Graduating high school was a pivotal moment for my intellectual growth because, until then, I was not immensely concerned with staying updated on current events. The more I consumed the news, utilised social media for reading and responding to articles, and watched politically-oriented television shows and movies, the more I found that the theory of intersectional feminism resonated with my slowly evolving beliefs.
South Asian culture is less than kind to women; and I was always painfully aware of the fact that my male peers were never as conscious of their attire as I was forced to be, had later curfews than I did or none at all, and had never felt the need to send their friends the plate numbers of taxis they entered. But, while gliding through my weekly feminist reading list and learning about all the intersections of oppression women suffer, I was also exposed to a plethora of articles on how the patriarchy also restricts male agency and limits their choices, whether professional or personal.
Dikshit Kashyap’s stunning photo-series titled “Man Enough” illustrates exactly this: that from being conditioned into emotional immaturity to being forced to prove their manhood through violence, men have been suffering silently under the forces of a soceital structure that has set expectations and roles for the only two largely recognised genders.
A student of Geology from Hansraj in Delhi University, Dikshit is using his art to highlight the struggles men experience at the hands of toxic masculinity. On feminism, he said, “The current wave has brought attention to how men are also victims of patriarchy... but is shadowed due to toxic masculinity.” His photography project stems from a strong desire to spread awareness about how feminism helps men too and deconstruct the elements of masculinity.
One of this series’ focus is the role facial hair plays in upping ‘manhood’. “Toxic masculinity rigidly codifies bearded men as more idealistic and powerful, consequently affirming to commercialised beauty standards,” he perceptively said. However, stereotyping male facial hair is only a small step in a long trail of controversial conditioning. Men are also ridiculed for their overall body shape if they do not conform to the stringent, convention of being big built and muscular because masculinity is directly proportional to the male physique. “Growing up, I have had and shared experiences with my close friends being body shamed just for being skinny or fat,” Dikshit said.
He uses a red measuring tape as a prop in his photographs to show that men are emasculated in a variety of ways under the umbrella of body shaming. What is usually the butt of seemingly harmless jokes, the size of a man’s penis is also fodder for bullying. “Toxic masculinity reinforces jokes around penis size which leads to dropping self-esteem, performance anxiety, substance abuse, and hindrance of a normal and healthy sex life,” Dikshit noted.
Toxic masculinity explicitly links manhood to a sense of superiority. This teaches men to not only shun all stereotypically ‘feminine’ things like make up and fashion, but also negatively treat other individuals who take an active interest in the same. Most often, women are at the receiving end of the violent consequences that come with fragile masculinity. “Men are bred to be the heads of their respective families which gives them the false impression that they are superior to the female,” Dikshit said, explaining the deeply ingrained synonymity between physical aggression and a proving of one’s masculinity. Dikshit’s clever choice of a black and white aesthetic is symbolic of this gender binary that society categories men into: masculine and not, there is no healthy middle, no grey area.
Dikshit believes that undoing of toxic masculinity lies in the nature of mass media and hopes his series, ‘Man Enough’ disrupts toxic narratives. “The inflexibility of the male identity is propagated by social media, apparel brands, and male-centric Indian cinema,” he argued. But, he doesn’t merely want to start a much-needed conversation, he wants to add to the work of feminists by finding solutions to the problems he presents. If the lack of emotion, specifically an expression of vulnerability, is the more glaring issue, Dikshit said, “The best way to combat toxic masculinity is to start talking, to open up about your feelings and insecurities.” He even discusses successful parenting and mentions that it is paramount for parents to allow their children to emote freely and communicate with patience.
For young adults, Dikshit says that introspection is necessary. When confronted with the problematic nature of their behaviour, men must work towards understanding the root of their problematic conditioning and consume media that seeks to undo it and provide a fresh and healthy perspective. “Young men should also actively participate in unlearning the sexist and misogynistic traits through being a considerate ally without getting defensive and indulging in proper introspection about their behaviour.”
As a believer in taking initiative, Dikshit asserts that men must create an environment conducive to a non-judgmental expression of themselves and other men. “It is time that men start expressing their feelings [and] make each man feel that it is okay to be vulnerable, to open up about their insecurities, and understand that being tender is okay.”
Feature image taken from Dikshit Kashyap’s ‘Man Enough’ series.
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