He left a world that didn’t give him a chance.
Being raised in a Punjabi-culture environment void of nurture or love, he grew up to learn that to be a man was to be stoic, unemotional and strong. But that became too much for him when the depression hit. Expecting him to be the head of the house and breadwinner, no one acknowledged the mental health issue, or that perhaps a medical solution could help him. Instead, the typical Punjabi alcohol addiction became the answer, resulting in violence and abuse, and eventually in suicide.
This is the story of a man, kept anonymous upon request, who carried the weight of a fixable problem, disregarded due to toxic masculinity. In Punjabi culture, the term “toxic masculinity” exists in silence through all the patriarchal traditions and expectations in the typical household. While the mold is breaking as more and more Punjabi families are becoming open-minded and understanding, there is still a long way to go for men to be able to value and take care of their mental health, moving away from toxic masculinity. According to The Good Men Project, toxic masculinity can be defined as:
A narrow and repressive description of manhood, designating manhood as defined by violence, sex, status and aggression. It’s the cultural ideal of manliness, where strength is everything while emotions are a weakness; where sex and brutality are yardsticks by which men are measured, while supposedly “feminine” traits—which can range from emotional vulnerability to simply not being hypersexual—are the means by which your status as “man” can be taken away.
In my experience as a Punjabi woman, terms like mental health and toxic masculinity are non-existent, let alone acknowledged. The man in the story was not able to seek help because acknowledging the reality of the situation wasn’t an option. It will take more than just one story to dismantle this blind eye for toxic masculinity, and then dismantle toxic masculinity itself, however, here are a few tips that might reach the core of this issue. Here’s what you can do, as someone who is a victim of toxic masculinity or sees it around them:
- Allow vulnerability.
“Stoic” is an ancient concept we often attribute to men, the heroes of our epics, like Aeneas from Virgil’s Aeneid. Many times, our ideal version of the best men are those who are able to put their emotions aside and protect others, to fight for the greater good. We need to understand that all humans experience emotions, good and bad, and that these emotions need a way to be expressed—through vulnerability. Take time to really understand these three words: it is okay. It is okay to be vulnerable, to be emotional. Just be what you need to be to help yourself and protect your mental health. This, too, can be considered a fight for the greater good.
- Call it out, have a conversation—in a respectful and insightful way.
As I have gone through my education, I can see myself being more outspoken on issues that directly affect my household or close relationships. I have learned that, yes, I can call someone out for having a toxic perspective, and I can do so with facts, compassion, respect and open-mindedness. Understand their place, talk to someone about toxic masculinity like you might talk to yourself. What would you need to say to yourself? What are some ways they can change their thinking to see the reality of how toxic masculinity has negative effects? And don’t forget: compassion, respect and understanding are key to holding these conversations.
- Stop succumbing to stereotypes.
“Boys will be boys.” “Grow some balls.” “Be a man.” Just a few of the phrases we might have heard that represent the face of toxic masculinity. Take a look at these, and think about how these can be destructive to the development of boys. They put a whole group of people into a small box, no room for complexity or originality. Dismantle, dismantle and dismantle. Stereotypes in general do not do much good, but in this case, they have the power to break men, like the one in the story.
- Understand the complexity of human emotions and struggles.
The other side of dismantling stereotypes is understanding human complexity. Just as the world is home to countless cultures, ideologies and perspectives, the human mind too is home to these complexities. We overcome struggles, celebrate victories by acknowledging and working towards what works for us. Mental health should be the same. You are complex, and that is okay, it is human. Do not put yourself or others into boxes. Rather, embrace your and others’ complexity and stand up against anyone who tries to belittle it.
The man in the story is just one case in thousands. He did not get a chance, but we can give chances and accept chances. Wherever we see toxic masculinity emitting its silent destruction, be there and don’t give it a chance.