Sunday, November 19, 2023

Reclaiming Masculinity: A Reflection on International Men's Day

Today (November 19th) is International Men's Day, a day that goes completely unnoticed in the media and society as a whole. Contrast it with International Women's Day on March 8th, which is widely recognized and celebrated around the world to honor women's accomplishments and contributions. Every year on that day, my social media feeds get inundated with posts commemorating women, bringing attention to the challenges they face and applauding their strength and accomplishments.  

I have no objections to the recognition given to women. And why would I? I have numerous cherished female loved ones in my life—from my mother, sisters, and nieces to teachers, colleagues, and close friends—all of whom contribute immensely to my life as well as others. They genuinely deserve every bit of attention they receive on that day and beyond.

However, the stark contrast between the two days begs the question: Why is there a lack of recognition and celebration for men on International Men's Day? Do men not merit recognition and gratitude for their contributions to society?

Bias Against Masculinity

In our current cultural climate, any conversations about the positive impacts of men, especially if initiated by men, have become taboo. The term "toxic masculinity," coined by some radical feminists, has emerged as a prominent part of the discourse on men, which equates masculinity with toxicity. Imagine the uproar if I used the term "toxic femininity"—it would undoubtedly be met with accusations of misogyny. This dichotomy in societal attitudes towards gender reveals a clear bias against men and genuine masculinity.

Before radical feminists and woke activists created a horribly skewed view of gender dynamics, masculinity was considered a highly valued attribute. Throughout history, and even on the evolutionary scale, the more masculine a man was, the more respect he had within the tribe and society. 

So, What is Masculinity?

Far from being toxic, masculinity encompasses positive traits vital for the growth of the self and society. At its core, masculinity refers to the unique qualities possessed by men. It does not imply any overall superiority/inferiority of a gender. Just as women have distinct attributes shaped by biology, men have capabilities and inclinations. Embracing these distinctions allows both genders to flourish.

Masculinity underscores virtues such as courage, leadership, protectorship, rationality, competitiveness, provision, and stoicism. Men often display analytical thinking, assertiveness, a penchant for adventure, risk-taking, and superior navigation skills. Across history, these traits empowered men as hunters, explorers, innovators, and warriors, with their physical strength proving indispensable for strenuous labor and defense.

Of course, men can exhibit feminine traits, and vice versa. However, men are naturally inclined towards masculinity as it aligns with their biological nature. Imposing societal expectations that discourage masculine expression leads to frustration and hampers progress.

Vital Societal Roles of Masculinity

Masculinity plays a crucial role, as men have historically fulfilled vital responsibilities. 

As protectors, they guided tribes and nations to safety. Male warriors defended borders, upheld justice, and safeguarded the vulnerable. Their physical strength and resilience make them well-suited for these tasks. Even today, in times of calamity, men continue to play crucial roles as first responders, firefighters, police officers, linemen, and emergency personnel. Their physical strength and courage are assets that prove invaluable in rescue missions and ensuring public safety. The historical legacy of men as protectors has seamlessly transitioned into the modern era, where their dedication to safeguarding communities remains evident.

Throughout history, men have been family providers, facing difficulty in ensuring sustenance and shelter. Their drive to succeed led to innovation, civilization development, and resource abundance. Even in the face of contemporary challenges, men continue to contribute significantly as builders, workers, and leaders. Their role in sustaining and advancing civilization persists, as they strive to meet the demands of a rapidly changing world. The resilience and determination that historically drove men to provide for their families now fuel their efforts to navigate complex societal issues and contribute to progress.

As fathers, men continue to shape the future by imparting essential values to the next generation. The qualities of honor, discipline, confidence, and perseverance that men exemplify are crucial for the development of well-rounded individuals. Studies consistently highlight the positive impact of involved fathers on children's growth, emphasizing the importance of masculine guidance, particularly for boys. In the absence of paternal influence, boys may face increased vulnerability to negative outcomes, underscoring the ongoing significance of men in shaping the trajectory of future generations.

In essence, men's roles in society have transcended the boundaries of time, adapting to the challenges of each era. Today, their contributions remain vital, as they continue to serve as protectors, providers, and influential figures in the development of resilient and thriving communities.

Dispelling Myths

Despite its necessity, masculinity is misunderstood. Myths suggest it promotes domineering attitudes, irresponsibility, violence, and chauvinism. However, authentic masculinity fosters the opposite. 

It is commonly believed that masculinity requires men to suppress their emotions and vulnerability. However, the truth is that masculine individuals experience a wide range of emotions but choose to display composure and self-control in public. They are selective about sharing their vulnerabilities to avoid being seen as weak in situations where showing weakness can lead to more problems.

