We are all familiar with the quintessential macho guy — strong, restrained with a clear don’t mess-with-me attitude! Of course, he does not cry or ever display any weakness, sadness or vulnerability, and the possibility of him ever confessing about a low libido is totally unthinkable!
The hegemonic definition of manhood “is a man in power, a man with power and man of power” (Michael Kimmel). In short, masculinity is associated with wealth, success, power and sexual virility! But it is time to think how this hype about “machoism” — which to some extent is promoted by clever marketing pundits to promote their Harley Davidsons, Lamborghinis or Cognacs — is on the overdrive, and apart from impacting men’s mental health in their attempt to confirm, is actually creating perceptions that are superfluous, aggressive and sometimes
In India, the delineation of masculinity was vastly different from the western definition. In our mythology ‘Purush’ is a complex concept and it refers to the soul, true self and consciousness. And among the several examples, let’s highlight just two of the best.
Krishna, the “purna avatar”, is the epitome of masculinity. You cannot help but think of him as a powerful man — excelling as a strategist, warrior, peace maker, loyal friend and protector of all that is good. And yet, his attitude was never brazen.
He excelled in 64 essential traditional arts known as the Chausath Kalas (Chausath = 64 in Sanskrit) and some of these included, Geet Vidya, (singing) Nritya Vidya, (dancing) Alekhya Vidya (painting) Pushpastarana (art of making bed covers with flowers) Citrasakapupabhakshyavikarakriya (art of preparing delicious food) and Sucivayakarma (needle work and weaving) among many others; all of which today are considered ‘feminine’ skills!
Another model of masculinity is Arjuna. Krishna refers to Arjuna as ‘Purusharshva’ which means “best of men.” He was considered to be an undefeated hero, the ultimate marksman and a great warrior, but we also know that he, as Brihhannala, taught Princess Uttara singing and dancing, a skill he had learnt under Chitrasena.
One of the most gripping scenes in the battle of Mahabharata is when the great warrior Arjuna shares his angst with Krishna as he sees his uncles, teachers, brothers, sons and comrades line up for battle. Arjuna, overcome with compassion and sadness, asks Krishna “O Krishna, seeing my kinsmen, my limbs fail and my mouth is dry. My body quivers and my hairs stand on end. (1.29)… My head turns, I am unable to stand steady (1.30-31) and ends this monologue with “I shall not fight.” (2.09)
And Krishna, in his attempt to motivate Arjuna, tells him to ‘be a man’ and to do his dharma as warrior and to look at the larger good. But it is that admission of “weakness” and his ability to conquer his own fears that actually makes him a hero, a real man!
But today, there is an increasing tendency to caricature genders — and our movies might have a role in propagating males as patriarchal, strong and overbearing and females as subjugates, timid and waiting to be dominated. That would be too simplistic. The world is not made up of binaries. There is a world between and beyond the binaries. But to get back to the more important point, there is nothing disparaging about being in touch with one’s “feminine” side and which by the way, does not translate as one being a queer or a gay or whatever.
While men are no longer uncomfortable wearing pink, or are more open about manicures and spa dates, these are just superficial changes. In fact, like Thor, whose identity is linked to his hammer, our young men too tend to pin their identity to external elements like bikes and cars or their six-pack bodies! It is therefore no surprise that an increasing number of psychologists who treat male clients struggle to address the vast disconnect and incongruity between their client’s stories and their affect. And these subterfuges hinder one from addressing the more serious issues resulting in the broad silence surrounding men’s issues.
What we need to do is to nudge our machos to become real heroes. Like Thor, they need to conquer their own fears, which could include the fear of having feelings of sadness, disappointment of or even impotency in order to cope with life’s stress and daily challenges.