A day such as International Men’s Day makes us stop on our steps and give a deep thought to men. Women do need that extra bit of attention because all the world over, be it in developed or developing nations, they are the oppressed lot – in different but many ways. However, men are calling out too – their voices being doused by the stereotypes and mutilated by the rigid societal frameworks that have defined gender roles.
The theme for International Men’s Day 2019 – ‘Making a difference for men and boys’ made me think whether any difference is needed for men and boys, and if so how can we (men and women) contribute towards it. Some stereotypes definitely need to be revisited to be modified.
#Men are supposed to be strong
What does ‘strong’ mean exactly? Well, in the context of men, ‘strong’ means physically, emotionally, financially and socially strong. A man who is well-built, is able to steel his emotions, has good source of finances and has social contacts to get things done, is considered to be a manly man. By this definition, a man who is thin and frail or displays his emotions or is unemployed or is more of a social recluse, lacks what it takes to be a man. Are we expecting superheroes out of men?
Few years back, a boy of fourteen was walked into my Counselling room in the school where I was working. He was contemplating suicide and had shared with a teacher with whom he was a bit free. It took me two and half hours to talk him out of his plans, while I was all the while praying for God to intervene. When I spoke to his parents a couple of days later, the mother panicked while the father laughed it off saying, ‘is this how a man should behave? He is my son. He should roar like a lion, and not resort to all this depression-anxiety-suicide drama.’ The father refused to mend his ways (he was part of the problem) or acknowledge that his son needed help. He never turned up for the parental Counselling sessions that I called them for (in fact I got to know that he was waiting for the boy to pass out of school so that he could confront me 🙂 ). The boy was aware that he needed help. And so, apart from regular sittings with me, he used his pocket money to consult psychiatrists for medications which were needed for extreme trigger situations. It has been five years since! I received an elaborate letter from him last week only to say it has been five years that he is alive, that he is part of an accepting peer group, is doing well in college studies, has been off medications for a long time now and is no longer prone to depressive spells and panic attacks.
Would the boy have not been spared of all that he went through, had his father taken cognizance of his son’s need for help? A baby boy is not born strong. He is as tender and vulnerable as a baby girl is. If we stand by our boys and men during the times of their frailities, to lend them an understanding ear and a supportive shoulder, we can be agents of strength in their lives.
#Men don’t feel scared
Don’t toddler boys cling to their mothers when they perceive danger? Aren’t men supposed to be afraid of gun-weilding men or snakes or tigers or lions? They are humans after all! Just because they are men doesn’t mean that they are supposed to play with their lives. Men are portrayed as protectors and so have this attribute imposed on them. A man walking with a woman means, the woman is safe. Who says? So many rapes are committed while women are with men – either by killing off the man or by restraining him. And, the man ends up nursing a guilt all through life that he wasn’t able to help prevent the wrongdoing. Any person, man or woman would have such a guilt. But for men, the level of guilt is escalated by people just because they are ‘men’.
Men feel scared too. They need protection too.
A boy of seventeen rushed into my Counselling room one afternoon (while I was taking a session with another of his batchmates) saying that he had given it back to a bunch of bullies and they have threatened to ‘see him’ after school hours. He was very afraid to return home alone as those guys could go to any extreme to bash him up. I, then calmed him down and made certain arrangements for him to be accompanied home that day. The other boy with whom I was in the counselling session was observing all this. He said later, “Ma’am, is he a man? I really doubt it! He is as scared as a girl. How will he protect his girlfriend or wife in future? I know the guys he is talking about. I will talk to them. Tell him to go home without fear. But, also tell him to behave like a man and not be a sissy.”
Here was a macho boy-turning-to-be-a-man sitting before me who had been booked by the police for playing protector few days before by bashing up a guy who had looked at his girlfriend!! He had no regrets for what he had done. In his words, he was protecting his own dignity by protecting his girlfriend. And, he expected men to behave similarly without fear.
Men, it is alright if you are afraid of spiders, cockroaches and lizards. There’s nothing abnormal about it. You don’t have to be ashamed. It is alright to desire protection when you feel unsafe. Don’t be burdened by society’s pressure to play the protector all the time.
#Men better not express their emotions
This stereotype especially holds true for the sad emotions. Anger? It’s normal for men to be aggressive and angry – we hear. Happiness? A man can laugh out loud – no problem. But, the problem that society has is with the emotions that are considered grim. If a man is hurt, he better learn to be thick-skinned. If he is anxious, he better not wear his anxiety on his sleeves. If he is sad, he better not show his tears. Why not?
A young boy of eighteen in the final year of school had a broken relationship with a girl of his own class. Though he was crying out inside, he continued to portray his macho face for all. But, such emotions do need a vent and they often find one. So, what did this chap do? He spent hours at the gym till his body ached and his veins swelled up. He shared with me how angry and sad he was at the turn of events. But, he thought it best to take out his hurt and anger with gym equipments rather than on people around.
This is called ‘catharsis’ in psychological terms. Though it is considered to be a much-accepted way of giving a vent to one’s anger, sadness and frustration, it doesn’t help solve issues from the root. And when men internalize their emotions, they take to addictions – alcohol, smoking, sex, drugs, binge-eating or they go on a destructive spree or develop suicidal tendencies.
When God created humans to be emotional beings, he did not segregate certain emotions for men and certain others for women. Over centuries, stereotypes have crept into almost all civilizations of the world and have percolated down even to the present digital age. It’s time to encourage men to share their emotions and to seek help when needed.
Being learned men and women of this age, we need to let men be humans and not simply cage them under the brand ‘MEN’.