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The cult of 56 inches does not symbolize courage or strength, it portrays toxic masculinity. And toxic masculinity is not normal.It must be resisted.

When Simon de Beauvoir[1] wrote about becoming women’ she was referring to the notion of social construction of a person as a woman. Similarly, masculinity is also related to the notion of becoming aman’ in a sexist, misogynist world. Masculinity is not a biological trait. It is a stereotype or a social construct. Not all men are violent or aggressive. It is in the pursuit of power that public consciousness is being molded to uphold the notion of destructive, oppressive, violent and brutal aspect of the manhood. And this cult which endorses the oppression, autocracy, tyranny, anarchism, violence, repression and destruction of self and others needs to be re-examined and contested.

Elections And the Cult of 56-Inches

The election campaign in India in the year 2014 had fueled the chauvinist male Hindutva imagination when the candidate Mr Modi for the position of the Prime Ministerby the BJP was projected as one who is stereotypically, alpha, muscular, macho, powerful, strong,megalomaniacal,metaphoric supermanwho could instill fear in his enemies by making them shiver and the one who could swiftly work to solidify the Hindu identity and ideology[2]. This fixation with the vital statistic of <em>chhappan inch kichhati’ in King Kong style while thumping his chest’[3]was not new and even earlier after winning Gujarat election then CM Modi has bragged about his sizable chest.

A significant issue is that in the process, what has been overlooked is that the perilous emphasis was laid on constructing an offensive imagery of a man’s man or a superman using the concept of 56-inches to project supremacist male avatar which constantly berate and belittle the opponents up to the deadly levels of tearing them apart and also is enormously sexist and misogynist.

In order to gain political mileage during the elections, the persona of “powerful decisive leader with a clear development agenda”[4]and “an archetype of father figure” was purposefully created while deployingshrewd marketing tact and cunning media strategies while adding themes such as “bachelor blandness”.  `Namo’ brand was carefully crafted to appeal to the majority Hindu voters while using catchy slogans such as “AbkiBaar[5].

In fact, it has been said that to divert the public attention from the communal riots and to promote his super clean male image, “they toned down the Hindutva rhetoric and focused instead on Modi’s more recent past and his development record in Gujarat” while “tapping simmering hopelessness, anger and frustration” among youth voters and to capture popular imagination by even outperforming the brand BJP. Attempts were made to erase the memories of Gujarat pogrom of 2002 of shameful violence as ancient contested history besides using the garb of rapid economic development in the state[6].

However, even after gaining the position as the Prime Minister of the world’s largest democracy, the toughness or the manliness at the extreme level has not gone rather the sheer level of power and supremacy is being used to insult, bully and abuse those who are rivals by creating binaries of `Us versus Them’. Personal attacks have been launched against the opposition leaders[7] and even the historical discourse has been manipulated and twisted to denounce those at the other end including the dead[8]. Rather than using diplomatic tact of politely pointing out the facts, this blatant use of unnecessary aggression, the strategy of diverting attention from nonperformance through telling lies[9] and becoming complicit in violence by maintaining silence and indifference around it[10], all epitomized the weakness[11]and ripped off or shattered[12]the imagery of the 56 Inches within no span of time[13].  The iron fist, though seemingly appears to be powerful is being used to crush progress of not only self but also of those around,and therefore, is now deemed undesirable.

However, the reverberations of such indecent display of aggression, megalomania and toxicity could be felt at various levels including in the increase in incidences of violence against the marginalized. More specifically, by reiterating that age-old toxic masculine approach in a brand newstyle supported by media and marketing strategies, what is being promoted is the social construct which strengthened the patriarchy, casteism and fascism. In this process, the spirit and values of intolerance, secularism, plurality, equality, peaceful co-existence and openly being defied to impose narrow, unidimensional Hindutva identity.

Toxic Masculinity is not New

The ancient Indian society was diverse and there were no predefined fixed roles which shows that women are passive and men are aggressive. This is reflected in the cultural mythical icons such asKali, who is being depicted as the belligerent Goddess or even Durga is represented as a fiery deity while Shroopnakha has been described as the extrovert woman.Also, the image of Krishna is portrayed as one who used to play flute, which is contradictory to the imagery of manhood or womanhood as projected today, argued Mishra[14].  It is also being stated that the image of the Ardhnarishwar is created by fusing the images of Shiva and Parvati.

However, with its roots in the dogmatic Brahmanical culture, the concept of toxic masculinitydeveloped later when colonialism cemented the modern masculine paradigm by justifying colonial rule in India depicting that Indian are not manly enough to self-rule[15]. This idea was rejected by the nationalists who projected manliness through regressive tendencies.

The industrialization has created a havoc by bringing in the cult of exploitation, exclusion and stratification while creating straight jacket roles for being a man or a woman through inflexible sexual and racial division of labour.

