On September 7, after ISRO’s plan to soft land Chadrayan-2’s Vikram module on the moon didn’t go as planned, news about a disheartened ISRO chief being consoled by a teary-eyed prime minister started doing the rounds.
The video of the prime minister hugging ISRO chief K. Sivan was met with mixed reactions, which brings us to a very important question: why are we still not prepared to see our men cry?
— ANI (@ANI) September 7, 2019
A part of the section that did not appreciate this humanness wondered why two men in power would show emotion publicly.
It’s 2019, and it baffles me that we are still having to talk about whether it’s okay for men to cry and hug without fear of being ridiculed and shamed for the same.
When having a conversation about masculinity – and which of its manifestations society considers valid – we cannot not talk about R.W. Connell, a renowned Australian sociologist and professor emerita at the University of Sydney.
Connell is most well-known for giving us the gender order theory, which recognises different forms of masculinity. Of all the types she talks about, in the gender hierarchy, hegemonic masculinity is seen by our society as the only legitimate (hence the name) form of masculinity.
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Hegemonic masculinity includes everything that our society deems what a man should be like: dominant, heterosexual, having and showing physical strength and suppressing emotions at all times. Connell also spoke of ‘whiteness’ being a mark of hegemonic masculinity in the west.
If we were to look at this from the Indian context, then maybe we could equate it to being from the upper caste.
Now look around you, and identify instances when a man is lauded for exhibiting one or more of these traits of hegemonic masculinity. It happens all the time, doesn’t it?
Let us have a look at our movies, for example. Even today, films that cross the Rs 100 crore mark are, more than often, a vulgar display of this form of masculinity.
When Kabir Singh did well at the box office, feminists wondered why people didn’t find the toxicity jarring. I remember being surrounded by a group of male friends talking about how “entertaining” the film was while I and a girlfriend of mine stared at each other in plain horror.
People have normalised, in fact idealised, this form of masculinity to such an extent that anyone who does not conform to this is considered “not masculine enough.”
The prime minister, who so beautifully displayed his human side during this instance, has himself, at numerous other occasions, adhered to the same toxicity we are addressing here.
From talking about his 56-inch chest and constantly projecting himself as a one-man army to staying mum about the mob lynching of minorities and following abusive trolls on Twitter, the prime minister has displayed all facets of hegemonic masculinity himself in order to woo the voter; in effect, his entire political image is based on this dominant form of masculinity which is venerated by so many in the country.
The question here is, should masculinity be presented on a hierarchy where hegemonic masculinity ranks highest? Or should it be considered a spectrum, where other forms like subordinate and marginalised masculinity are preferred because they represent more positive aspects of masculinity, features that are more liberating and could do men a great deal of good.
Some of these include being able to show emotions, being okay with one’s sexuality, not equating physical aggression with power, etc.
When a society does not allow its men to openly exhibit all their emotions and only asks them to ‘man up’, it should not be shocked by the latter’s tendency to hurt others and themselves.
It should not act surprised by reports of violence by men, by their alcohol consumption and other forms of abuse, by the depression and suicide rates among men going up.
Think about the recent news of the suicide of V.G. Siddhartha, the owner of Cafe Coffee Day. The letter he left behind read, “I would like to say I gave it my all.”
Doesn’t that make you wonder, what stopped him and million other men who decided to take their lives, from crying out for help?
Is it because they knew that their cries would be met with further criticism and shaming, even emasculation? How open are we as a society to allow our men to be their vulnerable selves?
The video of September 7 and the reactions to it, has created a space for a very real conversation.
I really hope this time we, as a society, won’t shy away from it.
Riya Roy, a 24-year-old postgraduate in political science, leads a global team of writers for iuventum. She finds comfort in poetry.
Featured image credit: Pariplab Chakraborty