Updated: Nov 16
Image Credit: Deccan Herald
The gender norms seem to be tilted against the females. While visiting the issue has always been from the female perspective, and less has been preferred as a requirement for men as well. The struggle of women is against stereotypical notions and patriarchy, not against the ‘man’ as a human being. Gender equality is not about considering men as perpetrators or calling women victims. The man has been accused of all the misdemeanors against women. However, it is not only the females but also males who have been crushed under the prevalent stereotypes in the society. There is definitely an urgent need to ponder over such issues in order to achieve the desired equilibrium in the society. The article discusses the approach towards gender equality from a male’s perspective.
I came to this inference the day I attended the funeral of my neighbour who had a son aged 16 and a daughter of about 18 years. While both suffered a tremendous emotional setback due to the tragic accident, the people around in the face of consolation, said, “come on boy don’t cry, be a strong man, your shoulders will now have to bear all the responsibilities”. This is the irony, the reality of the society where not only the capability of the elder child (daughter) was ignored but also the young boy’s mind was burdened with societal and familial expectations, where he was forced to pretend to be strong (by not expressing his emotions) and be a ‘man’.
Men are often accused of being emotionless and insensitive. While social expectations for a man to be brave and emotionless give them the power and authority, it curbs the expression of the man. Men who express their emotions are often considered to be weak. Emotion is a human attribute, but men fear the repercussions of expressing such emotions and gradually adapt to this notion. Hence, these stereotypical norms often change the persona of the boy to that of a strict, rude and emotionless man. Society slowly transforms a male or female into a man or woman, into masculine or feminine, with certain qualities, roles and responsibilities, set behavioral patterns and other expectations.
“Oh! Come on, be a man!”
“Stop crying, men don’t cry.”
“You’re complaining, stop gossiping like girls!”
“Be a strong man, girls avoid emotionally weak boys”.
A survey by Plan International USA (1) says, more than one-third of boys think society expects them to be strong and tough, to “be a man,” and to “bear it up”. Right from childhood, such advice contributes to making an innocent, sensitive little boy, a socially constructed personality of a “man”. Boys are even hesitant to receive a loving hug, especially from their fathers, and are often reluctant to express their desires. They are often expected to stay strong, patient and adhere to the family responsibilities as soon as possible which gradually makes them jittery and jumpy in the longer run.
This persuades us to ask the larger questions- Why is a human attribute of expressing emotions only a woman’s prerogative? Why can’t we accept a strong independent woman and an emotionally weak man? Why do we even require gender attributes? Why can’t we allow a person to live and progress freely as he/she desires? Why is it even required to fear being judged while walking, talking, laughing, dressing, weeping and so on?
FAMILY- THE FIRST CONTRIBUTOR
Right from infancy to adulthood, the journey of a child is loaded with limitless expectations from the family. As soon as a boy is born, the first reaction says it all, “Congratulations! The family responsibilities found its successor”. While not considering the birth of a girl child worthy of a grand celebration account to the beginning of discrimination against her, the over-burdening of expectations from a little boy should also count as gender-based discrimination.
Even the toys do have a gender. Boys are made fun of if seen with so-called girls’ play items. Stereotypical norms are so embedded in our daily actions that we do not even realise, for instance young girls are appreciated (and even expected) for performing little household chores, but boys are not even allowed to explore the kitchen; The society still makes fun of boys in pink and girls riding bikes. And then, we expect those same boys to develop a gender-neutral approach when they grow up! We cannot deny that this approach from the beginning trains the boys to rule and dominate while the girls accept and compromise. Instead, why can’t we allow both of them to live in a free atmosphere where they grow up being themselves, behave how they want, choose as per their wish and do whatever they want without the fear of being judged.
Gender neutral parenting emerges as a possible solution to the above stated problem. Where the approach should be to support the child’s freedom of expression. Parents should encourage their children to explore the world, providing them with a variety of toys, clothing choices and other opportunities that are far away from the prevalent stereotyped expectations. Gender should not be a limiting factor on any child’s exploration.
Boys are ignorantly under constant pressure, once sixteen-seventeen, they are soon forced into a dilemma to choose between family responsibilities over passion.
“Focus towards earning, prepare for government jobs, you shall be the ultimate financial pillar of the family”. This stereotypical approach which recognises man as the primary earner of the family, not only questions the capability of the female partner but also lands the man under unnecessary excessive pressure; and the generational trauma hence continues. From a middle-class man’s perspective, it's extremely necessary to acquire help from the female member in this world of higher inflation to fulfil all the family needs, keeping aside the male “ego” and societal pressures. The Lower-class women have forever taken up paid labour.
HOUSEHUSBAND! WHY NOT?
As the old saying in India says, the vehicle of the family runs on the two wheels of both the husband and wife. It's unfair to burden either of them with extra load. Rather it would be better for to exercise the same share of responsibilities.
‘Oh, that shameless useless chap, who is always at home and survives on his wife’s income?’ This is what people generally associate with the men who are not the breadwinners of their families! It’s high time to normalise a “working” wife and a “househusband”. When it comes to men and women in middle management, stereotypes and cultural expectations about caregiving roles need to shift in order to allow both genders to thrive at work and home. For example, men may be hesitant to take parental leave due to the stigma of being penalised at work. Research (2) finds that about half of fathers think that men should take paternity leave, however, only 36% actually take all their permitted leave. It should rather be left on the discretion of the husband and wife to decide on their roles themselves and not the family elders or the society at large.
The research team headed by Karen Kramer, a sociologist at the University of Illinois, who authored the Journal report states that only about 22% of stay-at-home dads are primary caregivers with the majority being disabled, sick or unable to find employment. The stay-at-home dads are an average of 41-years-old and 36% of them are less educated than their wives. In comparison, 27% of stay-at-home moms are less educated than their husbands and on average their households have about $11,000 more income (3).