Even post-independence, Godse, the killer of Gandhi was considered as heroic by the Hindu chauvinists who themselves were inspired by European fascist cult with its emphasis on pure `Aryan’ race. According to Mishra[16], Godse in the court said that he “felt compelled to kill Gandhi since the leader with his womanly politics was emasculating the Hindu nation – in particular, with his generosity to Muslims”.

In fact, the rigid ideology of Sangh is premised on the spectrum of extreme of passive, submissive and docile femininity while it encourages persistence of intimidating, dangerous, aggressive, hostile masculinity to the extent that it could have negative impact on people including the one who exhibits the traits of being toxically masculine.

Though masculinity is apparently a desired trait in the Indian society and many people voted for it, yet its unhealthy manifestations are creating harmful impact on men, women and the society. This brute approach is breeding discontentment and resentment among those on whom this extreme manliness aggression is imposed. It is based on the principle of sowing hatred and fear.

Toxic Masculinity is Undesirable

Masculinity as promoted today is exasperatingly elusive rush of testosterone which creates an illusion of being perfect but in guise it is an unfulfillable uncontrolled hallucination which crave for expectations to acquire unachievable manly physical strength and looks.This brute manliness makes maniacal assertion of hypermasculinity while measuring itself against the vulnerability of being females as being weak and inferior.

The mardangi or manhood as a perilous social construct is inculcated as a toxic pill through media, literature, cinema, Bollywood, sports, advertisement, customs and practices is being sold as an idea which involves loads of expectations and high standards of masculinity among the Hindu men who are deemed to be the protectors of the supremacy of Hindu culture.

Further, the craze of six-pack abs as promoted by the media and cinema clubbed with promotion of perfect look is taking toll. The use of aggressive, abusive language and physical display of power is openly being inculcated. No stress is laid on acquiring intellectual gains or exhibiting decent behaviour. Or as Bhasin[17] noted that, “men become larger than life. Men are `dabangi-fied’. They are above rules and decency (tameez) They make their own rules. Whatever they do become decent”.

The physical appearance and sexual performance is considered as parameters of masculinity, so facial hair and moustache began symbolizing the traits of manhood.  Being masculine implies being violent, unemotional, risk taker, and so on which packed the image of a perfect man around eccentric stereotypes. This hegemonic masculine cult promotes war, conflicts, destruction, religious and sectarian intolerance and violence in all forms. Because `to be a man’ one needs to exhibit his strength and power.

This display of toxic masculinity is encouraging the culture of violence by making it acceptable and trivializing and normalizing violence. The extreme focus on `manhood’ and physical supremacy reflects on the prevalence of deep insecurity and volatile hostility. Human emotions are being exploited to create rage, hostility and toxicity against one another and polarize for their selfish agenda while over powering the reality.

This form of harmful behavior is impacting young minds by placing a terrible role model before them of `how to be a man’ and buy this discriminatory sick rhetoric of being indecent and disrespectful to women. This is also being percolated down among generations of youth through grassroot movements to paint India as a Hindu nation[18].The vulgar depiction of male dominance and focus on male privileges and entitlements is creating a culture of misogyny, hatred against minorities and promotes casteism which humiliates and subjugate women, minorities, Dalits and tribals. The result of this assertion is evident in terms of increase in the number of cases relating to mob lynching, rapes, violence of all kinds andmost of the time, this violence is inflicted without any fear of rule of law and with impunity.

The cult of violent, senseless manhood is further reiterated when the political leaders instead of condoning the incidences of violence against women promote the notion of “boys will be boys”. Women’s bodies became the battle ground to display vulgar sexism and the culture of honour and ownership and entitlements is promoted to control women and threaten their autonomy as well as existence.

What is ignored in all these arguments is the fact that this desire for manliness of being more manly’ andmore perfect man’ is hurting the men most. From alcoholism to drug addiction, cardiovascular diseases to accidents, every such is issue is endangering the life of men most besides threatening others around them.

More number of men commit crimes become criminals, murderers, killers, mob-lynchers, rapists, war-mongers or terrorists and are occupying prisons as well as battlefields. More number of men leaders have created the situation of war and conflict, militarized the youth and are responsible for creating man-made disasters and pushing havoc around the world.  From nuke to missiles, bombs to guns, swords to armors, it is the men who mostly possess and use these weapons of destruction in either the sanctioned, legitimized or organized or in an unorganized manner.

Further, this violent masculine cult has not been questioned or criticized in India to the same extent or manner as the cult of femininity has been mapped and interrogated in the `MAN-stream’ media[19].

Such display of toxic masculinity is a topic that needs to be examined by the mental health professionals, social workers, and other care providers. The policy and the law makers need to think and brainstorm about such issues which propagate extreme forms of violence as well as patriarchy, casteism, sexism, misogyny and racism.

At larger level, this lethal model of manhood as well as that of politics based on noxious divisive narcissism needs to be resisted[20]. As a society, such emphasis on toxic masculinity needs to be checked and controlled.

