What makes a man?
Can there be an “ideal man”?
Are we close to being, if not actually are, ideal men?
Can we be ideal men?
It is strange enough that these questions are today being asked, and have attained more relevance than ever; for it shouldn’t be that hard to answer them, right? Unfortunately, the men stand divided on almost all of them, and other similar questions that one may be able to construct.
Historically, men have been predominantly associated with the idea of “the provider”, “the protector”, “the devta” to his spouse, an infallible class of the human race that is second only to itself.
However, as times passed, we witnessed that the societal dominance of men began to falter, as there were new contenders ready to claim the metaphorical throne of society. Women.
And unsurprisingly so, men were eventually dethroned, assuming there was ever one to hold on to. Women began to find their way to survive and prosper sans “the provider” in their lives. Now women provided for themselves, protected themselves, and what not.
As women began to claim their rightful place in the society, *some* men were left unsettled, baffled, and in utter disbelief; for the man was not the provider anymore. He was not infallible anymore. And the chaos followed soon after.
The above phases presume that it was only when women rose to independence and a state of self-sustenance that the men began to re-impose their dominance by force, or otherwise. But the phases are only a matter of convenience. Men have always felt the need to dominate, the ideal man has always been around and yet unseen, and the questions have always been relevant yet left unanswered.
There is not a single identifiable event in the history of mankind that can be labelled as the starting point of men’s pre-imposed dominance in the society. The traditional notion continued as supposedly the sole way of life as we knew it. And so our forefathers may be forgiven, as they were not to be blamed. They were brought up to believe that the society was run by men, and populated by women.
However, times have changed. Information is no longer a luxury, but is common place. And yet we struggle to disseminate a unanimous notion of the “ideal man”. And why is that so? Are we, as men, too insecure to live in a world of equals? Or are we too scared to shed off, and adopt, the stereotypical characteristics that have been associated with men and women, respectively?
I can still recall instances of my childhood when friends and family would ever so casually remark in disagreement: “Don’t act like a girl.” Looking back at those instances, I wonder how that thought didn’t stick. How I decided that I might as well “act like a girl”, than be told off for my supposed feminine behaviour. My immediate family and the closer peers knew better, thankfully. My mother would not speak up against such stereotypical and misplaced remarks passed in jest, but her expressions would change from shock to dismay almost immediately, as if some force beyond her conscience and rationality held her back from voicing her disagreement. But one could tell that she disagreed, to begin with. And I’m glad that I noticed her unspoken rebellion, and learnt from it.
But many do not manage to. Many, as they grow, ignorantly develop the notion of being the men that they’d rather not be. Many are, unfortunately, taught to be the men they should not be. The consequence stares at us in our faces, mocks us, and threatens us. Ironically so, it is, in one way or another, our own doing.
I do not endeavour to define an “ideal man”, for first I must become one; or at least the idea of one that I personally hold.
I must become strong enough to cry when my emotions take over me, than use my strength to subdue a woman. I must not shy away from expressing empathy, love, and compassion, solely on the pretext of being a man. I must learn to take pride in being taken care of, financially or otherwise, than be proud only when I am the provider. I must not find shame in being lesser qualified than the woman of the house, or she being the brains between us. I must take a refusal as it is, and not as some implied gesture demanding persistence. I must not do what I wish, only because I can. I must guide my peers, my family, and others to know better.
And will all of that, and more, make me the “ideal man”?
There is, perhaps, only one way to know: ask a woman.
Shivansh Jolly is Editor-in-Chief of Catharsis Magazine.