Men, Masculinity, and War

March 13, 2019

by Veronica Sudesh, MA Student

Somewhere, far off in the Canadian countryside, is a town called Mascuville.

There, in Mascuville, lived a monster.

He was big, nefarious, and all encompassing. Even men from the adjoining villages and countryside feared the monster. They gave the monster a nickname – H.M.

H.M. was always talking about what it means to be a ‘real man’ and emphasized qualities like aggression, physical prowess, rationality, and no emotions. His terrifying presence kept a tight control over the lives of all the young boys and all the adult men. They, in their fear, conformed to these norms.

No man in the history of Mascuville had ever shed a tear. No man in the surrounding countryside or neighbouring villages had done so either. They were petrified to face the monster’s rage; they were scared to be called ‘unmanly’ or ‘soft’.

How did the monster make sure men followed these rules, one might wonder?

The monster was a trickster.

He very shrewdly bought the men’s conformity with promises of an elevated status in society. H.M. made the men the fortunate ones, a class of people with access to power, privilege, and resources, with all the advantages they desired or could even dream of.

Now, who would want to give that up? The men, young, old, and of every age were unwitting victims of the monster’s trap.

But there were hidden costs to pay for this bargain with the monster. The cost to one young boy was to watch his elder brother leave for war. Neither he nor his brother had any say in the matter. They believed that being violent is what it meant to be a man, that defending the nation’s honor by dishonoring the ‘other’ is what being a man means.

The young boy bid his elder brother goodbye. In silence, holding back his tears. Inside, he was screaming…

Dear Brother,

Our house is a tombstone
Laid over the bones of ‘feminine men’
I am hiding from the monster
The monster that makes us ‘masculine’

I can see you leave for war
I have no option, but to act strong and play along
I wish I could cry my heart out
But the monster is watching

And I fear his wrath
I do not want to say goodbye
I just want to cry

I tried to deny the monster’s existence for long
But I was wrong
Because clearly, he constructed a war
And you got the call
Now you are being dragged to the battlefield
To prove your manhood and all

I know you do not want to go
I know you want to cry too
As you lift those dead limbs across the drive
The weight of the monster eating you alive

But we have been told – men do not cry!
So, I guess we are just meant to die?
Because that is what this war will do to you
I am afraid to see the day you come back
But you will not be you
You will be in a body bag

I want to tell you
Its okay to stay back
That you would still be a man
Because what does it even mean to be a man?
A good human? – you are that
I want to tell you
That you should stay back!
So that we can fight this monster together
And figure out the manhood crap

I have some heroes
You are one of them
But I wish you taught me to make buns
Instead of just playing rough with guns
But then again, maybe no one taught you as well!
I have some other heroes too
Women, you see
But these are heroes I dare not speak about
Otherwise my manhood would be in doubt

I miss our pillow fights and deep talks
They were more fun than arm locks
But we hid them out of shame and fear
Because women must fight with pillows
Whereas men with guns?

You did not learn softness
Because that is seen as weakness
You fell deep in the monster’s rabbit hole
Thinking this is ‘what brothers are for’
But dear brother, let me tell you
This is not what brothers are for!

Gun wounds are not the only wounds
There are some bullets that go deeper
Out there, you will face angry guns for the motherland
And in here, I will imbibe manly norms in the homeland
I will listen, adhere and ingrain these norms
Till its 10 years later
And now its time for me to leave for war

I am sorry you are a victim of this monster
But I do not want to fall prey
I wish to fight and break away
So that the next generation of young boys and men
Have something more in their lives
Than just to become ‘A MAN’
And beat their wives

Dear brother, stay back
Join me in this real battle
Inside our tombstone shack
Join me to win back our humanity
I do not want such masculinity
Slaying this monster is vital
It might mean giving up our title
But that is okay,
Because I see what being a man is
And that is NOT OKAY!

Come, let us become the men we can be proud of
And that is ‘what brothers are for’.


Artist’s Statement

This short story portrays an imaginary village and how the lives of boys and men in that village are affected by hegemonic masculinity. The free verse poem included within the story is a feminist take on the Canadian country music artist, Dean Brody’s 2008 debut single – ‘Brothers’. The feminist lens on this song, in the voice of a young boy, tries to break away from the traditional understanding of masculinity, highlights the need for a new, positive and inclusive understanding while also emphasizing that the real war isn’t outside on the battlefield, but inside our very society, against patriarchy and its norms of toxic masculinity.