The phrase ‘toxic masculinity’ has had a soaring presence in mainstream media for quite some time now. Although the concept is age-old and has been an integral factor in sharpening the bigoted and ubiquitous mindset in our incredibly patriarchal and dogmatic society, there is a striking and widespread lack of understanding on what the phrase truly means.
Toxic masculinity essentially demonstrates extreme maleness to an exceedingly harmful degree, replete with the principles of homophobia, racism and misogyny.
Boys are traditionally expected to strive towards achieving a lumbering sense of masculinity, at least on a surface level. This is qualified through the highly sought-after macho, red blooded and robust image that most men seem to desire, whether they truly want it or not. The same image, which screams machismo and virility manifests itself in heinous acts of bullying and catcalling, instead of enabling men to hold themselves and other chauvinistic men accountable for their misogynistic sentiments and actions.
Toxic masculinity, in no way, propagates that all men are inherently toxic but sheds light on society’s expectations and beliefs towards how men should really be. Researchers find that toxic masculinity consists of suppressing emotions, maintaining a stern and unsympathetic exterior as well as upholding aggression as a symbol of power. What many fail to see is that toxic masculinity is a repressive rendition of manhood, which harms men and people of all genders as it cultivates brutality and aggression as barometers to measure a man.
India has faced a toxic masculinity crisis for centuries. Much like most commercial jargon, the phrase is now so remissive, it’s exacerbating the crisis instead of alleviating it. To elaborate, the male-dominated Indian film industry, which arguably plays the most critical role in shaping the judgements, opinions and beliefs of our society, is known for its patronizing and slanderous portrayal of women, and its lack of representation of the queer community.
The depiction of women in India cinema has left an indelible mark on the beliefs and traditions that we continue to uphold in modern Indian society. According to research conducted by the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, backed by UN women and the Rockerfeller Foundation, Indian cinema tops the list of objectifying women on celluloid. As a country which is rife with crimes against women, popular Indian films, obscured by the euphemism of romance have been accomplices in promoting sexual harassment, molestation, sl*t-shaming and objectification. The narratives of these highly successful films, and the deep-rooted misogynistic perspective with which most Indians view women are to blame for the refusal to acknowledge that a woman’s consent is as indispensable as a man’s desire.
Toxic masculinity in commercially successful Hindi cinema, namely Kabir Singh (2019) which romanticizes violence against women and Kapoor and Sons (2016) which shows a gay man withholding his sexuality out of shame, have incited the narrow and rigid box in which straight men – portrayed as bravado, heartless and bursting with rage – are superior to everybody else, abiding by a set of unjust and blinkered beliefs.
Gina Rippon, a British neuroscientist has shattered the myth that our brains are gendered; she says that it is our world – where gender binaries reign supreme, shaping every aspect of our lives from educational policies to social hierarchies and relationships – that has bred the problem. The roots of toxic masculinity lie in the bigger picture: she says, “the human brain is more affected by external demands, including social attitudes and expectations,” which makes me ponder about the bigger reality of the Indian society, where all of us play a role in perpetrating the same toxic masculinity. We choose to ignore the dehumanization, objectification and subtle ‘jokes’ that are intricately woven together to create this ugly reality. We believe that turning a blind eye to what we hear and see excludes us from the problem, but we fail to recognize that by staying silent, we are only worsening it.
To prevent the normalization of toxic masculinity, we, as human beings, must work in cohesion to fight against the notion that violence is instinctive for men, reconsider how masculinity is taught and enforced, and how gender inequalities substantiate themselves into the lives of male, female and non-binary people. To put an end to toxic masculinity we must encourage men to stop defending their maleness and start examining it.