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What makes a Pakistani male “manly”?

Being a man isn’t just about masculinity

Published: September 17, 2016

It is generally seen as okay for a man to speak loudly or even yell or curse. Even in the most seemingly progressive families, girls are often told not to talk or laugh loudly. PHOTO: RANGIZZZ/SHUTTERSTOCK

“But that’s how we guys are.”

Is a common response when a woman asks a man about a few traits and attitudes that are seen as manly and macho.

While walking on a street near you, in a mall, or even when couples enter weddings – a familiar scenario ensues. The husband can be seen walking a few steps ahead of the wife for sure, and the wife trudging behind him, adjusting her ensemble, trying to catch up.

For Pakistani males, Def Leppard’s classic Two Steps Behind You is too mushy I’m sure. It is seen as some mark of masculinity to walk at least two steps ahead, if not four.

In our society, or maybe that is how it is all over the world, a few things are seen as ‘guy things.’

For example, the obscene joke sharing. It seems that there is an unsaid rule that in order to classify as a man, you absolutely must share lame and cheap jokes, and video clips and photographs of women in awkward or objectionable poses. Whatever one shares amongst friends is the personal business of each individual. But what is worrisome is how this is seen as a sign of masculinity. Such stereotypes are so etched in our social fabric that we are conditioned to think this is what makes a guy a ‘man.’

Ever seen prime time dramas on Pakistani television channels? They all seem to imply that it is some signature symptom of manliness for men to have affairs, cheat on the wife, and have physical needs, while a good, demure woman is stereotyped as a prudish character who is always shy and playing hard to get.

It is generally seen as okay for a man to speak loudly or even yell or curse. Even in the most seemingly progressive families, girls are often told not to talk or laugh loudly.

It is the men who are supposed to drive the car even if the wife or sister is the better driver or even if the poor husband or brother is exhausted after a long day at work. It is encouraging, actually, when one meets a man who is man enough to say “I don’t enjoy driving” if he doesn’t. But mostly they are unable to voice it, just like it is not easy for a woman to say she does not enjoy cooking.

Women themselves are participants in the act of perpetuating these stereotypes.

They feel sympathy for their sons or brothers if they help the wife with carrying the baby,change the baby’s diapers, or God forbids take paternal leave. Helping in the kitchen is something real men, of course, don’t do.

This conventionalising is not always in favour of men, and is not always healthy. Consider the economic arena.

In this age of inflation and consumerism, one salary is often not enough to support a family. With more and more women joining the work force in Pakistan, both can spend on the collective household. But gender stereotyping ends up pushing both males and females in pigeonholes of rigidly defined roles. The man ends up not helping the woman in the kitchen and housework even if she is also an earning member of the family. Similarly, even if he does end up lending a hand at home, many working women confess to feeling a pinch inside when they have to spend on their families. The feeling is best described as being made to do something they are not supposed to be doing.

Man-kind has not really progressed that much, has it, when the marks of manliness are not values like strength, courage and honesty, but instead driving a sports car, riding a massive motorbike in boots, or smoking a cigarette in public.

There are some inherent traits and tilts that are natural to both the genders. Some of these are natural. But others are not. They are just by-products of being exposed to certain socio-cultural habits of a nation.

For those who are the strongest of men, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to push their boundaries and challenge these norms by walking behind the wife or speaking softly and let the woman in your life have the last word. Being a man takes more than that.

Farahnaz Zahidi

Farahnaz Zahidi

Farahnaz is a writer and editor, and has worked as the Features Editor with The Express Tribune. Her focus is human-centric feature stories. She now writes as a freelancer, and works in the field of marketing and corporate communications. She loves literature and traveling. Her work can be seen at chaaidaani.wordpress.com/

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He can change diapers, & She can get the car fixed.

Why not?

Once upon a time, men used to go out at the break of dawn. Into the jungle. With their crude weapons. In groups. They would play predator and prey, and come back with their game, proudly guffawing in happiness at the lamb or deer they had hunted. On return, they would hand it over to the women after slaughtering and butchering it. The women, who had basically been tending to the children and waiting all day for the men to return all day. They’d all happily share it, and go to sleep. And the next day would be the same.

Simple times. Innocent times. Not so anymore.

