My Thoughts and Experiences from a Non-Western Standpoint
By Haris Hussnain
A societal curse.
This isn’t any ordinary curse from a book on witchcraft, this is much worse.
This curse has caused suffering for many men and will continue to do so, unless we find a way to stop it.
Most of us can agree that feminism has achieved much for men as well as women. For years, man has wondered what his place on earth was. This is a thought that has existed as early as ancient times and has made its way through to the 21st century.
Since then, the creation of movements such as MeToo have not only enabled women to challenge a harmful patriarchal system, but also allowed men to explore how the patriarchy has defined their identity also.
In defiance of these structures, more and more men have begun to speak out about issues ranging from sexual abuse to identity crisis. Whilst this is excellent progress, movements towards liberating men from toxic masculinity have really only focused on the fight from western countries, leaving other men in non- Western societies plagued by these toxic feelings.
An example I’m going to use is my own culture of South Asia. The problem toxic masculinity is having in South Asia is different to western countries, mainly because it’s embedded in some of our traditions, such as marriage, courting and the way gender roles are structured.
In fact, much of what I knew about masculinity growing up came from Bollywood movies. These portrayed a similar toxic masculine behaviour to that of the western world. However, it was more exaggerated in films.
Men would wolf whistle, act tough, never cry and were constantly seen showering their partners and wives with gifts. The macho persona was depicted as something women desired in a partner and these portrayals were being transmitted as the norm.
Whilst I love my culture, some of those traditions and patriarchal depictions need to change otherwise more men will suffer. Especially, in my own experience, the depictions of hyper-toxic and masculine Asian men.
Often, there is a stereotype that makes western people view men from certain cultures as sexist and controlling. This is just one stereotype. The other stereotype is the portrayal of Asian men as timid, submissive and effeminate. These portrayals also come with their own impact and can garner homophobic terms like ‘sissy’. Personally, I have felt this state of limbo. I could live up to the Asian masculine man stereotype or I could accept the other stereotypes and be a stereotypical Asian ‘nerd’. Both of which feed into a self fulfilling prophecy.
One example is the character Raj from David Walliams’ books and films, who has this stereotype projected onto him. There is nothing wrong with being these things, but they do impact the mental health of Asian men whose culture wishes to place them in a ‘macho’ box, whilst the Western world can often pigeonhole them as the opposite. This creates a huge struggle in identity, setting polar expectations that Asian men cannot live up too.
One of the other insecurities men face at the hands of toxic masculinity is our bodies. Both Bollywood and the western media portray men with six-pack abs and often resemble them as strong ‘warrior’ types- a damaging standard for men to reach.
Whilst there are many issues in this domain, the great thing is that there is a chance to influence change.
Schools and universities have the potential to re-educate young men in what they've been taught by society's institutions regarding the male identity. There also needs to be more diverse role models within that setting for boys to look up to, those who don’t always reinforce a toxic masculine persona.
School can be a significant time for boys. Many boys succumb to peer pressure from their peers, using 'emasculating' insults as a way of persuading other boys to engage in fighting and ‘lad’ behaviour.
Fight and you are perceived as a strong man, walk away and you are viewed as weak. This is the domino effect of toxic masculinity.
Where schools act as an institution that reflects societies views and expectations, this is the perfect time to tackle the confusion amongst young boys about their identity and the plague of toxic expectations.
My personal experience with toxic masculinity isn’t as bad as many others. In terms of the western community and western friends, I felt that they were more understanding as opposed to Asian ones. I can’t blame them as they were stereotyped in a similar way and expected to act macho.
In terms of the western world challenging gender stereotypes, films such as Frozen have championed change and told girls that they don’t need a man to save them and that women can help themselves instead of being the damsel in distress. In other words, it’s liberating women from society's patriarchal chains. In this instance, I wish I could say the same has been done for men, not just from a western standpoint but from all ethnic and cultural backgrounds.
The patriarchy is the root cause of toxic masculinity and feminism is the way forward, not only for women's equality but also for mens wellbeing. However, in order for Asian men in the western world to cleanse themselves of these toxic feelings, more movements need to reach out to Asian men and boys and the demand for role models must be met.