Stereotypes about Masculinity Won’t Do Men Any Justice

Photography by Benoit Courti

Photography by Benoit Courti

The pressure media and society at large puts on being attractive is immense to begin with, but at least with women, these issues are now coming to light.

Voicing their feelings and the discrimination they go through, they’ve found support universally, or at least some comfort in knowing that they’re not alone.
But fat shaming, objectification and the uninformed opinions of the pseudo feminists who attack men purely on the basis of their gender are often overlooked. Twisted as it is, I’ve seen instances of men being shamed for having the courage to talk about the problems that they face.

We’ve been conditioned to associate masculinity with a certain body type, which is reinforced every day through the multitude of symbols and advertisements all around us. How many of us visualize a short, skinny, tousled haired, clean shaven person, when we think of manliness?  No, the image that has been ingrained in us is that of someone reminiscent of Khal Drogo from the Game of Thrones – tall, broad, bearded and with bulging muscles to complete the look.

While reading up about what people consider masculine, I turned to my beloved Oxford dictionary. And this is what I found :

Masculine – Having qualities or appearance traditionally associated with men: he is outstandingly handsome and robust, very masculine.

Masculinity – Possession of the qualities traditionally associated with men :handsome, muscled, and driven, he’s a prime example of masculinity.

Just how traditionally, shorter women were deemed more attractive because that made it easier for men to physically dominate them, men who were average or below average in height were widely viewed as unworthy of holding positions of authority in almost every social set up.

King Louis XIV, at 5’4″ was the first known aristocratic patron of heels, a step he took to add another four inches to his stature, widely believed to be a consequence of feeling inadequate because of his height. In the 1630s and 40s, women started wearing heels in an effort to masculinise themselves as it was the only definite way to get recognized for their talents. In 1920, however, the Great Male Renunciation completely changed the face of fashion. Heels for men were abandoned in the same movement and branded impractical and silly, features that somehow fit women to the T and thereafter became a social norm.

For men, displaying any outward signs of vulnerability is the easiest way to win a one way ticket to being branded a fag. Sensitiveness, emotional intelligence, empathy, and physical demonstrations of affection that do not culminate into sex at some point are all traits that have come to symbolize unmanliness. In a society where brashness and violence is labelled masculine, and the image reinforced through every available source, it’s no wonder that more and more men have a very damaged viewpoint as to what the appropriation of masculinity actually is.

It makes my blood boil at advertisements that have the potential to make a significant difference to the perception of society, but don’t do so, because the very stereotypes they work to break often raise other stereotypes. Take for example, a campaign to stop domestic abuse, recently made popular in my country. Called “Boys Don’t Cry,” it shows a series of boys and men at various stages in their lives where they are suppressed and shut down each time they tear up. When I watched it for the first time, I had goose bumps on my arms. I was sure that the last ten seconds would be groundbreaking, but there it was. The final scene featured a man twisting his wife’s arm, his face a mask of fury, and then walking out the door. Why? Because boys don’t cry. The very next day, I came across people who had decided that all men who abused women were victims of negative stereotypes, and therefore they deserved sympathy. All abusers were, in fact, men who had been taught not to cry, and had stunted emotional growth which meant that their actions were justified.

For people who still buy into the bullshit definitions of masculinity, it’s like killing two birds with one stone. Not only do they get to shame men who are not aggressive, dominating, and as unemotional as unyielding blocks of wood, they also get to hate on the entire LGBTQ community in the same go.

The crux of the issue, I believe, lies in the fact that although sex is biological, gender and gender roles are social. When a friend asked me if I disliked how people confirm to society, I told him I hate how society confirms to itself. We make rules and then spend the rest of our lives being ruled by them, and gender roles make up the biggest chunk of these norms.

How brilliant it is that we live in a world where real men don’t cry, are not artistic in the slightest bit, are aggressive and violent (and righty so), are athletic but only ever play football and other sports that require getting bruised, battered and scarred in some way, and more than anything else, are absolutely shatterproof emotionally.

Something as simple as two men holding hands raises eyebrows, but if two girls are spotted hugging or cuddling in public, it is cute, snapworthy and “Instagrammable,” with an hashtags that read awww and bff for added measure.

But for me, the most disturbing detail is how masculinity is associated with straight men, and homosexual or bisexual men, by definition of their sexual preference automatically are assumed to be effeminate. How charming, now that if a straight man hugs a male friend in an sudden rush of emotion, immediately going back to the farce of rigid coldness is the only acceptable reaction to this, sometimes with a well placed “no homo,” often followed by a Deep Throated chuckle.

Oops, no homo.

Tanvi Deshmukh is a nineteen year old girl from Pune, India, with an affinity for words and books, cats and coffee, Nepalese food and hippie music, and the colour green (along with Oxford commas). Currently pursuing her undergraduate degree in English, she loves poetry, volunteers at an NGO and plays the keyboard in her free time. Along with devouring books of all kinds, unless of course, she’s in the middle of heated discussions on feminism, patriarchy, gay rights, or what to name the neighbour’s new dog.

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