How to deal with death? This is a question that arises in minds of all of us. We all face the deaths of loved ones but haven’t really learnt how to cope with it. And so do I. Deaths make me anxious and fog my mind with the fear of impending doom. But that’s my personal reaction to it. Everyone has their own. However, is there sexism hidden in the way we deal with death? Unfortunately yes.
As I sit down to write this article, I can hear the cries of women lamenting the death of a man who is their husband, father or brother. The cries make me numb and bring tears of empathy to my eyes too. The person who died was a close friend of my family and our neighbour. He was sweet and filled in the space of grandfather for me. However, life wanted something else. The space for grandfather is empty again.
But while I see women crying, I also look at male relatives standing in the corner, silently. Or they are busy preparing for the funeral and its customs. I don’t see the son or the brother crying out loud about the death of their loved one. Are they not so sad about it as women are? Don’t they miss the man who left them behind? Or is there any other reason?
Sexism in dealing with death
This is not the first time that I witnessed a funeral. I was a part of the funeral of my own grandfather two years ago. Even then, I could only hear the cries of women and not men. The recurring cycle raised a big question in my mind- why don’t men express their sadness about the death of their loved ones openly?
Crying is one of the common ways of dealing with death. But gender stereotypes have deprived men of this right. According to gender stereotypes, men cannot cry. The famous dialogue of Amitabh Bacchan has kept men hooked- Mard ko dard nhi hota. But guess what- men do feel pain, remorse and sadness. They too want to cry out loud and be comforted by close ones. They too have the right to express their pain openly and freely without any judgment.
Men who cry are perceived as weak and irresponsible. When they express their emotions, they are shut out for behaving like a woman. Any sort of vulnerability is not accepted among men and is labelled as a feminine trait.
This burden of hiding emotions is the reason why men succumb to depression. When we see the suicide rate, 118 thousand men and 45 thousand women died by suicide in the year 2021. When they can’t express themselves, can’t cry or can’t seek help, the emotions bottle up and lead to fatal consequences.
Let’s talk about death. In our society, only men get to witness the ugly sight of a body getting burnt or buried. The sight is ugly because men see the body of their loved ones being burnt, body parts spilling like ash and some falling down which needs to be picked and put on the fire. Isn’t this heart-wrenching? Then imagine how men witness it every time they lose their loved ones. And why is it so? Because men are considered to be ‘strong-hearted’. But no matter how strong a person is, it is just not human to not melt at the sight of death or cremation. It is just that men are not allowed to express their emotions and so they just drink their tears and pretend unaffected.
But look into the hearts of men, you will find a person who needs support. A person who wants to cry for losing their close ones. I am not saying that it is weak for either men or women to cry. Crying is an expression and not a weakness. It is as normal as any other expression- smile, anger or more.
So let us normalise crying for men too. Let us put our hands on their shoulder and make them feel secure enough to express their emotions without any fear. If we don’t consider men and women as human, we can never bridge the gender gap. Let’s get rid of toxic masculinity so that men too understand women.
Views expressed are the author’s own.
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