As humanity progressed, people started to need more out of life. Every subsequent generation complicated life a little further. And complicating things is not necessarily a bad thing, and is a natural part of human progression. So the demands of modern life increased. Consumerism made us want more. Happiness began to be associated with “things”. Both men and women now needed more out of life. For men, the thrill of the chase became focused at more than one goat or lamb. They needed achievements that show how well they had done in the big bad world of cut throat competition. The houses, cars, trips abroad, kids in elite schools, a beautiful wife. All these wants are today needs. Women, of course, also simultaneously evolved. More ambitious, more driven, more consciously aware of what all it entails to be socially successful. Even if you don’t have it all, you at least strive for it.

The world has changed. We all strive for a better quality of life. And for that, in a growing number of cases, one pay cheque is  is simply not enough. Thus, the working woman makes an entry into the world. She may be working in the fields picking cotton. She may be working as house help. She may be working in a textile factory. She may be a teacher, or a woman working in a salon, or a female actor. Or a banker or a doctor or an executive. Or she may be a journalist. But the fact remains that the working woman has arrived.

Women are natural born multi-taskers. They can take care of a lot more things simultaneously compared to men. And modern lifestyles are making her use this natural skill to the fullest. Even if a woman is not a working woman, she is juggling so many balls of responsibilities, it is not even funny. Ask any XYZ urban woman of Pakistan, and she will confess that she is doing so much with her life.  She is giving birth to kids, feeding them, weaning them. If they are a bit grown up, chances are that a major chunk of her time is spent on the road, picking and dropping them from school or tuition. She buys groceries. She goes to the bank for work like utility bills. She monitors the domestic staff and makes sure everything is clean right from the kitchen counters to the cupboards. She cooks, even if she has help, as her family likes that. She has to give time to her own parents and her husband’s. In addition, she must look good, so add to the list the endless trips to the tailor and the shopping sprees, and the aerobics and the trips to the salon. And she has to be a contributing member of society so chances are that she is part of some sort of social welfare activity. She entertains and socializes. She is also a counselor or a therapist to her sisters, her friends, her children, and her testosterone-fueled husband who needs loads of attention. On top of it all, she even drives! Because no driver in Pakistan today is willing to charge less than 10 k.

And on top of it all, IF she is a working woman, she also goes to work and pools into the family’s money pool!

Perhaps one of the MOST irritating questions to a woman is “so what do you do”? Even if she is not bringing in money to the table, she IS a working woman. We all are.

In defence of the men, their roles are also less simple compared to what they used to be. Their work hours are longer. The driving conditions are horrendous and it takes them often hours to get home. The work stress is not just physical anymore, unlike the stone age. The public relationing, the staying on top of the game, the making sure that he does not lose his job in these times of unstable economic conditions world over. And the joyous pain of having better halves who are much more aware, awakened and in some ways more demanding than their counterparts of 50 years ago – life is not easy for anyone.

Coming to the real point of this blog. The pertinent question here would be: What is the problem with both men and women exchanging and sharing their over-lapping roles in today’s world that is forever in a state of flux anyways?

I hope I am not misunderstood here as an angry feminist who feels that all men are out there to take advantage of women by making them slave. And I hope I am not thought as someone who sees a problem with a woman being a woman and a man being a man. I enjoy the whole routine of cooking and cleaning and looking good and being a mom. I also do not have issues with the traditional gender roles. But I am realistic in realizing that over-lapping and sharing of responsibilities in the genders is a reality.

The problem arises when “she” is expected to be super human and do it all, in addition to earning. Or he is expected to earn enough to cater to all the ever-increasing financial demands. To me, the problem arises when changing the baby’s diaper, making coffee for both of them after dinner or cooking is off limits for him. Or if she thinks that by driving or paying the bills, her femininity is being challenged or compromised. The problem for me is when, if he is taking care of the house and kids in a time period when she is preparing for her post-graduate medical studies, eye brows are raised. The problem for me is when, if she is the secondary contributor to the financial needs of the home, he is made to feel less of a man.

Balance is the name of the game. If they both can negotiate on responsibilities, and come to a mutual understanding, life is wonderful.

A couple is a team. In every possible sense of the word. They complement each other. Together they make up the whole. Alone, they are parts. In unison, they complete and bring together a home. And for that, if she sits behind the steering wheel and he sits in the passenger seat, or if he washes the dishes on a Sunday morning while she goes through the newspaper, so be it.