By: Natasha Archary
Masculinity. Absurd retro ideals of what it means to be a man, have plagued men and shaped the way women view the opposite sex for centuries. The socio-political and gender stereotypes defined a systemic issue of near universal hierarchical attributes associated with manliness.
The pressure on men to live up to these standards have had adverse effects and whilst some honour this unspoken code, there are many who cave under these unfair demands. In South Africa, a hundred thousand people commit suicide annually, of which twenty thousand are black men.
The South African Depression and Anxiety Group receives on average four hundred calls a day, a hundred of these distress cries are men from various age and race groups. The misconception that men are emotionally immune, is a complete paradox of conflicting stereotypes. With more men falling into depression annually, is this dated definition of manhood still what we should prescribe to?
Cultural expectations of a man to act as primary provider are warped and medieval in an age where feminism is thrown around like a trendy buzzword. Granted, feminists are not anti-men. Instead, feminism resists patriarchical ideals and aims to achieve equality between the sexes. If resisting partriarchy isn’t about degrading men or boys, nor making them lower or subordinate to women, why then do we still have gender stereotypes?
A man can’t stay home to raise the kids. It’s still frowned upon. A man is still expected to earn more than a woman. It’s his role to provide for his family. A man can’t cry. Men aren’t supposed to show emotions. Men don’t cook. That’s the woman’s role. Men are strong. Men lead. Men are emotionally restrictive.
Patriarchy creates a watered down version of masculinity that does away with an egalitarian view of society and the world. The term denies men their full humanity. Liberated men are empathic, autonomous and connected. They are involved parents, who raise their children with their partners and are active in their relationships with dual roles assigned to both parties.
Masculinity under the patriarchical banner leaves little room for a new social reconfiguration causing tremendous mental and emotional distress and putting undue pressure on marital relations between husband and wife. With women more independent than ever before, what is the role of a man in a woman’s life? That of companion? Is a man’s man still relevant? Also, what does being a man’s man actually mean?
For years, it was expected that a man foots the bill on a date, he opens the car door and does the myriad of other chivalrous things men are expected to do. Nothing short of putting a woman on a pedestal and laying down his jacket for her to walk on, so she doesn’t get her heels dirty. If feminism is pro gender equality why do we still expect to be treated this way? Women, still refuse to make the first move, don’t pay for a date, leave the romance entirely up to a man and yet are the first to cry “I’m a feminist”. Is this not a double standard?
Masculinity has nothing to do with the treatment of the opposite sex. (Sorry ladies, but I have to burst this bubble.) If feminism has nothing to do with our male counterparts then so too is masculinity far removed from the female gender. Instead masculinity is a man’s ability to be present and accountable for his actions, life and decisions. It is nothing more or less than the way a man carries himself. Be it strong or emotional.
A man’s man is not to be misinterpreted to mean a rugged-guy who isn’t afraid to get his hands dirty. Metrosexual men changed that years ago. While there are men who cannot fathom that the roles can now be reversed, there are those who welcome the paradigm shift.
Feminism is such a dirty word. Anti-sexist or equalist is a far better descriptor and more accurate definition of feminism and what it aims to achieve.
In South Africa, black culture is resistant to any change that interferes with the gender specified roles. Women are still considered to be subservient to the men in their lives and many households are still single income because of this archaic approach.
Tribal traditions and respect for elders means that many men are bound by these stereotypes and feel trapped if they are unable to meet the expectations of the women in their lives.
Masculinity and feminism need to be approached as a systemic societal issue not an individual one. If it is perfectly okay for a woman to be whoever she chooses, so too should men be allowed to.
With the world focused on empowering women, who is preparing men for these empowered women? Take a moment to process what this means. Men don’t know where or how they fit in anymore. She doesn’t need you, your help or your finances so what are you to do with all your pent-up masculinity?
Simple. You be. Be the man you are, regardless of what society demands you to be. Be a father who chooses to stay home and care for his children while your partner works. Be a husband who does the dishes after his wife cooks. Be the man who is in touch with his feminine side and wears pink if he chooses to. Be the guy who shares his feelings and stop giving into a dictionary description for who you are and were meant to be.