O P I N I O N – MEN’S DAY SPECIAL
Certain individuals in our society are forced to choose between personal identity and family. They are victims of truly tragic circumstances: being confronted with the ultimatum of whether or not to sacrifice self-expression in favour of maintaining ties with their own families and communities. The only paths offered to them are either surrendering their individuality or facing perpetual social prejudice.
With TDA’s International Men’s Day campaign in motion, issues such as the repeated marginalisation of certain groups of men in Bangladesh are brought under the limelight. For decades, our society has embraced patriarchal ideas and practices. Ironically, this has taken a toll on the mental state of men themselves. Boys are moulded from a young age in accordance with preconceived notions of what a “man” should be. They are taught to be mentally impenetrable and expected to show no signs of weakness. As such, they grow up learning to prioritise strength, dominance, and stoicism above all else. This, however, is often extremely detrimental to the mental health of not only the men who take on these ideals, but everyone around them.
Currently in Bangladesh, our society has established gender roles that dictate not only a man’s career-paths and conduct, but also their very identity, from the clothes they wear to the things they say. They attempt to police men’s gender and sexual orientation, thus depriving them of embracing any individuality in that regard. This leads to the prevalence of heteronormativity and cisnormativity, and the exclusion of anyone not fitting that stereotype. As such, any who dare stray from the only “natural” path are ostracised.
Common among these groups of “deviants” in our country are gay and trans men. The marginalisation of these men can be traced all the way back to the time of the British Raj, when the introduction of Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code criminalised all non-hetero sexualities, in an effort to erase the Hijra communities of our subcontinent. Even though this section was struck down in India in 2018, its effects are still very much palpable in Bangladesh; Section 377 is sill upheld in Bangladesh today, although it is used to criminalise homosexuality rather than target Hijra people. Over time, the Hijra communities lost their revered status in our culture and the term “Hijra” devolved into a derogatory umbrella term for any gender-diverse, non-hetero boy or man. This also played a part in cementing the senseless trend of condemning femininity in men, which subsequently led to the marginalisation of not only the aforementioned communities, but all “unmanly” men.
Effeminate men are frequently subjects of mockery and scorn. For the “crime” of appearing feminine, these boys and men are ridiculed mercilessly by their peers and, in some cases, even berated by their parents for not appearing masculine or being unable to defend themselves against these attacks. They are taunted with derogatory terms, such as half-ladies, gay, and hijra — reinforcing how ingrained this total aversion towards femininity in men is in our communities. Any man who does not fit convention is often ousted by his community, and even abandoned by his family.
Despite this, even cis, hetero men who willingly follow society’s directives are not safe from the accompanying psychological turmoil. Gender norms demand men to be the providers and protectors of their families. This role permits them neither the chance to attend to their mental health needs, nor the time to connect emotionally with their loved ones, essentially depriving them of a life outside of their work.
Our country greatly disregards the importance of fathers spending time with their families, evidenced by the complete absence of paternity leaves offered here. In stark contrast, even neighbouring countries such as India and Myanmar offer fathers at least 15 days of paid leave from their jobs. This shows how deeply rooted gender roles are in Bangladesh — encouraging a mindless drive to work endlessly, and fuelling the stigma around men who do not earn, or more specifically, stay-at-home dads. As this type of father is the antithesis of society’s view of the “ideal man”, prioritising familial relationships more than work, they are treated with disdain in our communities.
Through conservative thinking and apathy, we’ve allowed toxic masculinity to pervade Bangladesh and police people’s lives. The only course of action to take now would be to unlearn these mindsets and encourage acceptance, regardless of gender, sexuality or socio-cultural background. Abolishment of instilled traditional norms is the only way we can help our fellow men, who, for generations, have been neglected by society.
The writer is a part of TDA Editorial Team.