This makes it very clear that on one hand that how for a well-educated woman it is normalised to stay home for the sake of family (even if it’s against her will; because a women’s first priority should be her family) while a less educated man should be out for work even if he feels exhausted and can be accepted at home only in case of a grave emergency.
Image Credit: Deloitte
THE ISSUES AT WORKPLACE
For men or women as, one identifies oneself for equal opportunity in any type of work (one wants to do) is quite an easy ask; but somehow, has become quite complex. Rather unpicking everything, let’s go back to the basics. I feel three major things matter most- confidence, childcare and capability.
When it comes to confidence, somehow women have earned the label of lacking confidence and men, having too much of it. Looking at it from a biological point of view – research (4) states that females are genetically prone to be more careful and tend to be less risk-taking compared to men. Men, on average, have around 10% higher levels of testosterone compared to females which increase risk-taking and raise confidence levels. However, what matters most is the stark difference between the upbringing where boys are expected to be loud, clear and expressive while females to be soft and sober. The discrimination with female employees has already been adequately highlighted in the longer run, however what needs to be addressed is the unspoken problem of those less confident boys. These boys too are not acceptable in the society and are subjected to embarrassment in almost every field.
Women just don’t become mothers; the couple becomes parents. So how has parental leave become a woman’s ask? Only 180,000, according to Census data (4), which University of Maryland Sociologist Philip N. Cohen (5) calculates that only 0.8% of married couples where the stay-at-home father was out of the labour force for a year.
Thekla Morgenroth, a research fellow in Social and Organisational Psychology at the University of Exeter, UK, says that gender stereotypes have persisted, even though gender roles at work have changed substantially in the last few decades. “Women are no longer seen as less competent than men, but women continue to be seen as more communal – warm, nurturing and caring – than men and, in turn, as more suitable for roles that require these attributes such as childcare,” they explain. “Men, on the other hand, continue to be seen as more agentic: decisive, assertive, competitive.”
A key factor is that gender stereotypes are both descriptive and prescriptive; dividing the roles of both men and women, which in this case prioritises males’ work over family and vice-versa for females.
“Men who do take parental leave can therefore face backlash and be seen as weak, lacking work commitment and so on, which can result in consequences at work such as being demoted or not taken seriously,” they say. “Men are, of course, aware of these potential consequences and this could definitely contribute to them deciding against taking parental leave even if it's offered.” (6)
This builds the gap between the fathers and their children. The age-long running image of fathers being strict, emotionless continues and also contributes to the generation gap between the two in the longer run. However, fathers too yearn for even small moments with their children. Hence, it’s high time to call off the prevalent gender stereotypes and let the individual be as it wants.
The GQ magazine, the men’s magazine, shares that in 2019, their readers’ number one focus was to become more present fathers. Even YouTube shares that the majority of ‘parenting videos’ are viewed by men. So, if men want to be more present fathers so why has the parental leaves or flexible working are only our working moms request? On that note, why do we even use the term “working moms”, when there’s nothing like “working dads”?
Likewise, men at work are more capable than women (a myth again), which has contributed to a notion that depicts man as strong who does not require break.
This has also made a less ‘capable’ man, a ‘failed’ man not fit for the society. It is still known that a man who pays the bill is a gentleman. In a survey, it is found that 39% of women wish men to reject their offer to pay on their first date while 44% bother when men expect them to pay (7).
Misandry is that unnoticed problem which men seem to be facing today. Men's rights activists and other masculinist groups have regularly criticized few modern laws concerning divorce, domestic violence, circumcision and treatment of male rape victims as examples of institutional misandry.
Not only the workplace issues, even the family issues project a man as an incapable son, husband, father or son-in-law for his financial, emotional or mental circumstances.
THE DEGRADING HEALTH OF THE ‘STRONG’ MAN
All this has contributed to a silent crisis in men in the form of degrading mental health. Majorly occupational and employment issues; family issues and divorce; adverse childhood experiences; other life transitions, notably parenthood, alongwith inherited stubbornness are the reasons. Studies in psychiatric epidemiology consistently indicate that men experience a significantly higher incidence and prevalence of certain mental health outcomes than women. (8)
Indeed, recent North American research consistently indicates that men make up around 75% of suicide and 75% of substance use disorder (SUD) cases. (9)
Men have significantly higher rates of disruptive and impulse control disorders; also, they are less likely to acknowledge or report possible symptoms of mood disorders such as depression in comparison to women. As Nolen-Hoeksema and Girgus(10) have suggested, men tend to blunt the reporting of possible symptoms of mood disorders perhaps because such symptoms are inconsistent with dominant notions of masculinity.
Furthermore, some researchers have suggested that there is a distinct unrecognisable “male depressive syndrome” that somewhat correlates with the older notion of “masked depression.” This highlights that women often tend to “act in” when faced with psychosocial suffering, while men “act out”, which often involves consumption of higher levels of alcohol, drugs and increased anger and irritability. Men need to prioritise their health over anything and everything, be it their “ego” or societal pressure, etc. We must normalise that it's okay to need help and it's perfectly fine to ask for it. Asking for this help does not make or portray someone as weak or strong.
I began by stating that gender equality is not about considering men as perpetrators or calling women victims, it is rather about taking that extra step- to bridge the gap between the two and breaking the prevalent gender norms at the smallest individual level. Instead of drawing up their gender war battlefield and allowing men and women to retreat into their gender camps, we need to break the recurring conservations and move forward together as allies every time. It is not just women, but men also. Definitely the race to gender equality is a man’s fight (requirement) too!
By - Shreyshi Pandey
Shreyshi is a third-year student of the BA Programme Department of the Hindu College.