Toxic masculinity unpacked at WOW Festival

Published: December 3, 2017
How men perceive traditional male gender norms and masculinity can affect their behaviour. PHOTO: MEDICAL DAILY

How men perceive traditional male gender norms and masculinity can affect their behaviour. PHOTO: MEDICAL DAILY

KARACHI: ‘What defines a real man?’ was the question at the centre of a session at the second Women of the World (WOW) Festival, 2017 at Alliance Francaise on Saturday. The two-day festival, organised by the British Council, celebrates the lives and achievements of women and highlights the socio-economic challenges they face in their day-to-day lives.

The session, titled ‘Conversations about Boyhood’, explored what it means to be a man in a patriarchal society as Dr Kamran Ahmed, a clinical psychologist, discussed the expectations attached to the notion of masculinity that leads to toxicity.

Dr Ahmed conducted an interactive session, asking participants, who were mostly women, to share characteristics associated with the idea of what it means to be a man. “Men are supposed to be strong. They are not allowed to feel pain or express any emotion otherwise, God forbid, they will lose all sense of being,” he said.

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He traced this thought process to their upbringing, saying when a young boy gets hurt and bursts into tears, he is told to ‘man-up.’ “From a very early age we force our boys into a box that does not allow for emotional growth. They are expected to keep their feelings to themselves, which turns them into a ticking time-bomb,” he added.

Dr Ahmed mentioned that this attitude results in two kinds of violence, outward and inward. “Outward violence is very common in our society. There are numerous cases of domestic abuse, rape and sexual harassment that are not so much crimes of passion but crimes of power and control,” he said.

He claimed that men, in an attempt to assert their authority in society, tend to resort to violence that serves two purposes – to show that they are men and, consequently, to warn women of their place in society.

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On the other hand, inward violence, Dr Ahmed said, refers to the stress experienced by men in an attempt to conform to these ideals. “Boys are pressured to perform well in school so as to be able to attain financial independence and start a family. We know of many instances where this constant pressure ends up forcing young students to take their own lives,” he said, adding that older men often develop heart diseases due to financial stress.

Dr Ahmed concluded the session by advising participants to raise their boys differently and encourage the men in their lives to open up emotionally. He said men do not discuss these issues with their male friends so the women in their lives have no choice but to perform the emotional labour and, ironically, have to deal with the consequences if their male ego is hurt.

“Call out your male friends when they use derogatory language against women. Call them out when they boast of their masculinity and use violence against women,” he said, addressing the few male members in the audience.

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