Gender roles and constructs are not restricted to just women when it comes to family. Toxic masculinity that is adherence to the made-up gender roles oppresses and exploits men in an internalised manner. Elder sisters in the family can be the agents of change and can help protect brothers from this toxic masculinity. The role of elder sisters in deconstructing the made-up societal notions can be of paramount importance.
The societal constructs continue to put both men and women into the boxes the society has constructed for them. Obviously the pink box for girls and the blue one for boys. These made-up norms affect both genders adversely. Patriarchy is assumed as a system exploiting women but it is often overlooked that men are equally the victims of this vicious concept.
We all have heard our parents tell our brothers "Boys don't cry" or "Stop crying like a girl". Boys are raised in a way that this notion of gendered emotions is embedded in their minds. Strong, masculine, brave, are words attributed to boys while soft, submissive, and disciplined are attributed to girls.
Men who show any trait attributed to women are ridiculed and made fun of. Elder sisters in patriarchal households can play a significant role in challenging toxic masculinity. In many instances, sisters have to perform the role of parents making the younger brother understand certain concepts that the parents should have. The notion of toxic masculinity is an unexplored arena for many men in an Indian household due to the conditioning and raising aspect.
Elder sisters can be instrumental in introducing these unexplored and important phenomena to the younger brothers. When parents tell the son "Boys don't cry" it somehow creates this idea in his mind that it's something that is not expected out of him and he shouldn't be doing it. Sisters can help break the stereotypes. They can initiate a healthy conversation letting the brother know that it's okay to express his feelings and let his emotions out. It's okay to cry and that won't make him any less of a man. Sister can help extirpate the romanticised narrative of the 'manly man' that men are expected to stand up to societal expectations.
Elder sisters or women of the family are the ones who are the primitive sufferers of the problematic social construct so they can help free the brothers from its clutches. They can familiarise the brothers with the gendered stereotypes to burst the bubble around them.
'Protectors, Providers and Producers'
The notion that men are the producers, protectors, and providers of the family burdens men with undesired expectations from a very early age. They grow up listening 'Who'll earn if you will not study? No one will marry you' It is reinforced that it's a woman’s duty to cook and care and if a man does the same he’s not “man enough”.
'Pink for girls, Blue for boys'
Society looks down upon men wearing makeup or even the colour pink. Younger boys tend to accept it as it is internalised in the family. Sisters can introduce the younger brother to the concept of feminism, choice, socialisation of genders, patriarchy, etc. from a younger age so that he doesn't fall prey to these notions. Brothers are mocked for wearing pink clothes sisters can help break the stereotype by wearing blue signifying that blue isn't for boys. Creative ways can be used to not let the toxic masculinity grab the younger brothers.
For social acceptance, they end up trying to match the normative standards of masculinity and try to be an 'ideal man'. It's very important to let them know that 'ideal man' is a constructed phenomenon and it really doesn't exist.
Elder sisters can contribute a lot to the conditioning of brothers in a different way than the parents want them to. They can help burst the myths around toxic masculinity. Sisters can be the support systems for brothers and can inculcate a valuable mindset. A better life can be garnered for them and elder sisters can be the guardian angels!
Picture credit: Sara Ali Khan. Use for representational purposes only. Views expressed by the author are their own
Suggested reading: How Are Men Victims Of Patriarchy?