Being a man isn’t just about masculinity

Published: September 17, 2016

It is generally seen as okay for a man to speak loudly or even yell or curse. Even in the most seemingly progressive families, girls are often told not to talk or laugh loudly. PHOTO: RANGIZZZ/SHUTTERSTOCK

“But that’s how we guys are.”

Is a common response when a woman asks a man about a few traits and attitudes that are seen as manly and macho.

While walking on a street near you, in a mall, or even when couples enter weddings – a familiar scenario ensues. The husband can be seen walking a few steps ahead of the wife for sure, and the wife trudging behind him, adjusting her ensemble, trying to catch up.

For Pakistani males, Def Leppard’s classic Two Steps Behind You is too mushy I’m sure. It is seen as some mark of masculinity to walk at least two steps ahead, if not four.

In our society, or maybe that is how it is all over the world, a few things are seen as ‘guy things.’

For example, the obscene joke sharing. It seems that there is an unsaid rule that in order to classify as a man, you absolutely must share lame and cheap jokes, and video clips and photographs of women in awkward or objectionable poses. Whatever one shares amongst friends is the personal business of each individual. But what is worrisome is how this is seen as a sign of masculinity. Such stereotypes are so etched in our social fabric that we are conditioned to think this is what makes a guy a ‘man.’

Ever seen prime time dramas on Pakistani television channels? They all seem to imply that it is some signature symptom of manliness for men to have affairs, cheat on the wife, and have physical needs, while a good, demure woman is stereotyped as a prudish character who is always shy and playing hard to get.

It is generally seen as okay for a man to speak loudly or even yell or curse. Even in the most seemingly progressive families, girls are often told not to talk or laugh loudly.

It is the men who are supposed to drive the car even if the wife or sister is the better driver or even if the poor husband or brother is exhausted after a long day at work. It is encouraging, actually, when one meets a man who is man enough to say “I don’t enjoy driving” if he doesn’t. But mostly they are unable to voice it, just like it is not easy for a woman to say she does not enjoy cooking.

Women themselves are participants in the act of perpetuating these stereotypes.

They feel sympathy for their sons or brothers if they help the wife with carrying the baby, change the baby’s diapers, or God forbids take paternal leave. Helping in the kitchen is something real men, of course, don’t do.

This conventionalising is not always in favour of men, and is not always healthy. Consider the economic arena.

In this age of inflation and consumerism, one salary is often not enough to support a family. With more and more women joining the work force in Pakistan, both can spend on the collective household. But gender stereotyping ends up pushing both males and females in pigeonholes of rigidly defined roles. The man ends up not helping the woman in the kitchen and housework even if she is also an earning member of the family. Similarly, even if he does end up lending a hand at home, many working women confess to feeling a pinch inside when they have to spend on their families. The feeling is best described as being made to do something they are not supposed to be doing.

Man-kind has not really progressed that much, has it, when the marks of manliness are not values like strength, courage and honesty, but instead driving a sports car, riding a massive motorbike in boots, or smoking a cigarette in public.

There are some inherent traits and tilts that are natural to both the genders. Some of these are natural. But others are not. They are just by-products of being exposed to certain socio-cultural habits of a nation.

For those who are the strongest of men, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to push their boundaries and challenge these norms by walking behind the wife or speaking softly and let the woman in your life have the last word. Being a man takes more than that.

Farahnaz Zahidi

Farahnaz Zahidi

Farahnaz is a writer and editor, and has worked as the Features Editor with The Express Tribune. Her focus is human-centric feature stories. She now writes as a freelancer, and works in the field of marketing and corporate communications. She loves literature and traveling. She tweets on @FarahnazZahidi. Her work can be seen at

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Parvez

    Always like reading you……the view point of an intelligent woman put forward. But allow me to ask a question……There is the guy you describe, the man who walks two steps behind the woman, the guy who helps in kitchen, the guy changes diapers, and has a salary that disappears before the end of the month etc. …….and then there’s the guy who does none of this but has a Rs.5 billion bank account ……..which one would you choose ?… honest. Recommend

  • Keyboard Soldier

    Your last paragraph totally negates Shariah and the Quranic preaching in general.
    In Islam, the man has and will always have an upper hand over the woman.

