From ‘Mantastic’ to ‘Real Men’: How masculinity in India is problematic

How defining real men as those that don’t rape and respect every woman as their mother or sister doesn’t balance gender equity.


Real men don’t rape. This slogan has been gaining popularity on social media in a rage against the rising number of reported case of rapes in India. But I have been alarmed by the number of supporters that it has found among men and women who claim this to be absolutely fair.

How real are these ‘real men’?

Firstly, going at a literary level, the statement implies a creation of higher, truer and better individuals who are real. So real means you are a better class already. The implication is in the sense of being a better human being. You are saying that a real, and the closest synonym would be true, man is a person who doesn’t rape. Not only do we mythify the act, thus, making it far more stigmatic than it is, we even mythify the perpetrator and the so-called “victim”. It’s like saying you are not really a man if you could do such a reprehensible act. We are creating an idea of a type of masculinity. And all forms of masculinities become problematic.

Psychology studies show that more often than not, these individuals do this exactly to show the other who’s the man, to be the man, to be the ‘higher’, the winner, the power-holder in the equation. Like the way it is with domestic abuse: you hit a woman because it somehow makes you feel manlier. But of course that is convoluted logic and we know it. But to say, that a real man would not rape a woman creates a binary similar to that of men and women. “Real” also echoes the idea of a masculinity that has other characteristics say for instance, a macho man with a soft side, so this only further complicates the issue.

The fact that Akhtar used moustaches as a symbol to promote the campaign during a match shows how we still function on certain paradigms which associate a real man with certain characteristics.

The line in Indian cinema goes something like – “Asli mard to woh hota hai -” and then whatever the industrial mind decides to put there which obviously affects the millions of mindless-film watching people who have a tendency to be influenced by Bollywood. While the Farhan Akhtar MARD campaign may be commendable in its purpose and effort, it also uses the same problematic adjective for its promotion. The fact that Akhtar used moustaches as a symbol to promote the campaign during a match shows how we still function on certain paradigms which associate a real man with certain characteristics, which when interpreted by different people differently can only complicate the issue.

For example, another thing we might have often seen is how women tell inefficient officials or those committing crimes against women to wear bangles, etc. This becomes an additional insult because you are questioning the manhood or masculinity of the man but it also does that by reducing him to the status of a woman. Isn’t that actually insulting to the woman as well? Also, by conforming to the stereotypes of women we make their position the lower one in the equation. The implication that wearing bangles or ornaments and the like restricts the movement of women in the public sphere goes on to further the intention of patriarchal discourse.

One of the most common conceptions of a real man is one who treats women as his mother, sister or wife, with respect. In fact, after the Delhi gang rape, a pledge was taken in some schools where every boy swore to see/treat every girl as his mother or sister (and no, the wife part doesn’t fit in there, so don’t even think about the girlfriend).

The idea that women should be given respect as one would respect one’s own mother or sister is flawed. We are essentially defining a woman in respect to her relations with another/our self. Shouldn’t we respect a woman because of her own individuality, her own self and for no other reason than that she is also a human being? Why do we have to define her in relations which themselves are seen in the light of those who are “real women”?

Diana Penty with her desi attributes was picked over Deepika Padukone, the party girl by the hero, Saif Ali Khan, in Cocktail.

Where we associate the values of sacrifice, compromise and devotion with those real women. Indian cinema has always portrayed the ideal mother and wife as the sacrificing goddess who gives up everything for the sake of her husband or children. Erring husbands are taught the valuable lesson that ultimately you come back to the faithful, waiting wife (from Biwi No.1 to No Entry to Thankyou). The hero always chooses the stereotypical bhartiya nari (from Sushmita Sen in a sari over Katrina Kaif in skirts in Maine Kyun Pyar Kiya to Diana Penty with her desi attributes over Deepika Padukone, the party girl in Cocktail). Real women don’t drink and smoke and party till late night.

The formula never changes because the thinking never changes. This is so deeply ingrained in our systems that we do not even question it when almost every single film reiterates these restrictive models of clichéd perception. Real men and real women continue to dominate our social and cultural ideals which go on to determine our behaviour. Do we think that piling over gender expectation over another convoluted one makes us noble or are we just furthering the wrong cause? The world, after all, is all too real a place and we all have to live in this reality, no matter how bitter it might be.

Real men aren’t abstract figures that we have created from our version of moral uprightness. They are what they are.


  ABOUT THE AUTHOR
I am a student of English literature (*alarm bells*). I like to analyse television shows, books, pester people into watching something that I recently discovered and promptly fell in love with, argue with intolerance and illogical mindsets and write when I get too overwhelmed by emotions. more

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  ABOUT THE AUTHOR
I am a student of English literature (*alarm bells*). I like to analyse television shows, books, pester people into watching something that I recently discovered and promptly fell in love with, argue with intolerance and illogical mindsets and write when I get too overwhelmed by emotions. more

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