Bilawal’s tears and toxic masculinity

Peter Lloyd, the author of Stand by Your Manhood: A Game-Changer for Modern Men, has become quite a sensation in the UK in particular and West in general. Many feminist writers have even branded him as the most ‘normal’ proponent of ‘meninism’ – a label that began as a satirical spoof of anti-feminism movements.

The reason why many feminists have found Lloyd’s version of ‘meninism’ slightly less ‘preposterous’ than the usual men’s rights activism, and why a wide gamut of individuals from varying masculinities are embracing it, is because instead of engaging in brazenly misogynistic rhetoric it identifies pertinent issues related to men. These issues range from domestic rights to disproportionate male prison sentences, suicide rates, and homelessness.

Even so, where Lloyd’s arguments fall criminally short – just like any other prominent men’s rights movement – is that it somehow manages to pin the blame for the issues that men face on women – feminists in Lloyd’s case.

The fact that more than 90% of prison inmates in the West are men, has little to do with ‘feminists marginalising men’ and more to do with – among other causes – the fact that all forms of pop culture overwhelmingly showcase one sex indulging in violence, with the monolithic definition of masculinity deemed synonymous with aggression.

Similarly, the fact that over 80% of suicide cases are men – primarily middle-aged – is a corollary of men forcing themselves into the mould of hegemonic masculinity, resulting in a plunge in self-esteem associated with failure to live up to the ‘male’ pigeonhole. This is why the most frequently cited reasons for suicide are rejection from women – the inferior sex that you were meant to dominate; or unemployment – the inability to play the ‘male role’ of the breadwinner.

Furthermore, refusal to accept vulnerability – physical or otherwise – which is deemed a ‘feminine’ trait, means that significantly less percentage of men consults medical practitioners – especially over mental health issues – exacerbating both the suicide rates and the increasing lifespan gap between the sexes.

It is easy to comprehend why the ratio of male to female suicide rates doubling over the last three decades is lazily – if not maliciously – deemed the fault of feminism, considering the strides that women’s rights activism has made – especially in the west – over this time.

Instead of focusing on highlighting male issues and launching a similarly coherent movement, this post-post-structuralist reading of feminism takes a fringe group of extreme (re)activists – especially sections of the propellers of the fourth wave of feminism – to paint the entire movement as an anti-male hate-fest, resulting in a self-inflicted alienation of men. This in turn leads to a masochistic race for victimhood between the two sexes, instead of two parallel movements designed to achieve equality for all.

Even so, the fact that male issues are becoming a valid talking point in the West is, again, a testament to the progress that women’s rights have made. In Pakistan where we’re still debating whether or not ‘honour’ killing should be a pardonable crime or why men shouldn’t be allowed to hit their wives, it is deemed largely superfluous to even mention the damaging impact patriarchy has on men. And yet, it is when one tries to understand how toxic masculinity can dehumanise men, that one can truly understand how the struggle for gender equality was never meant to pin one sex against the other.

When PPP Chairperson Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari broke down after visiting those injured in the attack on the Quetta Police Training College attack, he was vilified by many quarters. Bilawal, who is frequently the target of gender-centric jibes – both from rival politicians (twice his age) and the masses – is deemed ‘not masculine enough’ because he does not conform to the hegemonic stereotype.

Any man who embraces an inverse, metrosexual, or even natural (sans normative gender constructs) form of masculinity is often earmarked as an anomaly largely because our part of the world almost unanimously deems an individual’s sex to be synonymous with a fixed gender identity, which most of us fail to live up to. The prevalence of homophobia is similarly a direct offshoot of policing of gender, or more specifically masculinity.

The history of Pakistan People’s Party is a comprehensive study on gender theories on its own. From Z A Bhutto’s alpha-male aura (still our ideal leader typecast) – to the Benazir-Murtaza squabble for party leadership based largely on skewed gender-based ideas of inheritance – to Benazir’s leadership of a country entrenched in patriarchy – to Bilawal now having to defy societal norms and take up his maternal grandfather’s surname and live up to the role decided for him as the son and the eldest offspring.

It might be too soon for us to leave behind the idea of unitary masculinity, at least in our part of the world, but ideas like the lollipop fallacy – the fact that every na-mehram man is an insect (potential rapist) – show the intrinsic correlation between the dehumanisation of both sexes to the resulting violence against women – which we’re taking baby-steps towards addressing.

Toxic masculinity oppresses both men and women, by reducing men to insensitive, sexually aggressive species and peddling women as fragile sexual prey. Neither violence against women, nor the ‘masculine mystique’ primarily responsible for male issues, can be permanently countered without addressing the toxicity in stereotypical ‘manhood’. The first step, for both sexes, is to unshackle themselves from the idea that one’s genitalia, or level of testosterone, can completely define who we are.

Kunwar Khuldune Shahid is a former member of staffHe can be reached at Follow him on Twitter

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