It was a dark and chilly night, and his father’s body had come home wrapped in tricolor- he sobbed and grieved his dead role model. “Beta, why do you cry? You must wipe these tears! He would not like to see you like this, for it is you who is the chirag (lamp) of this family!”
“Come on now, be a man for your father, Ladke nahi rote.”
How many times have we seen this scenario repeat, in many a social situation? Where we see a young boy or a teenager told to bottle up his emotions, force all vulnerability into a small box, to be hidden away and never be shown to the outside world: in order to present himself as a “mard” or “male enough”. For a boy to cry or show any sort of emotions is considered unmanly, or a step towards his emasculation. A beautiful and hard-hitting video by Vogue Empower comes to mind in this light.
Through this video, we are reminded that progressive bottling up emotions and being forced to fit the popular idea of “mardaangi” can lead to problematic personality development.
What is enough? How do we decide what makes us fit or check all the boxes of the society-determined checklist of what makes a man or woman? Are we women enough? Or man enough? These are some questions we seek to explore through the lens of the masculinism and feminism debate.
Before diving into the question and concepts at hand, let’s have a look at what an idealogy means. Ideology refers to the influence of ideas on a person’s beliefs and actions. In order for any ideology to become the dominant idealogy, which refers to the set of cultural beliefs and practises which help maintain powerful social, economic and power relations.
Social constructionism leads to the development of certain ideas and notions which define what is appropriate behavior of a man (expression of which is termed his masculinity) and similarly for women (expression of which is termed her femininity).
Masculinities and femininities are both descriptive of gendered identities. They describe the socio-cultural categories in everyday language (not to be confused with the biological terms, they do not map to the biological sex). They are also plural and dynamic and subject to change in culture and amongst individuals in terms of their definition and how they are valued.
Cultural notions of what is feminine and what is masculine behavior are shaped by observations about what a man or a woman does, and “gender marking”. This kind of rigid boxing tends to then discourage women or men to enter “gender-inauthentic” roles or occupations even. A simple example being: searching the word nurse on Google will be filled with results of women in white dresses, feminine attributes: nursing is generally considered an effeminate task, which draws out the softer side of a person.
Femininities and masculinities are also learned. Messages about “feminine” and “masculine” behaviors are heavily embedded in advertising, media, news, educational materials, and so forth. These messages are everywhere: from the home to the workplace to public advertising spaces.
Thus it is important to explore how these concepts are established and reinforced, or in alternate cases, abolished with the help of media.
On the other hand, contrasting the “-ists” with the “-isms”: you might be wondering by now that what do the terms masculinism and feminism stand for?
Don’t worry, we will try to simplify it for you.
Masculinism, as defined in the Oxford dictionary: “Advocacy of the rights of men; adherence to or promotion of opinions, values, etc., regarded as typical of men; (more generally) anti-feminism, machismo.”
The gender studies scholar Julia Wood defines it as an ideology asserting that women and men should have different roles and rights owing to fundamental differences between them, and that men suffer from discrimination and “need to reclaim their rightful status as men”. Sociologists Arthur Brittan and Satoshi Ikeda describe masculinism as an ideology justifying male domination in society. Masculinism, according to Brittan, maintains that there is “a fundamental difference” between men and women and rejects feminist arguments that male-female relationships are political constructs.
Feminism, as a global idea, refers to the belief that men and women deserve equality in all opportunities, treatment, respect, and social rights. In general, feminists are people who try to acknowledge social inequality based on gender and stop it from continuing. Feminists point out that in most cultures throughout history men have received more opportunities than women. Feminism can be of various kinds: radical, socialist or cultural. Radical feminism believes sexism is so deeply rooted in society that the only cure is to eliminate the concept of gender completely. Socialist feminism calls for an end to capitalism through a socialist reformation of our economy. Basically, socialist feminism argues that capitalism strengthens and supports the sexist status quo because men are the ones who currently have power and money. Those men are more willing to share their power and money with other men, which means that women are continually given fewer opportunities and resources. This keeps women under the control of men. Cultural feminism is a movement that points out how modern society is hurt by encouraging masculine behavior, but society would benefit by encouraging feminine behavior instead.
Essentially, the notion of gendered identities also boils down to power relations, and how the ideas associated with it are exploited to gain the upper hand. For example, masculinity has always played a very important role in the act of nation building since time immemorial- we generally associate the man with warrior traits, the one to fight in wars and help win over territories.
Similarly a woman, who works and is unable to give time to her family or house, is criticized for not fulfilling her “basic” obligations or duties. She is not “woman-enough”, not an ideal to aspire to. Women are always portrayed in media as balancing the career as well as homely frontiers, and often we see housewives being critical of the lifestyles of working mothers or wives.
Masculinities, as discussed, can be of many types: hegemonic, subordinate, marginalized, metrosexual, and complicit. Similarly, femininities can be infantile, inversion type, deformed or androgynous. But more on that later! (Maybe the next blog post? Hang tight, dear reader, we are now moving on to the second part of debunking the media representations of these concepts and movements.)
Moving on to the more (dis)apparent forms we interact with these “taken-for-granted” assumptions about femininities and masculinities, and their manifestation in individuals, i.e. media representation!
