Masculinity in India

‘The Complete Man’ with Clay Feet by Tara Kaushal

April 2016: Are we setting unrealistic expectations for men in society and romance?

Everywhere you look, today, there’s someone or the other defining the idea of ‘The Complete Man’, not just Raymond that has done so for generations. From the overt messaging in comedy sketches to the covert criticism in the Ariel Share the Load ad emerges a fairly comprehensive picture of what this complete man should be.

He essays traditional masculine roles—handsome, successful, provider, carer, knight in shining armour—while being an equal and supportive partner, doting father, ideal son. He is concerned about his appearance (not so much to be dandy, not so little to forgive the curl of a nostril hair). He’s chivalrous (but not chauvinistic). He’s involved in the home and with the kids, but we’re not quite ready for househusbands (going by Ki & Ka and its unwitting reinforcement of gender stereotypes). He’s cultural yet contemporary, and imbibes the best of East and West. He’s jealous enough to make his woman feel ‘loved and protected’, but cool about exes, besties and colleagues that mill around. Mills and Boons meets Fifty Shades. And the jury’s still out on whether ‘real men’ cry, and how much, exactly, is acceptable?

Just like Rahul, the ‘perfect child’ in the recent masterpiece Kapoor & Sons, finds the pressure hard to bear, real men are falling short of these expectations. In romance and relationships too—where in our mothers’ generation, a man who merely didn’t beat or cheat on you and allowed you to work was considered a ‘keeper’, men today have many more complex criteria to meet.

In addition to fairy-tale happily-ever-afters, women now set out expecting this perfect, delicate combination… only to encounter mollycoddled mamas’ boys not raised to meet these expectations, confusedly negotiating a world that straddles dowry and Tinder. Even those with the best intent may fall navigating the emotional and sociocultural minefields that characterise our times.

Not for a moment am I suggesting that women should accept some of the shit that passed for partnership (romance, marriage, etc) in previous generations. And I wholeheartedly celebrate divorces that come from women knowing their minds and having the economic power to walk out when things don’t work out.

All I’m saying is that, just as men must celebrate real women and real beauty beyond Photoshop and media imaging—he shouldn’t expect “a maid in the living room, cook in the kitchen and whore in the bedroom,” to quote Jerry Hall—women too must ease up on the expectations of all-round perfection. People, relationships, aren’t born fully formed, and take time and patience even with The One.

Meanwhile, will candidates for ‘The Complete Man’ please stand up?

An edited version of this article appeared on iDiva in April 2016.