“Tough it Out” — Fitting the Narrative of Manliness?

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Image Source: amp.theguardian.com


 Ahmed Mayeesha Reza Agomoni

“Meye na ki?” The caption reads, as a student posted a picture of a male faculty where the faculty was pointing his index finger towards the white board. The student doodled a circle over the faculty’s hand to emphasise that he had put on black nail-polish. There the faculty was, utilising his allocated time to the best of his abilities in making sure that his students understand the topics, while on the other hand, his masculinity was being questioned and made a mockery of in social media.

In essence, masculinity is the idea that a man has to be the opposite of a woman and certain actions are warranted to demonstrate these differences. We are living in a patriarchal society where women have been taught, conditioned, and encouraged to care about and for others, men in particular.

Starting from clothing brands to deodorant companies, corporations have been able to use the power of the media and have successfully tapped this image of how men are supposed to be in our society and convinced them to be uncomfortable by anything that does not fit the narrative of “perfect”. As per Connell’s Hegemonic Masculinity framework, a number of characteristics are encouraged in men: stoicism, toughness, risk-taking, violence, etc. Men compete on these criteria and receive plenty of socioeconomic praise or rewards within patriarchal systems. From early on in childhood, girls are associated with flowers, and pastel colours while the corresponding for boys have been swords, and grey colours. Men have been taught to suppress their emotions and to solve problems without taking help from others; God forbid, seeking help from the opposite sex since doing so would be equivalent to admitting defeat — a sign of weakness that is frowned upon by any male dominant society.

“Chelera kaade na” is the type of consoling a child would get after having been succumbed to any form of injury. Boys are told to tough it out, get rough, and worst of all, be a man with the implication being that men are tough and do not resort to whining when an inconvenience occurs. Children are impressionable because they have to observe people and their activities, in order to guide their own behavioural pattern. Instead of letting boys play games that centre around inflicting pain, we should help them find other ways to spend their energy. These games only serve to perpetuate the notion that tolerating pain is some essential male trait.

After years of toughening it out and subduing their own emotions, they might not feel accepted by the society. They might become so unaware of their sensitivity to the point where they are just combative all the time for no reason, because everything they do triggers their fear of not being enough and just ends up shutting people out. Publications showing off muscular and toned figures, advertisements that feature men being surrounded and liked by women if they look a certain way or use certain products, tap into the mentality of impressionable teens at an early age.

The stereotype of what it means to be a “man” affects each individual on a day-to-day basis. Starting from being glared at by people, hearing people laugh and talk about you when you walk past them, to your relatives putting you in the spotlight during meals or in the most awkward of situations, it shatters your confidence and then, it does not matter how good of a person you are. 

“Toxic Masculinity” is a narrow and repressive description of manhood. It is a knot of ideas and values that promote antisocial behaviour, violence, the denigration of women; and negatively impact men and society as a whole. This originated from the people who are gatekeeping the abstract idea of what it means to be a “man”.

Changing this male-dominated society is too far-fetched from now, but we have to keep on fighting this fight. But first, we have to start from our own homes. We have to let our sons, brothers, and fathers know that we are here for them. It is okay to break down; it is okay to express. They do not have to pretend to be strong just because they are the man of the house. They think twice before expressing their emotions, thinking it will be a slight on their courage or “masculinity” whenever they find themselves in a time of vulnerability and need to ask for help. Our task as a friend or family member is not only to help them become someone other than their toxic selves, but to encourage them to listen to their inner voices, to strengthen those voices — in short, to support them in becoming more authentically themselves. Let’s hope to work our way past the limited understanding of masculinity, and redefine masculinity by eradicating the idea that men have to be stoic in order to fit into the masculine mould.

Word of advice from Yours Truly:

You do you, boo. Heck if you want to paint your nails a plethora of colours, do it. If you want to be like Hozier, be him; if you want to be like Justin Baldoni, be him. Be like both of them; be like neither of them. Most importantly, be yourself and just be a good human being.


Agomoni has a bittersweet relationship with speaking Java and convincing her parents to watch soap operas and YouTube with her.


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