[ Nang Sanie ]
“No homo, though!”
The phrase above, ever so often casually slipped into a conversation, is probably a good depiction of an individual claiming to be so fragile in their identity that they have an immense need to emphasize on it; in case it is forgotten in their act of compassion.
What is important to understand in cases such as these is, why should someone feel the need to justify themselves when they do not conform to the ideal image of their identity? The answer happens to lie in the understanding of a term called gender role(s).
Before going into the depth of understanding what gender role means, one should grasp that there is a difference between gender identity, sex, masculine and feminine.
Those individuals who take interest in learning more about the terms and gathering in-depth information can opt for further research by credible sources, thanks to digital media, but to put it in layman’s terms: sex refers to the biological segregation that one is born with (male, female); gender is the psychological construct of how one feels themselves to be (non-binary, man, woman); and being masculine and feminine are sets of characteristics, commonly associated with particular genders.
Gender role is defined as “the pattern of masculine or feminine behaviour of an individual that is defined by a particular culture and that is largely determined by a child’s upbringing.”
Simply put, gender roles are a set of characteristics or traits that are ‘assigned’ to particular genders that an individual grows up believing to be ideal, which is effectively influenced by the type of environment they grow up in. That’s where the words ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’ fall into place.
For example, someone being emotionally inept would generally be considered masculine, while being overly emotional would be considered feminine, which is probably where the idea of women starting and involving themselves in drama comes from.
Gender role comes in all forms: calling a girl ‘different’ because she likes sports, boys being told to ‘man up’, joking about women making sandwiches in the confines of their kitchens or men being looked up to for their ability to keep women at their heels, the list goes on; and to be clear, these roles are not just part of conversations and jokes – they are embedded and casually accepted in various forms all around us.
Take films, for example. In the iconic Bollywood movie Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, Anjali is portrayed as a classic tomboy who becomes a love interest for Rahul only when she adheres to more feminine traits, which seems to imply that a girl is only attractive when she shows those characteristics.
It is a concept worth giving a thought to: should a woman’s complexion really be more important than her academic achievements in a job interview? Should men really buy deodorant for the sole purpose of seducing women and not because of maintaining personal hygiene? There hardly seems to be an end to these.
The kind of attitude we generally carry openly or covertly is asking, “Why is this something I should worry about? It is not something that affects me or the people around me directly.”
Well, sometimes everything is not about us or applies to us, but that does not mean it does not exist or causes discomfort to someone else, and not being ignorant about it certainly helps. It does seem harmless, but this type of portrayal is something that becomes a part of one’s mindset, and when these roles are implemented at various platforms, it affects people physically, emotionally and psychologically.
If one has to go into the depths of understanding gender roles and the need of not conforming to and implementing it, it becomes considerable to be aware of the phenomenon it brings about with its existence. Words like misogyny, sexism, patriarchy, bigotry, toxic and fragile masculinity are quite common terms in today’s age, and although a large proportion of the public are aware of the pernicious nature of the above, a fairly large population also exists who partake in the above, leading to acts which more often than not come out of ignorance and lack of understanding.
Compiling it all and putting it bluntly, gender roles bring about differentiation and prejudice between genders and sexes; who should be given basic rights and who shouldn’t; inequality; hatred towards certain communities, sexes and genders; fear of expression; lack of empathy, so on and so forth.
To put things further into perspective: a man is expected to carry the weight of his entire family because he is a man. That’s what men must do. He is allowed to neglect the feelings his wife possesses, for he has to make a concrete point that she is below him. He cannot show his love to his children because he has to be strong like that. He must be made of muscle and bones, not feelings and emotions. If his wife beats him or harasses him verbally, it’s not abuse. A man cannot be dominated by a woman physically or psychologically.
A woman is a piece of artefact; she isn’t allowed to have opinions or to make decisions because that’s the man’s job and women mustn’t meddle in men’s business. Only a mother can make a house a home, and of course that means that a woman has to devote her life to the service of her husband and children. A woman must build herself, so that she is able to be shown off as a ‘trophy wife’, almost as if a woman cannot have other aspirations than to marry well and live a ’comfortable’ life, building a family.
A young girl should and will learn that she is below men and this is a man’s world. Beauty, grace and softness should be embedded in her because she is only validated when a man validates her. It’s better if a girl learns that the four walls of her house are better than the outside world because she is an open treasury, but of course, if she is violated, it’s her own fault for stepping out of the boundaries that were set for her and, most probably, her clothing.
A boy cannot hold his friend’s hand, comfort them with an embrace, or express their frustration with tears because that is what girls do; well, that, or he’s gay.
Forget that skirts and heels were originally made for men; if he wears them, he’s gay. A boy cannot wear makeup because that is gay, too. Almost as if being gay was a contagious, life-threatening disease. A boy is ‘cool’ if he is able to run through girls like water through fingers because deep-etched emotions are not something one should find in a boy. A boy’s image is determined by great physique, height and a deep voice. A boy cannot be taken advantage of and violated because boys always consent. It runs in their blood to be sexually raging, and if a boy doesn’t enjoy what he gets, he must be gay.
If an individual is in a homosexual relationship, one of them has to be the man and the other should be the woman of the relationship, because otherwise it wouldn’t make sense for someone to date their own gender.
If someone is confused about their gender, it’s either a phase or, of course, because they’re gay.
The above might seem too direct and blunt, but the unfortunate truth is, these are notions which still openly exist and thrive in our society. As a matter of fact, these are probably not the only conceptions, either.
Of course, an individual is entitled to their opinions and preferences, but that doesn’t and shouldn’t permit them to be disrespectful by bashing or brushing off others’ preferences and enforcing them to conform to their own ideals.
It also doesn’t mean that somebody must defy the society by breaking all stereotypes, just to spite it.
The message is that an individual should be able to live comfortably, without having to worry about fitting into an image and we, as members of a society and communities, could be comparatively more tolerant and empathetic. Respect comes mutually, and understanding is a beautiful thing. Also, it costs no money for one to mind one’s own business.
When Slash comes onto the stage with his electric guitar, the audience does not care about his long hair; they care about the beautiful music he makes, and that is all that matters.
All humans are born with free will, in diversity, and for another human to decide that there should be a particular way to live and behave seems unsettling. After all, human’s strength lies in the differences, and coming to terms with those differences and accepting them brings about sustenance to a society, which indirectly turns towards progression to bigger fulfillments like world peace which, realistically speaking, seems like a far-off utopia, but it does happen to be a world that can be built one change of perspective at a time. (Nang Sanie is the winner of The Arunachal Times’ scholarship in the undergraduate category.)
[ Nang Sanie ]