This International Men’s Day, let us dig deep into the social construct of toxic masculinity, and how women, knowingly or unknowingly, contribute to it.

Masculinity, as a concept and a reality, has evolved into much more than what it used to be years ago. Scholars have drawn attention to the fact that ideas of masculinity are tied less to the body and more to socio-cultural ideologies and practices. Masculinity, as an ideal, is not naturally given, but is a social construct with different parameters of fulfilment. To be born a boy is considered a privilege, but one that can be lost if one is not properly initiated into masculine practices. Besides, male adults must maintain this privilege through regular performance.

Emphasising on the privilege given to men, it is a position of power, and we often consider this position viable when there is a clear depiction of that power. This power expects men to be dominating, aggressive in bed and beyond it, and violent. History is witness that the supporters of this power are often women – women who have internalised this concept in the name of culture and habit, and then preach it, or women who just do not speak against it. Toxic masculinity is not a man’s issue, it is a societal one.

We have all been raised with these fascinating stories narrated by our grandmothers, such as The Mahabharata and The Ramayana. While these have been revered as holy texts, these books are not direct connections to God, but just tools of internalisation of wrong expectations and pseudo-spirituality. In the popular dicing scene, Draupadi, after her harassment, questions how she can be harassed, not because she is a woman, but because she is the daughter of a renowned king, Drupad, indicating how women are just property, first of their father’s and then their husband’s. On the other hand, Sita is often pedestalised and widely celebrated for never questioning her husband. These texts which are taught at universities, schools, and even in households have created unjustified expectations for men and lack of individuality among women.

After talking to a series of women on the ideals of toxic masculinity, one realises that often these ideals are perpetrated by women, especially in our Indian households. These women have gained the limited positions of power by being Maamis, Chachis (maternal and paternal aunts), Nanis (maternal grandmother), or even mothers.

One of the students, on the condition of anonymity, said that it was not his father who told him that boys don’t cry. It was his mother. A full childhood, the student said, of being told to suck it up and brush it off, to take it all in but never let any of it out. In the recent movement of speaking against toxic masculinity, a man wrote about his wife, how he loved her, how she often cried in front of him, how the one time he had cried in front of her, she had uneasily left the room, how he had made sure to never cry again, and how he did not know if his tear ducts even worked anymore.

One of the great things about the popularity of The Handmaid’s Tale last year was the arrival of a useful shorthand term: Aunt Lydias. Aunt Lydias are women who willingly, harmfully participate in a terrible misogynistic society. Aunt Lydias are real. Aunt Lydias are why toxic masculinity is a societal problem. I have heard the term “boys will be boys” thrown around by a mother at a parent-teacher conference, justifying why their son attacked other boys or lifted up girls’ skirts. “He’s just pulling your hair because he likes you” is something female grade-school teachers have been repeating for years. Especially when Indian primary education is dominated by female teachers, it harms girls by making them think unwanted attention is their fault, and it harms boys by making them think that harassment and affection are the same thing.

Sadly, the first person to tell me I was “asking for it” was not a man, but my own aunt. If we all really want to find a solution to eliminate toxic masculinity, it has to be against the individuals propping up the institution.

Feature Image Credits: Kartik Chauhan for DU Beat

Chhavi Bahmba

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The story of Draupadi ended years ago, or did it? Here is an insight into the inner turmoil faced by her. The story of Draupadi, to Draupadis.

One of the contemporary, and not very appealing facts is that we can still relate to Draupadi, a woman who was ‘ahead of her times’ centuries ago is still considered the same, and mind you, it is 2019, you can do the math.

There is not just a single Draupadi, but several Draupadis, right where you are sitting, if you hover your eyes around the room.

An introductory lecture on Draupadi is a hard nut to crack but one can furnish in a nut-shell. Draupadi, the daughter of King Drupad, born out of fire, the courtroom is an account everyone knows.

In Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni’s “The Palace of Illusions”, turn pages to the marriage of Draupadi which draws light on the created illusion of swayamvar. What if one tells you that Banerjee waves a creation which lets you know that the swayamvar was not a swayamvar but a marriage of convenience? The forbidden fruit of right to choice is what most of us don’t savour.

The marriage of Draupadi to all the Pandavas is another source of wrinkles on one’s forehead. Kunti – a woman, mother of Draupadi’s husbands, making a turbulent decision which alters her life henceforth. In epics, daily soaps, secret domestic tales it is very common?

The infamous vastraharan (de-clothing) of Draupadi is a question on inner conscience. Dragged to a court while menstruating, barred of her clothes- such was the plight of Draupadi. All done for a cause that doesn’t even qualify to be a cause- the game of dice, the inflaming addiction, the addiction of power. And a quick update- these so-called causes source upon many Draupadis, the worst part- future seems to be as monotonous as the past and the present.

While one may defend- “well someone’s (you know the name) superior powers did save her from the plight. But here is an eye-opener- the ‘someone’ was absent from the picture, Draupadi’s self- strength led to the incessant, never-ending cloth. Many Draupadis fight, fight for themselves, yet lie in the shackles of silence.

Here is a situation – a woman deprived of her fundamental rights, outraged in a room full of ‘honourable entities’, with no help from all the four sides of the walls, stands alone – isn’t this a contemporary fact? This episode exists, repeats and continues.

Draupadi was always a pawn in a game of chess- born for the cause of revenge, married for the sake of political alliance and finally reduced into a stake at the game of dice.

Irawati Karve through her work- “Yuganta” gives us an insight into the inner psychology of Draupadi through incidents. After the game of dice, when Dhritrashtra intervened as the indecency had gone too far and feared terrible consequences, grants Draupadi three wishes wherein she saves the Pandavas of the impending doom. “… but Draupadi has re-established peace. Like a boat, she has saved the Pandavas when they were about to drown in a sea of disgrace. The taunt that they had been saved by a woman infuriated Bhima.”

How many times has the society stitched the lips of women, tied their hands and reduced them to speechlessness? Draupadi’s power affected egos, Draupadis still exist, their power affects ego.

Draupadi was unapologetically herself. Karve tells us more about Draupadi when her brother visits her in the forest (during the period of exile) she says, “I have neither husbands, nor a brother, nor a father. If I had, do you think they would have stood for my being insulted like this?”

In the 21st Century sitting in our living rooms, it is a shame that we can relate to the problems of Draupadi, it is time to address these problems and not relate to these.

Feature Image Credits: Focuz Studios

Priyanshi Banerjee

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