Ladies and gentlemen, I have a confession to make. A deep, dark, horrible secret that I have been harbouring inside, eating into my conscience so much that I have to reveal it. Oh, I know you will ostracize me. My friends will hide their faces in shame and my family will have to change their name, but I must follow this path. Therefore, with a heavy heart, I will put myself at your mercy and reveal it to you.
I cry. Yes, I'm afraid it's true, real tears and everything! Go ahead, I'll wait while you recheck my name to make sure I'm a guy. I could tell you that I only cry when I'm very sad or hurt, but those are feeble excuses, inadequate reasons for condoning my shameful crime. After all, I am a man! Damn!
Okay, enough sarcasm, but I really hate this attitude that people have. 'Manly' men don't cry or complain. We can do idiotic things like smash our fists into walls, or break a few car windows to vent our hurt or frustration, but that's acceptable! As long as it is only blood that drips, and not tears. And how about this idea that the 'manly' man does not enter the kitchen, except maybe to get a taste of whatever his mother/sister/wife/maid is sweetly making for him. Ask a 'manly' man if he can cook, and he'll proudly tell you that he can only make coffee and toast, adding the fact that he usually burns the toast as further proof of his masculine carelessness for this effeminate pastime.
The other day, a guy I know baked his girlfriend a chocolate cake for their anniversary. Heart-shaped icing, cream border, the whole deal. By chance, it was discovered by his male friends, and he never heard the end of it!
"Where's your apron, sweetheart?"
"Where did you get the recipe? Good housekeeping?"
"What's next, kitty parties?"
But even more asinine was when a close friend seriously advised him against giving the cake to his girlfriend, "She may lose her respect for you!"
Frankly, I think it was a nice gesture. He took the trouble to give her something more personal than the usual flowers, perfumes or jewelry. I'm sure she really appreciated his effort, regardless of whether the cake was edible or not. But I know one thing, the poor guy was harassed so much, he probably won't do it again!
What is this fixation we have with the stereotype of 'The Man'? And it isn't only other males who discriminate against guys who do things a little differently. Though women will repeatedly claim that they have no such prejudices, many do hold it against a guy if he prefers badminton to rugby and poetry to thrillers. A man should be like this, a woman like that, and anyone slightly different has to either hide their uniqueness or suffer the consequences.
It is my belief that in India, as in many other parts of the world, this prejudice stems from the home environment we are brought up in. Visit any average middle-class urban household at about 6 p.m. and you'll find the son downstairs playing cricket or football, while the daughter is helping her mother to prepare the dal for the evening meal. Maybe the girl wants to go down and play cricket as well. Perhaps the boy wants to stay in and learn how to make raita. But there are boy-things and girl-things, and most parents, out of a centuries-old habit, automatically pass on these boundaries to their children. It's not unusual to hear a mother try to dissuade her son from talking on the phone too long or playing with his hair by saying, "Stop that! It's a girly habit!"
I don't claim to be totally free from these stereotypes either. I don't wear anything that is even remotely pink, because to me it's a 'girlish' colour. I'd rather die than scream out in agony when I stub my toe. I refuse to wear those Friendship Day ribbons around my wrist because it offends my 'manly' tastes. Though I know these are silly beliefs, I still can't get rid of them. And now they're becoming detrimental to me.
Here's a telling example. Quite some years back, in one of my more reckless moods, I decided to colour my hair blue. The whole process involved first bleaching my hair to a shade lighter than my natural jet-black, and then applying the blue hair colour. I went over to a friend's house to do it as he had the colour and the bleach. He was really helpful, he set me up with gloves, the colour, towels, water, everything. But just as we were about to begin, he began to look slightly awkward. He started backing out of the room, muttering something about making an urgent phone call. I looked at him with surprise. "I thought you were going to help me! You've tried this before, I don't know what to do!" He slunk back into the room grumpily. We mixed the bleach and he stood poised above me, ready to rub it into my hair. Suddenly, as if on cue, we both jumped back. I grabbed the bleach from him, he tossed me the gloves, and I slammed the door behind him as he quickly left the room. The stereotype of the gay hairdresser had proved to be too strong for us! I messed up the process alone, and then I was left with a greenish-brown fringe of hair in front. Strangers laughed at me as they walk by, and my friends had displayed their creativity by calling me a variety of embarrassing names. My social life had totally disintegrated. But hey, at least I have my manhood!