Another common misconception suggests that masculinity leads to neglect of domestic responsibilities and a reluctance towards marriage and family. However, it is important to recognize that responsible fathers have always embodied true masculinity. Their commitment stems from a sense of duty, willingness to sacrifice, and deep care for their loved ones. Masculinity provides the strength needed to endure challenges and serve as a reliable foundation for the household.

Some argue that masculinity is associated with violence and aggression. However, unchecked aggression is not a trait of true masculinity but rather a sign of emotional immaturity. It can be correlated with being high on the neuroticism dimension of the Big Five personality factors. Interestingly, women tend to score higher on this particular dimension on average. Therefore, if a man lacks control over his emotions, he actually demonstrates less masculine behavior.

Many believe masculinity propagates the oppression of women. But properly understood, masculinity empowers both genders. Men's protectiveness and provision enable women to flourish and thrive in a safe and secure environment. True masculinity recognizes the inherent worth and capabilities of women and seeks to support and uplift them rather than oppress them.

Another misconception relates to the idea that masculinity is solely defined by physical strength and dominance. While physical attributes are a big part of masculinity, it is important to recognize that masculinity goes beyond physical strength. It involves qualities such as integrity, honor, resilience, and the capacity to lead with a firmness and boldness that need not be tied to physicality. Numerous studies have shown that embracing positive expressions of masculinity can have significant benefits for mental health. 

As these myths reveal, the vilification of masculinity relies on cherry-picking negative traits while ignoring the full picture. When grounded in virtue, masculinity catalyzes the best in men and society.

Threats to Masculinity 

Today, societal pressures discourage men’s masculine nature. Confusion about gender and attacks on masculinity compel men to suppress innate qualities, leading to melancholy and withdrawal.

Masculinity is condemned as patriarchal oppression, with terms like “toxic masculinity” assigning negative motives where none exist. The concept of male privilege and affirmative action imply men’s contributions are tainted, causing resentment.  

Popular culture denigrates masculinity by portraying men as bumbling fools, not inspirational heroes. Men are consistently ridiculed as uninspiring, incompetent, and immature. Even fathers are depicted as clueless and irresponsible. This inversion of gender norms mocks and weakens masculinity.

In school, environments discouraging competition and discipline demotivate boys. Reading materials and discussions cater more to girls. Society fails to provide meaningful rites of passage, giving participation trophies rather than earned achievements. Coddling boys rather than holding them accountable deprives them of the experiences needed to transition into purposeful, authentic masculinity.

Men often find themselves caught in a prolonged stage of adolescence rather than embracing true masculinity. They seek solace in activities like video games, pornography, substance abuse, and reckless behavior. Unfortunately, this lack of purpose leads to indifference and social isolation. Consequently, there is an increasing number of passive men who struggle with self-esteem issues and a sense of direction due to the absence of strong values.

Time to Reclaim Masculinity

In simpler terms, toxic masculinity, if it exists, can be seen as a diluted form of traditional masculinity in which boys and men do not fully embrace and develop the virtues of masculinity they inherently possess. 

The question then is how can boys and men become more masculine, free from the constraints of the myth of "toxic masculinity" created by feminists? The answer lies in not allowing these women to define what it means to be masculine. 

Boys and men should seek male role models who embody authentic masculinity, men who are physically strong but not bullies, assertive yet respectful, confident yet humble, stoic yet emotionally aware, disciplined yet open to possibilities, and seek to uphold virtues such as integrity, honor, and responsibility. 

By doing so, boys and men can reclaim their own narratives of masculinity and reject the notion that masculinity is some form of disease that they should suppress. There are toxic men as there are toxic women. Any toxic behavior exhibited by a man should not be automatically attributed to masculinity, exactly as it would be unfair to equate the toxic behavior of a woman to femininity in general.

In a world that readily acknowledges the achievements and struggles of women on International Women's Day, the silence surrounding International Men's Day speaks volumes. The prevailing bias against masculinity, perpetuated by societal misconceptions and misguided ideologies, undermines the genuine contributions of men. It is high time we challenge the narrative that associates masculinity with toxicity and oppression. By recognizing the positive qualities that define masculinity—courage, leadership, and resilience—we empower men to reclaim their narrative and break free from the constraints of toxic stereotypes.

International Men's Day should not be a day of silence but a day of celebration, acknowledging the invaluable roles men play as protectors, providers, and mentors. Let us move beyond the shadows of bias, dispel the myths surrounding masculinity, and embrace a future where both men and women are appreciated for their unique strengths, fostering a society that thrives on equality, understanding, and mutual respect.