    Islam and Arab way of life are synonymous. Islam is Arab culture and Arab culture is Islam.

    The ironic part is that there is no flexibility in the Arab culture/Islam. Hence, all Muslims who are not Arabs are second class.

    The identity crisis will only end, once the vast majority of non-Arab Muslims realize that they can never be true Muslims.

    For Pakistanis, the Chinese might offer an alternative because they are religion-free and are making the same footing in Pakistan as what the Arabs did when they landed in Sindh.


  • Woman

    An independent woman, who has taken risks and worked hard for her place in life, would choose the first one. I do not need or want anyone else’s money. I am very willing to financially support my family. What I value in a guy is mutual respect, hard work and true partnership. I do not also need him to walk behind me but with me.Recommend

  • wasim Ahmed

    what non sense you are talking about. “Muslims who are not Arabs are second class”. You even don’t know the basic about Islam.Recommend

  • MR.X

    exactly,, In islam you have to obey your husband except if he says anything against the shariah. Hypocrite feminist her last paragraph tells it.Feminism and islam are incompatible.Recommend

  • Keyboard Soldier

    Arab is not culturally a rich ethnic group. Religion forms everything for Arabs. They think of Islamic culture as their ethnic culture. This has created a sense of superiority complex over non-Arab Muslims.

    In the Gulf Arab states there is ranking on how much a person of a certain place or race will get respect in public places.

    It starts at the moment you apply for visa to Gulf states, South Asians go in large numbers but many of them are cheated and arent paid what they are usually promised. Westerners easily get visa so do the other Arab nationals.
    You land at the airport, unless the airport staff is a south asian or Asian, expect shitty services, slower processing and rude behaviors.
    South Asians usually don’t go above certain positions in the companies, aren’t promoted that easily either. Westerners and Arabs get jobs much easily than say a South Asian person even if they have same level of expertise.
    Malls, restaurants, and other public places aren’t that friendly to all nationalities. Employees in these places even if the belong from same region tend to look down on people belonging to certain developing nations. It might be due to stereotype of people based on the number of people from the country serving in any particular industry. Pakistanis/Bangladeshis are more as unskilled laborers in various industries, Filipinos are in service industries and retail areas, Indonesian are maids, Pashtun/Pathan construction workers, Westerners are mainly executives in big oil firms, Arabs are mid-level managers etc.Recommend

  • Keyboard Soldier

    Islam’s founder Muhammad was born Arab. This is a matter of pride for Arab Muslims that Mohammad was from their race. The birthplace of Islam was Arabian peninsula. Arab Muslims take a great pride of the fact. This is the reason Arab Muslims treat non-Arab Muslims as inferior to them.

    Bangladeshi Muslims constitute the largest group of Muslim immigrants in Arab countries who work as domestic workers and Bangladeshis do blue color jobs there but Arabs treat them so bad. You will read news about how Arab treats Bangladeshi maids in newspapers.

    Many Pakistani and Indonesian Muslims also work in Arab countries but their complexion is ‘fairer’ than Bangladeshi Muslims. They treat them a bit less harshly compared to Bangladeshis but still racism is there against Pakistani Muslims. They treat foreign workers so bad that Indonesian Govt. banned Indonesians to work in Saudi Arabia.

    Most Arabs parents won’t let their daughter marry with any other non-Arab race, even if the man is a Muslim.Recommend

  • Mozart

    This guy is an Indian, trying to act cute.Recommend

  • MR.X

    majority of the time they will choose one with good bank balance..And dont believe if someone tells you otherwise..Recommend

  • Ahmed

    The problem is that they would want both, you can’t have everything you desire in this world.Recommend

  • Parvez

    Nice reply…….so the key is womens financial independence.
    Do you know what I think ?…… the choice, if it must be made, should be one of compatibility both on a mental level and an economic level, otherwise there is a good chance of problems arising.Recommend

  • Parvez

    I don’t blame them for wanting both…….but in life compromise is a very good idea.Recommend

  • MR.X

    feminist and hypocrisy go hand in hand my friend.
    PS:narcissim in women is at an all time high these days. This generation of girls is messed up!!Recommend

  • farhan

    she is femsplaining masculinityRecommend