just by women. Culturally we are patriarchal and a religious society and there is a lot that needs to be undone.”
And this thought is what seems to have prompted Gillette’s new ad which expects men to be better and calls on them to hold themselves and other men to be more accountable and ensure that men bring to an end this culture of bullying, sexual harassment, and violence. The ad though has riled many over its generalised portrayal of men as bullies or sexual predators.
New age masculinity
Dr Chavda stands in the middle and explains both points of view. He explains, “The Gillette ad has its admirers and its detractors. It attempts to push “normally untalked about” issues to the surface, which include bullying, abuse and sexual harassment and have “good guys” stand up for what is right. A number of people believe this is extremely simplistic and that it pathologises the entire male gender. It certainly has shaken the established methods of advertising from the Old Spice/Marlboro caricatures of the “real man”— one has to see that there is a balanced viewpoint of the “new age masculinity” – rather than a total skewed swing to the other extreme.”
But is there a chance that this attention on ‘Toxic Masculinity’ is a victory for the #Metoo movement or will it hurt the movement? Asked his view on this, Cyrus strikes a serious note, saying, “Basic egalitarian views are beyond people from the sub-continent. We don’t have the DNA for it. We gave the world the ‘Caste System’. And although the world gave it back, we continue to thrive on prejudices and division. ‘Sexism’, is just one of a thousand.”
Murtuza, while concurring with Cyrus, is more hopeful. He says, “I think the #MeToo movement is in its infancy and not enough have been exposed (in India). In my opinion, curbing Toxic Masculinity should help the #MeToo movement by educating men to understand the equality between genders, speaking up against Toxic Masculinity when they see it, being emotional or crying. Basically being human without worrying about meaningless labels.”
Giving examples of ‘Toxic Masculinity’ that he has seen, Dr. Chavda says, “In private practice…have dealt with a number of men who believe that being a man gives them the right to be “obeyed “… and that “an occasional whack” is acceptable behaviour to uphold the honour and well being of the society they inhabit. Sexual aggression also seems acceptable… when one is married… one is “supposed” to be willing and available when the man desires.”
Change is blowing in the wind
He though adds, “But that trend is certainly changing. The new man allows his masculinity to be part gentleness and part firmness, more accepting of viewpoints and variations which are contrary to the ones that he holds, is not shy of expressing emotions, does not look at physical/sexual violence as a solution to any disagreement… and is dependable and protective without being overbearing.”
And as Murtuza suggests that future generations of men can fit into expected socially approved behaviour patterns “if your parents and school educate you properly because then it is just normal expected behaviour.” But still like he says, “many, though, would find it difficult or shameful to get over their cognitive dissonance.”
There is some change taking place though. In 2015, a survey in India by AC Nielsen found that 79% men thought household chores are a women’s job. In 2016, the number was down to 63% and, in 2018, it has come down to 52%. But despite this progress, more still needs to be done.
Cyrus, though, has the last word. He says, “Indian men walking into public functions, with the wife trailing ten feet behind. That’s just too toxic for me.” And so it is that we hope for a day when a couple can walk into events side by side as equals and the next tox reports come back with lower levels of venom.