Monday, September 11, 2023

The Tale of Two 9/11s: Honoring Loss, Inspiring Hope

It wouldn't be an exaggeration to say that the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon impacted the psyche of America and the world in a way that very few other events have. The images of the two towers collapsing, the people fleeing in terror, and the devastation that was left in the wake of the attacks are burned into our collective memory. The 9/11 attacks were a shock and a wake-up call to the reality of Islamic terrorism in the Western world. Two decades later, these attacks continue to shape our world today. It's not that 9/11 was the first terrorist attack on America – it wasn't. But the scale and coordination of the attacks, as well as the brazenness of using commercial airliners as missiles, was on a level that no one had seen before. The destruction of the Twin Towers, in particular, was something that people couldn't wrap their heads around. For many, it felt like the world as they knew it had ended. 

In this short post, I would like to urge the world to remember a different 9/11, one that can help move the world away from the prejudice and hatred that fueled the 9/11 attacks. 9/11 is a historic day in world history not just because of the terrorist attacks but also because on this day in 1893, Swami Vivekananda gave his famous speech at the Parliament of the World's Religions in Chicago. This was a truly momentous event because it marked the first time that a Hindu monk had addressed a Western audience. Vivekananda, though initially nervous, bowed to Maa Saraswati -- the Hindu goddess of learning, and began his speech with "Sisters and brothers of America!" a common salutation (at least in India), but the authenticity with which he spoke those words struck such a chord with the 7000 plus audience that they gave him a standing ovation that lasted for over two minutes. This was an incredible feat, considering that, at the time, most people in the West knew very little about Hinduism and India.

In his speech, Vivekananda spoke about the unity of all religions and the need for religious tolerance. He said, "I am proud to belong to a religion which has taught the world both tolerance and universal acceptance. We believe not only in universal toleration, but we accept all religions as true. I am proud to belong to a nation which has sheltered the persecuted and the refugees of all religions and all nations of the earth."

Vivekananda's words ring even more true today in a world that is still reeling with religious hatred and intolerance that are rooted in supremacist religious ideologies. The 9/11 attacks were a brutal reminder of the consequences of such hatred. But, as we remember the innocent lives that were lost on that fateful day, let us also remember the words of Swami Vivekananda and recommit ourselves to building a world that is based on the Sanatana Dharma principles of respecting the dignity of all life, seeing the divinity in all beings, and working for the welfare of all irrespective of religious affiliation. Let us strive to create a world where supremacist religious ideologies cannot take root and fester. Instead, let us encourage a world where respect for pluralistic traditions and promoting religious tolerance are the norm. Only then can we hope to achieve true peace in our world.

It wouldn't be an exaggeration to say that Swami Vivekananda's speech at the 1893 Parliament of World Religions was a watershed moment in bringing Hinduism and India onto the global stage. At a time when few in the West knew anything about Hinduism, Vivekananda powerfully conveyed the spirit of universality that lies at the heart of India's ancient wisdom tradition. Just as the 9/11 attacks shaped the world we live in today, Vivekananda's historic address on that same date over a century ago impacted world history as well. His eloquent advocacy of religious tolerance and human fraternity resonates now more than ever in a world still struggling with religious divisions and strife. 

Two decades after the horrific 9/11 attacks, we would do well to keep Vivekananda's message alive. Those words of wisdom can serve as a guiding light as we work to heal divides, end prejudice, and build a more just and inclusive world order. Vivekananda's speech reminds us that when we recognize our shared humanity, embrace pluralism, and accept all faiths as true, we open the door to mutual understanding and cooperation. The road ahead requires perseverance and courage. But if we hold fast to these ideals, we can yet realize the dream of peace and harmony between all nations and peoples. The light of Vivekananda's universalist vision still shines brightly, helping illuminate the path forward even on the darkest of days.

Tuesday, August 15, 2023

Beyond the Flag Waving: Making Independence Day Matter

Today we celebrate India's Independence Day. This marks the day we officially broke free from British rule, although the truth is that we are still mentally tethered to our colonizers in many ways. We sure have broken numerous mental shackles, but many more still exist. They have become so much a part of ourselves that we fail to even notice them. So this Independence Day, let's resolve to identify and break free from at least one more shackle. Let's challenge the conditioned thinking that limits our potential and holds us back from achieving greater heights. 

Change always starts at the individual level. Let's identify one mental or physical habit in our lives that is no longer helpful and may even be harmful. It could be an addiction, a prejudice, a limiting belief, or anything else that constrains us. For me personally, it is my tendency to judge myself harshly and dwell on past mistakes. This habit only breeds guilt and inhibits my growth, yet it has become entrenched in my psyche. This Independence Day, I will start practicing self-compassion and focus on learning from my mistakes rather than berating myself for them. What is the habit you want to break free from?

