The patriarchal system that prevails in Pakistan has clearly defined men and women’s gender roles where the former are expected to be the primary income providers. According to a report by Pakistan Bureau of Statistics, the employment to population ratio for men is 77.2% while for women it’s just 20.9%.
Men are assumed to cater to the eco- nomic needs of the family. The status of being the breadwinner is based on their identity formation. “If a man has grown up building his entire identity and self-worth around the idea of be- ing a provider for his family’s financial needs, then a failure to perform that role will lead to a serious identity crisis,” Dr. Faiza Mushtaq, a sociologist from Institute of Business Administration (IBA) said.
According to a report by Aurat Foundation – a women’s rights organization – gender stereotyping is vehemently present in Pakistan. The report was based on a research study – Masculinity in Pakistan.
‘Real man’ is often considered to be someone who provides for the family, earns himself and does not depend on a women’s income. “A male’s masculinity is questioned if women work outside the home, and thus, a powerful man will not permit such activity,” the report states.
The study also focused on how masculinity affects man psychologically. It added that men experience more work related stress and are more likely to report depression and suicidal thoughts.
Men who fail to engage themselves in income generating activities, or do not contribute to the family income have reported feelings of hopelessness and failure to command their family’s respect.
“Having a successful career and being the bread earner, and struggling between being a good son, husband, brother and father are some of the yardsticks men are judged upon,” says Niha Dagia, a psychotherapist in Karachi.
Men who provide the majority of their family’s income take a hit to their health and psychological wellbeing but are in denial to seek help like therapy. “It is considered a weakness. Men tend to overcompensate by repressing and end up stressing themselves even more. This negatively impacts their mental health,” she added.
Dr. Nida Kirmani, an Associate Professor of Sociology at Lahore University of Management Sciences also believes that men who are unable to provide for their families often feel ashamed. “It leads to depression and other forms of psychological distress.
This idea is central to the construction of masculinity in our part of the world despite the fact that it is becoming almost impossible for a family to survive on one income alone,” she said.
Men who are solely responsible for meeting the financial needs of the entire family fail to live a quality life. “I have hardly any money to buy food, how can I pay for my children’s education?” asks Alam Ameen, a domestic worker in Korangi, Karachi.
Alam, 60, known as ‘Alam Chacha’ works on daily wages and is the sole breadwinner in the family. “My daughter’s marriage has been pending for 2 years now, because I do not have the money for her dowry,” he cried. The old man suffered two heart attacks last year due to his financial woes.
The pressure of earning also affects the career choices of men. They avoid pursuing the field of their interest in fear of not getting a well-paid job. “If there was greater acceptance of more fluid gender roles, then men could potentially find other reasons to choose a career than the obligation to earn and support a family,” Dr. Mushtaq said.
Such societal demands lead men into having gender role strain. According to a journal article titled ‘The Burden of Being a Man in a Patriarchal Society‘, by the Department of Gender & Development Studies at Lahore College for Women University, men are not aggressive by nature but aggression and violence are the symptoms of gender role strain. Dr. Kirmani also believes that men, in order to prove their masculinity become violent to overcompensate for their inability to perform the breadwinner role.
The findings concerning the level of gender role strain among men showed that working men experienced it severely because of the roles as the head of the family, to adopt a profession and to act like a gentleman in society.
The emotional stress symptoms showed that most of the participants expressed anger, anxiety and sadness in their lives because of the stress of strict adherence to society created roles in Pakistan.
There are notions related to the masculinity of men being fearless, risky, and aggressive in the face of life-threatening situations. Withstanding pain, stress, tension, and other anomalies of life without complaining is another attribute that is considered masculine. “Boys don’t cry” is a common expression that defines episodes of pain in a man’s life.
Such men are reluctant in seeking help due to stigma attached to therapy or, are just unable to afford it. “A person’s financial position has a fundamental impact on their life choices including being able to seek therapy in the first place,” Dagia said.
Being socialized into these kinds of limiting identities mean that any reversal of gendered roles such as a female family member taking the breadwinner role or a man being asked to contribute to homemaking becomes unsettling and unacceptable. “The larger problem comes from cultural and social structures which keep perpetuating and reinforcing these stereotypes of appropriate masculine and feminine behavior,” Dr. Mushtaq said.
Masculinity in Pakistan is predominantly associated with characteristics such as aggression, dominance, strength, courage and control. These traits of masculinity are the major contributors resulting in violence from men.
Dagia, however, thinks that due to changing perceptions, the society is now becoming more inclusive but men in ‘desi culture’ are struggling to adjust to these new customs. “They’ve been brought up with the belief to be a masculine figure – a sole provider with supreme authority. Combined with the economical factors, the pressure to fulfill that role is becoming harder to sustain,” she added.