Madhav Nayar has completed his Masters in Modern South Asian History from SOAS in 2019. He is currently a freelance writer and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Masculinity in the social media age
What does it mean to be a man in this social media age? Has social media changed the way men view themselves and how members of the sexes relate to each other? These are some questions that a self- professed social media Luddite like me has been asking himself for quite some time.
Let us first try and understand what this world is. A quick Google search throws up the following definition, ‘Websites and applications that enable users to create and share content or to participate in social networking.’ Some of the prominent websites and applications include Facebook, Whatsapp, Instagram and Snap chat to name a few. While these websites and applications have facilitated communication; the world ofsocial media is also the world of the image, of projection and marketing. It is a world where reputations matter more than reality and as the seasoned journalist Karan Thapar brilliantly put it in a different context, ‘reputations linger for muchlonger than the reality that they are supposed to represent!’
But to label the social media space only as a world of projection would be unfair. It has opened up new avenues for self-expression, enabling men from different backgrounds and walks of life to express themselves in innovative ways. It is a space where one can find amateur historians, classical music enthusiasts and Religious Studies postgraduates pursuing their culinary passions. The social media space in general and Instagram in particular has gone a long way in promoting gender diversity.
A new tribe of men seem to be emerging. They are comfortable wearing a sari, cooking, making kolam and engaging in pursuits which traditionally would have been labelled as feminine. Traditional gender norms and ideas about certain activities being intrinsically masculine or feminine are being challenged in the virtual space.
But there is also another side to the story. Online abuse and trolling are rampant. Women in particular are at the receiving end of rape threats and abusive comments. According to a report in the Indian Express, 58 % young women face online abuse and harassment.
While social media has also given space to victims of sexual harassment to tell their stories; the MeToo campaign being an example, it has also been responsible for perpetuating aculture of toxic masculinity. The Bois locker room incident is a case in point. The digital space has led to the objectification of the human body, brutalizing young minds and their imagination.
In light of Bois locker room the incident, filmmaker and writer Paromita Vohra in her insightful Firstpost essay argued for the need for our education system to incorporate a language which would enable young people to explore and understand their inner lives. I believe this particularly instructive for a 'social media' society which conflates solitude for aloneness. Perhaps there is a need for each one of us to begin a dialogue with ourselves and appreciate the deep communication that happens with one's own self in silence and solitude. It is only when we balance the needs of the ‘social’ with our own need for silent contemplation and reflection that we can begin to redefine masculinity along parameters of kindness, compassion, empathy and responsibility.