We are going to take a closer look at a few cases: Cinema, and the popular most recent movement (spread virally in October 2017 as a hashtag on social media in an attempt to demonstrate the widespread prevalence of sexual assault and harassment, especially in the workplace) “#meToo”.
Cinema: a gendered outlook
Mass media has the potential of impacting the masses. Cinema is one such medium that pervades the class, social and economic boundaries, with people from all walks of life, having equal access to it.
Cinema reflects our society and thus, the images and perceptions it creates are reflected back into the society. Taking a closer look home, at the Bollywood industry:
An ambitious and well-educated girl is proposed by a 10th-grade pass guy who lives on his father’s money. She refuses his proposal and says no.
Following that, she is incessantly pursued, stalked wherever she goes, repeatedly proposed with the hope that she changes her no to a yes.
The above situation was the plot of a very popular Bollywood movie, Badrinath ki Dulhaniya.
From the feminism perspective, this plot is highly problematic. It normalizes acts like stalking since the protagonist or hero of the movie indulges in it and is able to flip the decision of his love interest from no to yes. This legitimizes stalking as a symbol which can be used to win over a girl and thus, might reinforce this idea in the minds of the younger generation who are in an impressionable age and often treat movie heros as their role models. They might associate such behavior with characteristics that make a girl fall for a guy. Another major problem here was the guy relentlessly pursuing the girl despite the girl rejecting the guy repeatedly, because apparently, “Ye Uska Style Hoinga Honthon Pe Na Dil Mein Haan Hoinga”.
A similar strain was observed in the movie “Raanjhana“. Safe to say, this is a trope in many of the Bollywood movies.
Shown below, a still from Raanjhana.
From the masculinism perspective, the protagonist who is a male is encouraged to be like a macho man, and get back his bride and hang her head on the entrance gate. The very idea of masculinity is associated with “How can a girl reject me? I need to seek revenge.” is dangerous as it can lead to psychological ramifications for the male. A male who is not able to control his wife or future wife is seen as one showing effeminate characteristics or emasculate.
It is not uncommon to see cases of these tropes being exercised in real by eager young men, with acid attacks, gang rapes of young women who dared reject these men, and equally horrific crimes of gore in news every other day. It is important for the average person who ingests these ideas to analyze them rationally, but it is difficult when they have constantly been fed ideals like “6 din ladki in”. This is problematic for the girls too, who should not be led to believe that the only purpose of her life is to be the damsel in distress awaiting her Prince Charming, to be rescued. These notions negatively impact individual growth and thinking.
A sketch made by Zoha depicting the wrath and unleashing of emotions during the #meToo movement.
“Me Too” started as an online outrage where women all over the world spoke against sexual harassment and assault. In this digital world, where online #hashtags have become a powerful means to spark a movement, unite people and raise awareness, this #MeToo movement brought many invisible problems out of hiding and made us realize the sheer magnitude of the dire situations women were facing. After some time, #MenToo shared their past personal experiences on sexual assault.
In a society where being sexually assaulted is so stigmatized, coming out and breaking the silence about these experiences through casting couches was a novel concept seen as part of Me Too.
This movement witnessed a lot of posts about the trauma of casting couch and job-promotions/opportunities asking sexual favors by the aspirant. [https://citizentruth.org/on-metoo-and-the-horrors-of-hollywoods-casting-couch-with-carrie-mitchum/]. A famous Bollywood actress reported about one such incident “He said I want the script to penetrate every inch of your body” [https://topyaps.com/bollywood-casting-couch-scandals/]. These scandals and experiences among famous personalities showed the world that sexual assault is prevalent even in the high strata of the society, so one cannot blame just the education and awareness levels. On one hand this movement empowered the women to open up and come forward with their stories of abuse, but on the other hand, there were also some cases of those who were falsely accused of being ostracized.
From a masculinism lens, the same movement can be viewed as follows: In many papers and articles, there were opinions describing how women are being oppressed and bullied by the patriarchal society, but very few of them talked through the vantage point of boys and men. It’s equally important to take into consideration the opinions of both sections of the society.
Various studies and surveys show that often men are expected to be the pillars of strength and courage and don’t let themselves be seen as weak. The society expects them to be strong and take care of the entire family on their own, whilst the truth is they also feel weak at times. This often leads to some men being emotionally shut down or dysphoric. They tell themselves that they have to be tough and tenacious, and hide their weaknesses and their emotions. There were also instances of false accusations of rape. In such cases, the boy is accused of falsely and often the parents end up dealing legally with it. Sometimes this can considerably affect the life of the boy, who suffers for a mistake he didn’t even commit. Workplace situations tend to be even more complex and delicate, with the whole career of the man in concern at stake.
In conclusion, masculinism and feminism are not mutually exclusive schools of thoughts or always need to be at loggerheads with each other. Over time both the perspectives have embraced fluidity and have taken to human rights discourse. Both stem from the common problem of people being expected to fulfill their gender roles. And thus, we believe over time, we can merge both these schools of thoughts.
We need to work towards building a society wherein each individual can choose which attributes they want to ascribe to, irrespective of the gender position they ascribe to.