Let's Talk: Why men need feminism
Your life’s worth doesn’t rest on how manly you are. It rests purely on the person you are. And that, my friends, is feminism.
As a millennial girl coming from a high level of privilege in India, I’ve found that it’s easy to assert my needs and demand a certain level of emotional involvement from the people around me. Whether it comes to my innermost circle of female friends, or my family group of female cousins on WhatsApp, I know that adoration is a message away - all I have to do is say, “Send love?”, and I get showered with the best kind of positive reinforcement for just being alive. I’ve been called pampered, spoiled, loved; and it’s all true. I am so very lucky to be surrounded by the safety net of the women in my family.
When it comes to the men, however, it’s a totally different matter altogether.
I’ve asked my male friends to ‘Send love’, and it almost invariably results in a barrage of playful abuses, virtual leg pulling, easy teasing, and desperate shying away from any outright display of affection. My boys love me, but my boys will never say it. They’ll express it - they’re a wall around my honour, my ‘tenderness’, they will fight to the death to make sure no harm comes to me. They are strong, they are fierce, they are wild - but they’re never comfortable with emotional vulnerability.
Speaking to my colleague Tarana about this, she noted, “The bottom line to me is that we are raised with the most basic, limiting gender roles. ‘Men are strong, men are unemotional and that is what Real Men should be like’”. I asked another colleague, Awanthi, about why women in India settle for limited emotional involvement when it comes to their partners. She said, “Honestly? I think it's two-fold. One is that we tend to emulate our parents' relationship with each other, and for the most part there's a lack of emotional honesty between Indian couples - I’m guessing arranged marriage has something to do with this. Secondly, men have a tendency to keep things to themselves and soldier on, whereas women tend to turn to other women for emotional support, rather than turn to their partners.” Tarana chimed in, “I have male friends who didn't realize they were chronically depressed because they weren’t in touch with their feelings, and it fell to the women in their lives - friends, partners, whatever - to literally educate them on EQ.”
EQ in this context, is emotional quotient - a standardised measure that assesses the emotional intelligence of an individual. The idea of emotional intelligence was first brought to the world in 1995, by the psychologist and science journalist Daniel Goleman. It essentially measures how easily a person is able to understand, and manage their emotions. Traditionally, women are seen as having higher EQ scores than men. In 2016, the Korn Ferry group collected data from around 55,000 professions through 90 countries to measure 12 different intelligence competencies. Out of the 12 categories, women scored higher than men in 11. The sole remaining category was ‘emotional self control’, where both genders performed equally.
What does this signify? Women tend to be more in touch with their emotions than men, sure. But why, and where does the emotional bottleneck in men stem from? As Tarana mentioned, the problem lies with social conditioning. Men are raised to ‘be one of the boys’, and then, in adulthood, are required to ‘man up’. Men are required to be bold, never cry because boys don’t cry, men are required to uphold the strength of society on their broad, capable shoulders.
This idea is called toxic masculinity, and the problem with it is, it affects everyone involved: men, women, children, and society at large. It prevents men from speaking up about their emotional needs, the things that hurt them, about sexual abuse and assault they face, and so much more. It prevents men from connecting to the women they love, and forces them to bottle up all their emotions. It’s emotionally unhealthy, it gets redirected in any number of inappropriate ways. It is a system of social learning that prevents men from being able to express themselves. It is, in fact, a symptom of patriarchy.
Two years ago, my little brother asked me what feminism is. Quite simply, I replied - it’s equality. It was as easy as that for me. To explain it to him though, took layers of conversation and comprehension. I had to tell him that feminism means freedom for him to be more true to the feelings he experiences every day. Feminism means looking beyond gender roles, and the limits that come with gender divides. Feminism isn’t just for females - it’s for everyone. It’s just the undoing of an unfair, oppressive system of patriarchy. In doing so, I was able to deconstruct the idea that feminism is a four letter work, and that was the first step towards my brother understanding the extent to which his ideas of masculinity were harming him.
This morning, I got a call from my best friend. He was talking to me about his financial woes, and his voice sounded gruff and strained. I was worried - he never cries! I didn’t even see him cry the day his mother passed away. I asked him, “We can fix things, why are you crying?!” His response was immediate, and strong - he made a sound of revulsion, and said “Chee, I’m not crying!”.
Jeez. I mean, I cry to him ten times a day.
I wish my friends, my boys, also had the understanding gained by my brother. I wish that when they were sad and wanted to cry, they just would. I wish they could reach out to me and say, Send Love - and not worry about being seen as a lesser being. I wish they understood that while I always appreciate the protection they give me, I can protect myself; and more importantly, I want to protect them as well. I wish they could see that it’s okay to be fragile sometimes, it’s okay to be vulnerable.
I want to tell them: Your life’s worth doesn’t rest on how manly you are. It rests purely on the person you are. And that, my friends, is feminism.