At the global level too, such authoritarian, autocratic style where the world leaders who are using the agenda of nationalism and masculinity for their own self-interest by reaping in their political dividends and gains, need to be contested.

The author is an advocate, activist and a researcher working on gender, governance and human rights issues in India. She has co-authored several books and articles. She has been a frequent contributor at https://countercurrents.org/author/shalu-nigam/. Her writings can be accessed at https://cwds.academia.edu/ShaluNigam or at https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/cf_dev/AbsByAuth.cfm?per_id=2235945

She can be contacted at shalu_nigam@rediffmail.com

[1] Simon De Beauvoir (1949) The Second Sex Printed by Vintage in 2011

[2] Srivastava R and A Bano (2014) Will take a 56 Inch chest to Turn UP into Gujarat, Modi to Mulayam, The Times of India, January 24 https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/Will-take-a-56-inch-chest-to-turn-UP-into-Gujarat-Modi-to-Mulayam/articleshow/29269342.cms

[3] Sandhu V (2014) Who can Boast About 56 inch Chest, The Business Standard, January 31, https://www.business-standard.com/article/beyond-business/who-can-boast-about-a-56-inch-chest-114013101063_1.html

[4]Pande S (2014) Just the Right Image, Business Today, Case Study, June 8 https://www.businesstoday.in/magazine/case-study/case-study-strategy-tactics-behind-creation-of-brand-narendra-modi/story/206321.html

[5]Pande S (2014) ibid

[6]Chakrabortty A. (2014) Narendra Modi, A Man with Massacre on His Hands is not a Reasonable Choice for India, The Guardian April 7, https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/apr/07/narendra-modi-massacre-next-prime-minister-india

[7] Rai VS (2018) Modi’s Speech in Parliament: What is this Obsession with Nehru? February 7, https://www.dailyo.in/politics/modi-lok-sabha-motion-of-thanks-congress-jawaharlal-nehru-sardar-patel-gandhi-family/story/1/22240.html

[8] Visvanathan Shiv (2017) Opinion: Is Modi the Mahmud Ghazni of the Nehruvian State? Scroll.in, August 2 https://scroll.in/article/845389/opinion-is-modi-the-mahmud-ghazni-of-the-nehruvian-nation-state

[9]Mannathukkaren N (2018) Pappu Politics: Is Narendra Modi More Erudite than Rahul Gandhi? The Wire, June 23, https://thewire.in/politics/is-it-really-fair-to-think-narendra-modi-is-more-erudite-than-rahul-gandhi

[10] De S (2018) Worst Thing to Brag About Now is 56 Inch Chest, The Asian Age, April 21 http://www.asianage.com/opinion/oped/210418/worst-thing-to-brag-about-now-is-a-56-inch-chest.html

[11] Thomas ZA (2015) Narendra Modi has 56 Inch Belly not 56 Inch Chest, Says Akhilesh Yadav, NDTV.com September 22 https://www.ndtv.com/elections-news/narendra-modi-has-56-inch-belly-not-56-inch-chest-says-akhilesh-yadav-559837

[12] Jha S (2017) The Myth of Muscularity and A 56 Inch Bra, Huff Post May 19, https://www.huffingtonpost.in/sanjay-jha-/the-myth-of-muscularity-and-a-56-inch-bra_a_22098590/

[13] News 24 Channel (2018) Sabse Bada Sawaal, Priyanka Chaturvedi, Congress Spokesperson

[14] Mishra P (2018) The Crisis in Modern Masculinity, The Guardian, March 17, https://www.theguardian.com/books/2018/mar/17/the-crisis-in-modern-masculinity

[15] Srivastava S (2013) Taking the Aggression Out of Masculinity, The Hindu, January 3, http://www.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/taking-the-aggression-out-of-masculinity/article4266007.ece

[16] ibid

[17]Bhasin K (2014) Killed By Machismo, Advertisements and Attitudes, The Citizen, August 17, http://www.thecitizen.in/index.php/en/newsdetail/index/7/148/killed-by–machismo-advertisements-and-attitudes

[18]Wadhawan M (2018) No Nation for Indian Women, Berkeley Political Review, April 17, https://bpr.berkeley.edu/2018/04/17/no-nation-for-indian-women/

[19] Srivastava S (2013) supra

[20] Nigam S (2018) Infantilization and Degeneration of Politics in Recent Times, Countercurrents, February 16, https://countercurrents.org/2018/02/16/infantilization-degeneration-politics-recent-times/

2 Comments

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  2. K SHESHU BABU says:

    It is not very surprising that a person representing right wing propagates every form of ‘ masculine’ mentality including ‘ 56- inch’ symbol. ! The Hindu scripture promote male hegemony – muscular, mental and emotional – profusely. Thus, the hindutva forces and their organisations are male dominated. Women are enrolled only ‘ nominally ‘ to represent universality. Every act gives importance to male as they are considered supreme