Combating stereotypes is a big struggle for most men today, who understand how damaging that can be to their well-being. It is very hard for them to keep away from toxic ideas about masculinity, especially since they are everywhere, from homes to movies and even playgrounds. But what about men who still live in denial that gender stereotyping is pushing them on a path of self-destruction? How do you put it across that toxic behaviour is nothing but their way of battling insecurities and proving that they are better than others. They may not want to listen to us, but perhaps they would listen to what Barack Obama, one of the most loved political figures in the world, has to say about combating stereotypes and why it is important.

SOME TAKEAWAYS

  • According to Barack Obama, much of the “violence and pain” communities suffer comes from men seeking respect.
  • Most of the stereotypical toxic behaviour among men surges from this desire to gain respect.
  • But why does an average man feel so insecure that he must try to prove his manhood so desperately?
  • This is because for decades now we have been revering a certain kind of masculinity.

It is very hard for men to keep away from toxic ideas about masculinity, since they are everywhere.

Speaking at a conference for his ‘My Brother’s Keeper’ initiative, Obama said, “The notion that somehow defining yourself as a man is dependent on, are you able to put somebody else down… able to dominate… that is an old view.” Obama also spoke about how racism plays a role in perpetuating toxic masculinity. “Racism historically in this society sends a message that you are ‘less than’. We feel we have to compensate by exaggerating stereotypical ways men are supposed to act. And that’s a trap.” He also said that much of the “violence and pain” communities suffer comes from men seeking respect, including through gun violence. “And that is a self-defeating model for being a man.”

Even outside the context of racism, the former US president’s statement makes sense. Most of the stereotypical toxic behaviour among men surges from this desire to gain respect. To gain respect from their peers, families, society and to prove that they are superior to others. It could be in the form of displaying wealth or physical power. Or taking unnecessary risks like driving without a helmet. But it also comes in the form of resorting to violence, out of the sheer urge to dominate. At the receiving end of their violence are people weaker than them, mostly women.

Often, insecurities regarding their position or capabilities prompt men to prove their manhood in the only other way they have been taught to – by force.

If a girl rejects your proposal, prove you are a man by taking her forcefully. If someone verbally demeans you, retaliate with physical assault. To establish your masculinity flaunt your assets and objectify women. For such men, world is simply divided into machos and losers. And if you aren’t the former, you automatically get boxed in the latter category. And what are superior men made of? Alpha display of strength and endurance. Real men do not cry. They do not take no for an answer. They know how to control their women and tribe. For generations now men have been conditioned to admire the alpha idea of manhood and to strive to be one, if they do not want to be seen as lesser men.

But pinning your existence to such stereotypical ideas comes at a heavy cost. Toxic male behaviour is eating away the gender inside out. They create a wall around themselves, hiding their fears and insecurities from everyone, instead of discussing them and seeking help. This isolation makes men lonely and we can see the result of that in the rising rate of mental health issues and suicide among men. Hostility may gain men respect of their peers, but as Obama says, it’s a trap for a lifetime of loneliness and confidence issues.

Picture Credit: ndtv.com

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Yamini Pustake Bhalerao is a writer with the SheThePeople team, in the Opinions section.  The views expressed are the author’s own.

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