“Boys can cry, and girls can be more than beautiful,” Muzaffar Bukhari, founder of the Veritas Learning Circle (VLC), said at the Karachi Wellness Festival that kicked off on Saturday.
The two-day festival is an offering of love by a group of wellness practitioners in collaboration with the VLC to promote wellness in the city. The offerings at the festival are entirely volunteer-based. It is a festival put on by the people of Karachi for the people of Karachi.
Speaking at a session titled ‘The Numbering of Male Heart — The Paradox of Masculinity: A Conversation’, actor and director Adnan Malik, who is also vocal regarding gender, masculinity and mental health, said that all the men in schoolbooks “had terrible emotional lives”.
Malik said we need to make a choice: do we want to be miserable like them or do we want to live a fulfilling life where we are more integrated?
He said that the moment we put someone in the mainstream education system, we start training them for the system. Then suddenly, if you do not fit in the system or are not efficient, you need antidepressants or anti-anxiety medication.
“If you don’t fit in or if you’re not efficient, you don’t belong,” he pointed out, stressing that this is the masculine system we live in.
Mental therapist Jasmyn Rana shared how she had had a conversation with one of her clients who thinks success is money, and money is not relative.
“I feel very strongly about how the world is headed in this very unhealthy direction, and the metric of success is perhaps the most convoluted, unhealthy version than it has ever been,” said Jasmyn. With this definition of success we are creating an emotional disconnect with our children, she added.
She pointed out that even if we have stopped asking boys not to cry or telling girls they are beautiful princesses, “beyond that there’s this unconscious level of maybe telling your girl it’s okay if you don’t want to play and asking your boy ‘come on, you can do it’.”
She remarked that there are unconscious messages that are not explicit with toxic masculinity or femininity. The other very important messaging is modelling, she said, adding that the strongest messages that kids will see is what we do.
She also said how most of the drivers on the roads are men, and these become accurate observations for children. All we need to do, she added, is not make something that defines male or female.
Jasmyn said kids start discovering their genders, then get aligned by their genders. She said that is fine as long as they don’t feel like defining who they are. “They can have whatever preferences they want as long as it’s not limiting them.”
Malik pointed out that healthy masculinity is about holding a space. “Emptying yourself and holding a container,” he said. He referred to the old culture of initiation. He said that now the initiation is being bullied at school. He added that the actual initiation is becoming a man from a boy, while in girls it is clearer because of menses.
He continued that mature masculinity is about men who are not only focused on their lives but are also holding space for others. “When I do that, I attract. The biggest shift in my life is: I no longer chase; I attract.”
Jasmyn agreed, stressing that what men need the most is men holding space for men. She said men who experience a career downfall or a divorce after 30 years, cannot go out and mingle with other men because they only talk about politics, money or women.
She pointed out that they cannot show up in their most intimate space because the vulnerability and the connection does not exist there for men with other men.
At this point, Malik shared how he went to therapy for seven years and it helped him get clarity over concepts. The real work, he said, is setting boundaries.
“We override our boundaries all the time to please someone else, just to be seen,” he explained, asking to hold our inner child and say no. “We started saying yes to things we didn’t want to do at a very young age.”
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