Stress Awareness Month: Paradox of Pressure in a Patriarchy – A Male Perspective

By Yash Kapadia for Twisted Tiara

The idea that men could have it tough in a patriarchal society, seems counterintuitive. However, it doesn’t take movies like 3 Idiots, Peepli live and Udaan to remind us of the many forms of social pressures and stresses that most Indian men are subjected to. Barring the fabled hermits in the Himalayas and maybe new-born babies, men of all ages, economic backgrounds and social hierarchies have to endure a wide spectrum of societal expectations and pressures.

Social Construct

A forced democratization of decisions is more prevalent in the sub-urban and rural regions, where community driven group-think, and the average family sizes are higher than in metros. It doesn’t however, exempt urban men from social stresses; they are also subject to different forms of majority influence i.e. an imposed consensus of the community stakeholders.

In the Individualism v/s Collectivism debate, India scores an intermediate 48 on that spectrum, on a scale of 0 to 100. This would imply that Indian men have a balance between a “me” and a “we” based thought process, but we know that is far from the truth. Indian men although seemingly ‘favoured’ can make very few decisions which may be truly independent of the judgement and fear of consequence from their families, social circles and samaaj.

A Social Duty to Provide

Let’s try to examine the various stresses and their sources using one of the basic definitions of psychological stress i.e. a response mechanism to different kinds of demands and needs that we face. Stress is created when there is a gap between where you are and where you think you should be. We start with all the different needs that the average Indian man would have to fulfil in his lifetime:, from basic needs like sustenance and housing to more education and a career, and abstract needs such as fulfillment and belonging. We are essentially looking at this from Maslow’s perspective.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

Physiological needs include providing for food, clothing and shelter for self and family. In most families even with an appreciable improvement in women’s literacy and income potential, the primary “breadwinners” continue to be men. 

Boys as young as 5 years old are pushed into child labour to supplement the family income or to at least offset their own costs of living in an alarmingly high number of low income households. While girls face this fate too, boys are over 4 times more likely to end up with hazardous work rather than domestic chores. This is in no way a comparison of the genders and certainly not a debate of who has it worse.

Source: UNICEF

In the States with the highest population densities in India, the average household size i.e. number of people living together as a family reaches about 5.7. In most households, male members are still responsible for earning livelihoods meanwhile not even being able to afford to fall sick – due to healthcare costs and loss of wages during medical leave. This may not be a direct consequence of societal pressure, but the tolerance (and in many cases encouragement) for such issues comes from the failure of our society to draw a hard line in the sand. To an extent, the traditional outlook of such families is also at fault – boys are expected to start pulling their own weight and mould themselves into providers while girls are conditioned to become homemakers.

A Social Measure of ‘Success’

The definition of ‘success’ is heavily dictated by society. Do keep in mind that even in upper middle class, the onus of purchasing a house lies primarily with the man even today. As per your family’s image and history, your own aptitude and career trajectory, you will be expected to acquire and upgrade your apartment, vehicles and gadgets. You could choose to deem yourself unanswerable to anyone who doesn’t have a direct stake in your survival (although the general understanding would be quite opposite) but this will come at a social cost. Samaaj decides what constitutes your safety and wellbeing, and not following the plan charted out for you could in most cases be seen as an act of rebellion.

We also fail to notice that a lot of jobs are predominantly performed by men have inherent hazards and physical strains involved in it, like sewage & waste handling, driving heavy vehicles and mining. If you are more privileged in your upbringing and education, you will probably end up with an indoor job. Chances are, it will be diverse and inclusive and you will be collaborating with female colleagues and might even have a woman as your boss. While the progressive mindset has accepted this as the new normal, we all know people who cringe on this “upturning of social hierarchy”.

Man: A Social Animal

A friend, a son, a brother, a nephew, a husband, a father. The expectations here are particularly paradoxical. You will be simultaneously expected to be stoic and passionate. Your sensitivity might be seen as a weakness so better to not be seen giving a damn. At the same time, you will have to subscribe to a range of opinions, ideologies and dogmas- political, social, communal, religious, geographical; and the degree of engagement you demonstrate will be linked with your social worth.

Source: Blog

Another angle to the need of belongingness involves the various role you will play in order to pass on your genes – boyfriend, husband, father, father-in-law, grandfather. In India, where sex is purely to procreate, a man’s virility seems to be closely tied with his social identity. You are expected to bring home the ‘baigan’ and the baby. Inevitably Indian men must also struggle with the vicious cycle of being stressed, reduced fertility as a medical consequence of it, the stresses due to reduced fertility and so on.

The social stressors from relationships and expected behaviour in them are rooted in “toxic masculinity” which is designed to reinforce patriarchal power structures within a family. Unsubscribing from either ideals or toxic masculinity or the patriarchal construct isn’t an easy course to navigate, given our Indian society. Again, this isn’t a debate of who has it worse but an objective attempt to understand the male perspective.

Being An Individual in a Collectivist Society  

Beyond all this is the promised land of self-esteem and actualization. This is where you build a persona, a value system, an identity. There are many among us whose identity involves being a non-cis and non-heterosexual; regretfully we are still a long way from being a truly inclusive society.  

You may know or be aware of most of the issues pointed out here. Maybe you have experienced them first hand. But while battling our own challenges we often become indifferent to the hardships and circumstance of others. So, this is a gentle reminder that we all have our own battles and we do not need to suffer silently or alone. Many men have succumbed to substance abuse, becoming abusers of their own spouses and families, or even ending their own lives rather than admitting to the universal truths of human vulnerability.  

Reaching out, either to be heard or to hear someone out, is a fairly small step to take towards healing.

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