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Nupa thokpa is a prevalent sense of masculinity in our society. It has its certain criteria that the society has set for boys/men to attain in order to be a “real man.” If not, he must be shamed for nupa thoktaba: Not being “man enough.”

Nupa thokpa culture

The idea of nupa thokpa (be a man) expects men/boys to be “manly” or “man enough.” It starts from a tender age and continues forever. Nupa thokpa expects display of certain signs of strength that are oftentimes translated as masculinity. For instance, lack of emotion, sexual virility, aggression, and violence. With such expectation, every moment of vulnerability turns into a test of nupa thokpa. When a young boy cries, he is often told nupanabu kappa hounabra (boys do not cry). We seem to forget that everyone cries as one form of expressing their emotion when they are hurt or sad or angry or happy. However, a crying boy is often shamed with the idea of nupa mandaba (unmanly) and forced to internalize the toxic idea that “crying is for weak” and “men cannot be weak” and so “men don’t cry.” Here, two things need highlighting: Weak and crying. Oftentimes, we consider both behaviours as less than and associate them with women/girls. This idea stems from our assumption that men are strong and women are weak.

Weak-strong binary

The systemic pattern of weak/strong binary has developed over the years. According to this binary, a person can only be either strong or weak. Let us take as example the ideas of Meitei Nongsha and Meira Paibi. The phrase Meitei nongsha carries the idea that a Meitei man is brave, strong and fierce or should be so. Meira Paibi are often praised and known for their strength, given their contribution to the society. However, treating Meitei men and Meira paibi as entities that only embody strength might make us ignore the fact that both Meitei men and Meira paibi are also persons with their own weaknesses or vulnerabilities. Whether we speak of political power or personal dynamics, both of them have their weaknesses. People they are standing up against are people in power who are way stronger than them. They are courageous, but also weaker. On the other hand, when Meira paibi comes back home, she has her own domestic issues, emotional turmoil, personal and intimate struggles where she also is made to feel weak. Even the so-called Meitei Nongsha also has his share of similar experiences where he also feels weak. It is human. The problem lies in the glorification and overemphasis on the strength, making it the whole and sole idea of being a Meitei Nongsha or a Meira Paibi. It invisibilises their weaknesses for its negative connotation and takes away their personhood. Weakness becomes a trait that should not be a part of a “strong” person. Therefore, the weak/strong binary not only assigns one of the two to a person, it also glorifies one and looks down upon the other. Weakness does not justify oppression. Just because a woman is considered traditionally as physically weak does not mean a man can ill-treat her. Just because a person is socially and politically weak does not mean people in power can oppress them. Just because a boy/man shows some signs of weaknesses does not mean he should be shamed. 

Strong men, weak women

The false narrative of weak/strong binary often assumes men are strong and women are weak. It continues to reinforce the age-old societal norms and roles assigned. Needless to even say, everyone has their strong and weak moments, both physical and emotional, throughout their life. Both are parts of us. Now, the idea is not to reverse the perception of this binary and prove that “women are stronger” or “men are weak.” It is imperative to understand that it is okay to feel weak and cry. Weakness is a part of being a person and one should not be shamed or looked down upon for feeling/being weak. Those who are assigned as strong, men, do not have the authority over, the ones who are assigned as weak, women. Various factors influence the experiences of weakness/strength, such as gender, class, race, age, ability, health, and power. 

What is nupa thokpa?

On the other hand, the nupa mandaba concept soon turns into nupi hek malladana (like a girl) or calling homo when boys/men cry or show signs of weaknesses. Thus, the society shames boys at their vulnerable moments by comparing them with people who are already considered less than in the society. Through such toxic concepts, we introduce sexism, homophobia, and transphobia as a way of being strong a.k.a. “being a man.” There runs a deep misconception suggesting that only one pure form of masculinity exists. Nupa thokpa imposes certain definitive traits of masculinity onto boys/men, such as the idea of strength, lack of emotion, dominance, and sexual virility. Since society goes on glorifying these traits, many boys/men strive towards displaying it in order to prove their manliness. With this nupa thokpa idea, men usually try to display domination through power in the form of physical and sexual violence. The need to feel “being in control” also becomes crucial to be nupa thokpa. These men treat women as sexualized objects or inferior beings they have absolute control over. Also, they tend to display emotional detachment from vulnerable environments. 

Nupa mandaba/ nupa thoktaba

At the same time, people, especially the peers, often shame those who fail to do so and label them as nupa mandaba (not a real man). In order to avoid the shame, many make attempts to live up to these expectations, which often result in suppressing emotion, displaying sexual aggression, low empathy, entitlement, violence. It creates a dangerous environment for other people, especially the vulnerable ones. Not only to others, it affects them, too, gravely. Nupa thokpa blocks the emotional outlets for men/boys to express themselves when they find themselves in vulnerable situations. It builds up and develops various mental and physical health issues. They cannot cry, seek help, or express how they feel. The shame and judgement of nupa thoktaba (not a real man) push them into this toxic state that bottles up these emotions, eventually hurting them and others. This race to such unattainable expectation of masculinity also leads to violent, abusive behaviour. Bullying, domestic violence, substance abuse, sexual assault, and harassment are some of its effects.

 Nupadi tougeda ngambani

Nupa thokpa also leads us to the idea of nupadi tougeda ngambani. Used as a form of both glorification and caution against male violence, it reinforces the legitimacy of male power, instead of questioning it. Its glorification threatens women to not challenge men. As a caution, it puts all the pressure on women to be careful. Instead of challenging the powerful, nupadi tougeda ngambani focuses on what women should do to avoid male violence, which often translates to giving in. It also holds an undertone of possible sexual/physical violence and, at times, is used to threaten a woman who disagrees with a man’s desire or to silence women in general. Fear of the power is used to suppress voices and reinforce dominance of the powerful. While nupadi tougeda ngambani idea comes with just being a man, addition of class, social and political capital on top of it boosts the sense of entitlement in multi-fold. It suggests that something bad will happen to the woman in different aspects and phases of life. 

Nupa thokpa and sexual conquest

In another case, nupa thokpa considers sleeping with as many women as possible as one of the traits to becoming a “real man.” The problem is neither in two consenting adults indulging in physical intimacy nor in being sexually active. Instead, the glorification of intimate relationships as conquests and treating it as nupa thokpa is what creates a toxic culture of treating women as mere sexual objects. The nupa thokpa men considers women as sexual objects to be conquered to prove their manliness. And those women they have “conquered” are reduced to touthokhrabi. On the other hand, if a woman is sexually active, society often slut-shames her as oktabi (whore). She is considered eya-yabi (easy) with no self-respect. It reflects the social control of women’s sexuality and society’s desperateness to preserve women’s “purity” for men’s conquest. Here, there is another binary, the binary of pure and impure, when it comes to women. The binary has been applied mostly to women in our society. The pure being those who are not sexually active and impure as those who are sexually active before marriage. Once the “purity” gets taken away from her, she becomes foul (touthokhrabi) and the man responsible for it attains manliness (nupa thokpa). One is conquered while the other has had an achievement. This shrewd concept of two polar opposite interpretations for two persons involved in one activity together, based on their gender, reeks of hypocrisy and misogyny. It is needless to say that a sexually active woman becomes a threat to the nupa thokpa culture and the male ego.

Nupa thokpa means a wide range of toxic culture that cannot be covered here completely. Having said that, one needs to understand that nupa thokpa is not the idea of strength.

Nupa thokpabu thouna phabara.