At 5:03pm on November 19 2021, a friend at work casually mentioned: “Today is International Men’s Day.” The response my friend received was nothing short of shock. Because, well, let’s say it again: it was International Men’s Day on November 19th. An International Men’s Day exists, and I didn’t know about it.
Out of curiosity, I texted some friends to ask them if they knew about the Day and also why we have a men’s day. One friend replied: “There is a women’s day for women, so we obviously have to have a men’s day for men.” I don’t think International Men’s Day exists just because there is an International Women’s Day. But my friend seemed to believe so.
Thankfully, my ignorance about Men’s Day isn’t isolated. There were a few like me, completely oblivious to the existence or purpose of International Men’s Day. And, so, I take this as an opportunity to discuss what these days are about.
As a starting point, let’s revisit what it means to be a man. Titled “Gentleman Kise Kehte Hain,” actor Ayushmann Khurrana decoded the concept of a ‘gentleman’ in a poetry performance under the label of “The Man Company”.
Ussi se ladkiyan tumpe marengi
Par marengi kyun?
Unhe marna nahi chaahiye,
Main Jahan hoon, jahan khada hoon
Unhe darna nahin chaahiye.
In my opinion the above poetry excerpt perfectly encompasses the theme of International Men’s Day, 2021: “Better relations between men and women”. I appreciate this theme because as a woman, I look for real conversations about men and their manhood in my life: friendship, fatherhood, happiness, marriage, body image and masculinity.
Question: Are you man enough for me?
Over the years, we’ve seen how masculinity is represented on our media channels. Think about Sikander in Kankar, Ashar in Humsafar, Dada in Alif, Shayan in Inkar and Saad in Ehd – e – Wafa. How many of these roles truly define Pakistani masculinity? I really can’t say – but each role did put multiple thoughts in motion.
So, in the spirit of this years’ International Men’s Day and its theme, here’s my attempt to connect with the men in my life and to celebrate them in all ages, shapes and colors.
I believe that our understanding of gender roles is flawed. There is not enough discourse about these gender roles and this leads to both genders being stereotyped and labelled. Have you ever heard that “Boys wear blue” or that “boys don’t cry”? Who defined these parameters? Since when were gender dynamics ever meant to be so rigid, with defined shapes and boundaries? Is it a question of patriarchy, or a question of societal pressure? Is this because no one in our society is allowed to be expressive? Or do these limits have something to do with being shielded from the big, bad outside world which makes every transgression of gender roles into a big deal?
Growing up in a patriarchal society, we are constantly made aware that men are our protectors. In order to protect us, they must be strong. When men are repeatedly told that “real men don’t cry” they begin to hide their emotions. They don’t even realize that crying does not, and will not, ever make them “less manly”.
Another question: Do you even lift, bro?
Don’t worry about it, I will not ask you that. Even if I did, you don’t have to answer me. I believe a man’s shape and size does not determine if he’s man enough. About five years ago, the six-pack build was quite the rave. Men were flexing their pecs to look like The Rock. These men would completely understand where questions like “do you lift, bro” or “how much do you bench,” were coming from.
Recall the male stereotyping we have all grown up with: the macho hype, the one who runs the show at home, who doesn’t cry, and will not randomly get emotional. For a minute, let’s go beyond this materialistic mindset — where perceptions of men and their bodies are less rigid. And then let’s attempt to understand that no amount of six-packs, seven digit salaries, and ability to be devoid of emotion can determine the strength of a man.
This year’s theme for International Men’s Day, “Better relations between men and women” is unachievable until men develop healthy relationships with themselves.
International Men’s Day is not a competition against International Women’s Day. The latter deals with a unique set of challenges women continue to face, despite living in the 21st century. These include gender discrimination, significant pay gaps and many other. However, November 19th aims to address the set of issues that men face due to patriarchy and gender roles: identity crisis, body image, happiness, fatherhood, marriage, friendship and masculinity. But above all, it inspires inclusivity.
So regardless of your age, shape, or color, remember that you will always be man enough.
I grew up the same way in a totally different culture. Men don’t cry, men “control” (suppress) emotion, all of the usual stereotypes. Ever since I was young, however, music had always made me emotional. My mother well tell you that singing “Rock-A-Bye-Baby” would make me cry because “when the bough, the cradle will fall” have me visions of certain death. Now, I also have an emotional son. More so than I ever was, and I can see in him that telling him to suppress his emotions could make him extremely volatile. This is unhealthy. Regardless of gender, we should be learning to understand emotion, rather than suppress it. Understanding it will help you “control” it or be able to identify when you might be losing control. I’m raising my son differently. It’s time for change. I recognise International Men’s Day as an opportunity to bring awareness to the challenges that men face as well. If we can curtail the toxicity of traditional masculinity, then we can start to bridge the gaps between the sexes.