Fine line: Grin and bear it?

We add social insult to biological injury when we expect boys to be tough and resilient and stoic. Don’t encourage them to be invulnerable.


Gandhari had been pregnant for nearly two years with no signs of a baby emerging. It had been a difficult pregnancy too. In despair she struck at her belly with an iron rod. In that instant she went into labour and delivered, not a healthy baby but an unformed, hideous lump of grey flesh. It was as though the fates were mocking her. She wanted the lump disposed of as quickly as possible. Sage Veda Vyas intervened and assured her that all was not lost. He cut up the unformed foetus into a hundred and one pieces and placed them in vats filled with oil. The vats were then buried under earth for a further two years. At the end of two years, Duryodhana emerged first, howling like a jackal. The well-wishers and advisors to the king and queen suggested that he be abandoned in the forest to be consumed by wild animals, for this baby would bring nothing but doom. Gandhari was willing to sacrifice her son for the cause of the larger good. But King Dhritarashtra was smitten by his first born and the rest is Mahabharata.

Mythology is seldom what it seems and a closer examination of a tale as old as time, reveals hidden facets. There seems to be a stunning correlation between this story of the birth of one of most evil men of all times and what modern gender-based research tells us. Sebastian Kraemer, consultant child and adolescent psychiatrist, says in The Fragile Male ( 2000) his groundbreaking gender study points out: 

1. Women Carrying male foetuses often have harder pregnancies.

2. Right from conception, the male foetus is at a greater risk of damage than the female. In times of maternal stress, a male foetus is at greater risk of being miscarried.

3. Girls, at birth, have the same level of development as a 4-6 week old boy.

4. Reading delay, hyperactivity, autism, stammering, clumsiness occur more in boys than in girls

5. Boys mature slower, are more accident prone due to poor judgement of risk to benefit, and more likely to experiment with alcohol and drugs.

6. Women, universally, outlive men by several years and the gap is widening.

7. Men tend to have an inability to articulate their emotions. Even as babies, girls are better able to self-regulate their emotional state than boys and this only worsens with age and social conditioning. Boys are more likely to be referred to as ‘difficult’ or ‘violent’, than girl children. But conversely, and tellingly so, because baby boys are harder to care for, they don’t perhaps get the optimum care they deserve. Even in a patriarchal country like ours, where we have skewed the male to female ratio with sex determination in our obsession for boys, we don’t bring them up better. Our social conditioning and internalised patriarchal structure only aggravates the underlying biology.

Quoting Dr. Kraemer, “We add social  insult to biological injury” when we expect boys to be tough and resilient and stoic. They are encouraged to become invulnerable. From an early age boys are prevented from expressing themselves freely, crying is frowned upon: #realmendontcry. Indeed all emotions are considered ‘girly’ and unwanted. Men have little or no emotional vocabulary and no mechanisms for coping with high levels of stress and there is a likelihood that men will delay reaching for medical aid in a bid to grin and bear it.

Mahabharata is often mocked as a wronged woman’s tale of vengeance. And yet all through the Mahabharata, Dhritarashtra, literally and figuratively, turned a blind eye to his son’s bad behaviour. Every time there was a chance for course correction, neither Dhritarashtra nor Gandhari stepped in authoritatively. If anything, they were complicit in his evil with their silence. We see this even now in our society with the free passes it offers men. 

We need to relook at how we bring up our sons, because what we are doing presently has not been working for a long time. At the time when humans were hunter gatherers, the risk-taking, dangerous behaviour of the male of the species was perhaps necessary for survival. In a world that has moved on, male-female relationships have become more competitive and antagonistic where they should complementary. We need to parent our sons better with greater sensitivity, the way we do our daughters, else we are headed for another Mahabharata. 


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