Growing up, I noticed that the temple officials would always pull my dad forward to lead the prayer while the rest of us stood behind him. Fast forward to 2009 and my dad wasn’t with us at the temple this time. And the moment had arrived for us to offer fruit at the altar and do the main prayer. I stood at the back because I was helping my mum and sisters out, and I wasn’t really interested in the prayer. Now at this point, I would assume that the elderly female temple official would pull my mum forward to begin the prayer but instead, she reached past my mum and elder sisters and pulled me to the front. I was the youngest family member who didn’t have much of an interest in praying but a great deal of significance was thrust upon me just because I was a MAN.
A great number of people wouldn’t really find this problematic. After all in my dad’s absence, I am the MAN of the house right?
But this is how oppressive hierarchies that center on patriarchy begin. It starts with a troublesome term of endearment used to empower somebody and then it avalanches into something much more toxic and frightening.
To the world, messages of feminism, patriarchy and toxic masculinity are always portrayed as something conveyed by vicious angry women that have issues with men. But that is what most fragile people want us to believe about a woman who speaks out against a structured system of male privilege. Fragile people who believe that women cannot be level-headed warriors trying to fight for equality but instead, think that their veracity has to be limited to their anger and frustration with men.
As a man, I know how patriarchy and masculinity works. It centers on establishing dominance through aggression and violence. I have been a victim of this but in many ways, I have also been a perpetrator of it.
As a child, I bullied people physically and emotionally. Bullying is a psychologically complex issue but it is really quite simple when you do it. It starts by singling out the weakest person and unleashing your aggression onto them.
I never grew up in a home that taught me to bully people but I lived in a society that echoed a sentiment, a sentiment that said BE A MAN. And the definition of a MAN was somebody who asserted himself through aggression and enacted violence onto those who wouldn’t abide by his laws. So I basically hurt others to make up for the people who hurt me i.e. people I was not strong enough to fight.
Of course, Karma always balances the scales. My first two years of high school were filled with beatings and bruises. Bullying wasn’t a one-man job anymore but an organized syndicate of pain. The beatings reminded me of those I hurt. It reminded me that every slap, punch and kick I’d dealt a person in the past was just a boomerang gathering momentum on its return.
Understanding that bullying was a circular race track of torment didn’t really change the way in which I viewed women. I knew that I had to “respect” women and “protect” women because I was socialized to believe that women were weak. I was raised by my mother and two sisters yet the “external” society molded my mind to ignore the fact that I was surrounded by strong supportive women. It created a mindset that lead me to believe that I was much more superior than them.
Patriarchy also affected the way in which I pursued romantic relationships with other women. I was a nerd and always got pissed off when the pretty girls I liked dated “bad boys.” I hated it because I believed that I was one of the good guys who always finished last. Using that logic I thought that a woman was obligated to want me because I perceived myself to be a self-righteous man. Of course, things didn’t go my way and then I’d started labeling the girls “bitches” (not to their faces), and acting irritably aggressive towards them. I placed blame on the girls and not the system of entitlement I had structured in my head.
I disliked men who behaved in a feminine manner and dressed in a certain way. I was trained to believe that as a man, you don’t wear pink, tight-fitting clothes, and shiny things. You don’t have a right to behave fabulously because that is reserved for women or homosexuals.
STRONG, POWERFUL, VIOLENT AND RUGGED were the characteristics of the ideal man. But patriarchy is just not propagated by men; in fact, it is a collaborative effort on the part of both gender groups.
When it comes to creating platforms for equality in the brown communities we take one step forward and ten steps back. We know that physical and emotional abuse is bad but in many ways, we still culturally preserve archaic gender stereotypes that contribute to this swirling gyre of madness.
Phrases like “take it like a man” and “as a woman you shouldn’t do that” or “as a man you should do this” add to the inferno of this madness. I see how designated authorities in temples police the bodies of women to a point where women are referred to as being “dirty” when they are on their period and are told not to attend places of worship because of it. Women have to dress “appropriately” so that men are not enticed. And these are societal “laws” parroted by other women. What is more disturbing is that people will justify these “laws” with their own brand of “wisdom.”
And let’s never assume some troublesome mindsets are the result of people being uneducated. I come across many people with PhDs and other higher degrees who are quick to purport gender stereotypes and enforce oppressive customs. A college degree doesn’t absolve our ignorance and inability to grasp some of the social evils that we have a hand in contributing to.
“Female Empowerment” is a phrase thrown around in mainstream media rather loosely. Somehow it has been stripped of its “power” and just become a superficial show of elite activism and bandwagon-ing. It is problematic when people believe empowerment arises from a woman doing what a man can do. We witnessed this in the movie Wonder Woman where the protagonist was seen as someone strong and powerful only because she could be just as violent as her male counterparts while the rest of her character was reduced to a love story revolving around a man. Hollywood raked in millions from this watered down show of “femininity.”
If somebody asked me if I thought men are trash, I’d say yes. And it has nothing to do with the fact that most men are rapists, abusers, cat callers and well-grounded chauvinists. It has something to do with my own journey and mindset and admitting that I have a long way to go in truly understanding the reality of women in this mad world.
I have to admit that I have male privilege and that I could walk out my door never having to worry about being raped. My body will never be sexualized, commoditized and controlled by the church and state.
And I know that I will come across many men who will aggressively take offense to all men being called trash because they don’t perceive themselves as trash.
Men that will defend themselves by saying...
“Speak for yourself!"
"We all haven’t raped women."
"I am a good husband and father."
"We all don’t act aggressively."
"And women can be aggressive too. Blah-blah-blah.”
And from my experience, men who say stuff like this always have their own chauvinistic standards that are unbeknownst to them.
Our aggression, denial and our inability to self-analyze our toxic masculinity are often traits best found right at the bottom of the rubbish bin.