In this season of celebrating 'manhood' — November 19 has been the International Man's Day for some years now — I wondered why no sociologist is discussing the greatest danger that today's men face: the virtual obliteration of their gender identity.
While I watch younger generation of women going for breast implants and thongs, their "laddish" enthusiasm for pornography and striptease, I find increasing numbers of men dyeing or highlighting their hair, getting an earring or getting rid of excess body hair, or simply dressing in typical girly colours — hot pinks, fluorescent greens, purples, yellows and vermilions — sometimes to look like wimps. Frankly, this breed of the effete and narcissistic dandies obsessed with softening everything about themselves tickles me no end. Anne Hollander once wrote about this gender-bending 'androgyny" factor in modern fashion, in the shape of male musical "mannequins" who were "dressed to thrill", best represented by pop-icons like Mick Jagger, Michael Jackson and Boy George. There is an Indian belief in the androgynous nature of humans — that issues from the divine concept of ardhanarishvara, literally half man-half woman.
Machismo seems to be out of fashion these days. In fact, the idea of the alpha male who is the leader of the pack, eats first, gets his pick of the females (a typical example of which was Frank Sinatra, who headed a bunch of sycophantic drunks rightly known as the Rat Pack, who knocked around his wife Mia Farrow), considered as real tough guy behaviour, is now passé. Metrosexuality is now mainstream and men are transforming into a hybrid, feminised male. The idea of a strong, attractive, and empowering man who till the other day was likened to a gruff, reticent lone wolf who'd rather battle demons than discuss his feelings, is now being replaced by the idea of a man who doesn't hesitate to cry a river, does the cooking at the homestead, who takes as much time in body-toning and make-up or choosing anti-wrinkle creams and toning gels as his female counterpart. For this new male, emotional repression and physical force are no longer the barometers to measure his masculinity. 'Churi pahan kar baithe kya?', this barb no longer stings the male ego. Rumour is, feminised males are now more sought after.
Thus you see that a 'true' man is becoming more extinct than a tiger in Sariska. First, being a male is to be in a constant state of performance fear lest he should appear a coward in all situations of the slightest danger, fail to rise to the occasion or appear incompetent in physical sports. Battered hubbies now realise that it pays to be a sissy at home, as the 'joy' of being a homemaker gives them ample room for playing cards, quality boozing or watching a game of soccer. Male empowerment, anyone?
Prasenjit Chowdhury is a Kolkata-based writer. The views expressed by the author are personal.