Asking a guy to ‘man up’ is nothing but perpetration of a very toxic, vicious form of masculinity. In the simplest terms, what it implies is that it is not becoming of men to express vulnerability or emotion. Are we giving enough attention to this undue pressure we build upon men? And are we recognising that this too, like all other skewed notions of gender, stems from the web of patriarchy?
An unrefined take on patriarchal oppression would give consideration only to the gendered maltreatment meted out to women. Of course, the brunt we bear of fitting into conventions and morals laid out for us by male-dominated societies is far higher than men can (or would like to) imagine. But this is more about just us.
While subjugating women, patriarchy also simultaneously uplifts men to such degrees that it then becomes impossible for them to ever climb down in breach of the agreement. For instance, our culture tells men they cannot cry. This characteristic is part of the alpha-male facade all men must incorporate to maintain status quo and keep up appearances of toughness.
One day, if the man does choose to shed this forceful imposition of inexpression and releases a few tears, he will be told to “man back up.” Men, do you think you are being cut a fair deal?
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Men love to sermonise women about the crimes against their brotherhood, whenever a case of gender-based violence comes to the fore and we raise our voices against it. Discounting the issue at hand, they take off on tangents of injustice they are made targets of.
But, as we all have seen enough times to know, that whataboutery lasts for just that period that the women’s issue is being spoken about. After which, it falls silent.
The conviction that drives an issue comes from speaking about it again and again, even in moments when the spotlight shifts away from it. Can we say the same about men’s issues that stand in self-defence only when women’s issues are under discussion? Why aren’t they spoken about persistently?
And why don’t we ever go beyond the ‘men get raped too’ discourse?
‘Man up’ is not a compliment but is thrown around at men liberally. In Dil Chahta Hai, Aamir Khan’s Akash tells Saif Ali Khan’s Samir to “be a man” – “mard ban” – in front of the latter’s dominating girlfriend. Along that same vein are other hypermasculine metaphors, popularised by Bollywood films, that boost male egos: “agar maa ka doodh piya hai toh…” or “haath mein choodiyan pehen le.”
Why do we view human emotions as weaknesses that emasculate a man who dares to indulge in them? We begin telling children when they are young that “boys don’t cry.” Meanwhile, girls are allowed – sometimes even encouraged – to be more expressive.
This was earlier seen as a crutch for women who grow up to be emotionally aware beings. But really, isn’t the freedom to emote a far superior position to be in than to suppress your feelings for the sake of preserving the constructed notion of masculinity?
And what does the ‘man up’ school of masculinity entail anyway, if not the often toxic behaviours we associate with male dominance? When he receives this encouragement, should a man use force to get what he wants? Or exercise his authority by ‘showing the woman her place’? Or harden up so much that he is hardly even human anymore?
Men, reconsider what patriarchy is doing to you. ‘Manning up’ is not a privilege you are being afforded but a serious drawback putting you in stereotypical boxes you will take centuries to escape. Ask women. We know what it feels like.
Views expressed are the author’s own.