Society’s definition of what a Pakistani man should be like is often seen to be toxic. There is not a lot of encouragement to be sensitive and empathy is often synonymous with weakness. There are very rigid standards of masculinity according to Pakistani society. We divide our children into boys and girls from an early age aur yehi “mardangi” hamein kharab ker deti hai.
Haseeb Sultan is trying to redefine masculinity – at least for himself – in his own way, after suffering at the hands of society’s rigidity about what it means to be a man
The dentist, writer, collage artist and menswear blogger told MangoBaaz how bullying was a big part of his childhood but as he grows older, it has become more distinct. A week after he turned 23, he received the following note:
“Somehow, before opening the note,” Haseeb says, “I knew what it was going to entail. This is normal for me, to be honest. Ever since I was a kid, I’ve been made fun of for not conforming to the stereotype of a boy.”
Haseeb was never into sports. He was into writing and art instead, which made him a soft target for bullies – an ordeal that served as torment during his years at boarding school.
“Being bullied became as normal as breathing, and I was left gasping for air – as if their words are holding me by the throat. Every step had to be calculated to be less humiliating. However, it was in 11th grade that I realized I was done trying to fit in, to make friends or listen to anyone. No matter what I tried, I could never change my voice, or my body language. I could not force myself to like things I didn’t. But I realized that being myself, voicing my opinion, staying firm on what my values were, and not giving in to the world’s demands is as manly as a man can be. Bravery is not about who can shout louder, or hit the hardest; bravery is about standing firm and resilient even after the world is trying its best to bring you down.”
Haseeb encapsulated his childhood struggle with masculinity in a beautifully penned poem titled, “Act Like A Boy”
The following is an excerpt from the poem:
I liked to sing the titanic theme song,
And just as I entered every night in my dreams,
They’d drill a hole through my throat
And I’d bleed.
Every night in my dreams as they screamed,
“Act like a boy.”
Haseeb tells MangoBaaz that the poem was, in reality, his introspection into masculinity.
“The poem was about my struggle to find my “boyhood” and learning what being brave means. If men are supposed to be brave, then crying, being one’s self, holding on and letting go can be the bravest thing a man can do. The world, or society, will never be happy. They’ll always try to mold you into someone you’re not. And giving in to their ideals only hurts more.”
At a time when one is at their absolute lowest, one clutches to things that serve as a form of escape. For Haseeb, his escape was writing and art.
“Art and writing have been something that saved me from myself. When one’s battling chronic depression, it’s very important to have something to fall back on. Making art, and writing how I felt was therapeutic for me. It was kind of like a glue that held all my broken pieces together. Even my art is very feminine or pop. The colors are vivid and there are flowers, glitter and fashion. It’s just a way for me to figure out where I am in life, how I think, and what I need to do in order to let the emotions free.”
Haseeb’s struggle is not one confined to him as an individual. In our society, the idea of toxic masculinity has been shoved down the throats of boys who are trying to find themselves.
Aggression, internalizing one’s feelings, and a lack of expressiveness are made to be synonymous with masculinity. At a time like this, young boys struggle with finding themselves and their identities. Many could spiral down the hole of depression.
“It’s important to go through this struggle to come to terms with who you are and what you want from yourself,” Haseeb states.
“Don’t lose hope. Talk to your parents, get into therapy, go out on the internet and find support groups or just tweet about it and you’ll see how many people with similar experience to yours will be there to help you through it. But most of all, don’t stay silent. Let your loved ones know what you are going through. Don’t let the world’s opinion become your own opinion.”
At the end of it all, you must remember that you are your own individual. Your struggle may not necessarily define you, but it definitely shapes you into being who you are.
Like Haseeb, there are many boys and girls who struggle with their identity – and that’s okay. Everyone finds themselves eventually. If you are someone who is going through something similar, you, too, will find your path. And, perhaps, it will lead to you creating beautiful things, as it did with Haseeb. After all, as the late Carrie Fisher stated:
“Take your broken heart, make it into art.”
So go ahead. Find yourself among all the pain and confusion. And watch it manifest itself into something incredible.