Let's commit to breaking free of that habit. Change takes time, effort, and community support. So let's build a community that will empower us to realize true freedom. We can find people with similar goals who will cheer us on, advise us when we falter, and inspire us by their example. Our forefathers also relied on building a strong community to gain freedom. They supported each other through tremendous sacrifice and cooperation to make liberty possible. 

Independence isn't about going it alone, but rather interdependence - empowering one another so we can all realize our respective potentials. We are social beings who thrive when connected to others with similar values and aspirations. So let's build communities, both online and offline, to help each other break free of our self-limiting patterns. Together we are strong.

Unless we change ourselves, Independence Day celebrations are just empty events that don't make any real difference in our lives except to massage our egos. True independence comes from freeing our minds, not just celebrating historic political events. So this Independence Day, let's walk the talk. Let's pick one shackle to break free from and take the first step today. Our future selves will thank us.

Happy Independence Day to all my fellow Indians! May this day inspire us to expand the boundaries of our minds and lives.

Tuesday, February 21, 2023

Your friends are like your car’s tires!

Recently a friend posed an interesting question: How do you identify your true friends from the numerous people you consider as friends? She went on to answer her question by saying that true friends are those who stand by you in your difficult times. She shared some examples of her own friends who had supported her in moments of tremendous stress and difficulty, sometimes sacrificing their own comfort and convenience to do so. She further said that the people with whom you have parties and share good times are not necessarily your true friends.

Most people would agree with my friend's observations without any hesitation. We do indeed need friends to support us in our bad times. I certainly value every one of those people who stood by me during the rough times of my life. These are the people I trust the most and I am extremely grateful for their integrity and the loyalty that they have shown me.

However, is it wise to completely discount the people who were there with us during the good times? There is a colloquial expression for a person who is there with you only during your good times. We call them 'fair-weather friends'. These are the people who are only present when things are going well, but disappear or are less available when challenges arise. The implication is that they are unreliable and do not deserve to be called our friends.

I agree that we should not rely on 'fair-weather friends' to provide us with necessary support and assistance during 'foul-weather' conditions. Doing so would be sheer naivety. However, does that mean that 'fair-weather friends' are useless? Not necessarily. While we may not turn to them for support during difficult times, they often provide us with useful companionship and levity in moments of joy and contentment. We may or may not decide to call them "our true friends," but they still do enrich our lives by providing us with many memorable positive experiences in life.

Friends are like our car tires. They both provide support and help us move forward through our life's journeys. And there are many types of tires as there are many types of friends. All of them have their own unique roles to play. For example, there are Summer tires - let's use them as a metaphor for fair-weather friends - which are primarily designed for high-performance vehicles and provide optimized dry and wet performance levels in a temperate environment. Rather than being useless, these tires serve the great purpose of giving us a wonderful ride and experience on warm and sunny days.

Then we have the Winter tires - the metaphor for our dependable foul-weather friends. We depend on these tires to smoothly traverse through the slippery and icy road conditions of the Winter. While the Winter tires work great in snowy and icy conditions, they are not ideal for the Summer months. When used in the Summer, they tend to wear out faster, reduce fuel efficiency, and make your car less responsive and grippy, especially at high speeds. In other words, these tires just don't provide the same joyous experience as the Summer tires do during the metaphorical 'sunny times' of our lives.

So, we do need both fair- and foul-weather friends in our lives. Some people - for example, those high on the extraversion personality dimension - make for excellent company during the good times, while others - for example, those high on the agreeableness and conscientiousness personality dimensions - make for highly dependable friends during bad times.

We may wish that all our friends were like all-season tires, that supposedly provide the best of both worlds - reliable performance in all weather conditions and great comfort. However, any tire expert will tell you that all-season tires are more of a compromise than an ideal solution for varying driving conditions. The same goes for our friends too. Our all-weather friends may stay with us through thick and thin, but what they offer may not be optimal in all situations. And that may not be because of their lack of loyalty or commitment. Instead, they may simply lack the unique capabilities and temperament that made somebody else a perfect fit for a certain life-situation.

In conclusion, true friendship goes beyond being there during our difficulties. We need both fair-weather and foul-weather friends. They both have important roles to play in our lives. Rather than looking down upon our fair-weather friends, let us appreciate them for magnifying the joyous experiences of our life. Needless to say, let us also thank our foul-weather friends for being a pillar of strength and support during our storms. Both of them enrich our lives in their own unique ways.

Photo credit: Clem Onojeghuo