Will Smith and the ‘Heartwarming’ Comments as an Impact of Patriarchy in Indonesia

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Will Smith slapping Chris Rock on the Oscar 2022 stage.

Throwing a joke and followed by a slap, the 2022 Oscars moment became the world’s spotlight, sparking tons of debate. 

“Jada, love you, G.I. Jane 2—can’t wait to see it,” 

said Chris Rock, referring to the 1997 film G.I. Jane, featuring actress Demi Moore with her head shaved. Shortly after the slapping incident that ensued, Will Smith who was awarded ‘Best Actor’ spoke in his speech:

“I’m being called on in my life to love people and to protect people and to be a river to my people. Love will make you do crazy things.”

Not only did the incident of Smith slapping Rock which got the spotlight, the speech also sparked public debate. Toxic Masculinity became a concept associated with Smith and Rock moments at the 2022 Oscars. The hashtag #ToxicMasculinity was trending on Twitter, discussing how Smith’s actions and his speech was a form of Toxic Masculinity. Amanda Parris, a broadcaster from Canada, tweeted:

“Assault is wrong. Alopecia is a painful experience that many Black women go through and should not be joked about. The concept of being ‘the protector’ can be a form of toxic masculinity. Black women are rarely protected and deserve to be protected.”

– Amanda Parris (@amanda_parris) March 28, 2022

The roughly 7,000 tweets referring to the topic in the hashtag #ToxicMasculinity has a slightly negative tone to Smith’s actions, although criticism of Rock’s jokes is equally as high. Some see Pinkett Smith’s condition with her Alopecia certainly shouldn’t be a joke, not something that can be equated with the G.I. Jane movie where actress Demi Moore intended to have her head shaved. 

Just as many are comments of how Smith’s action cannot be considered as a normal response due to violence he committed. However, many Indonesian social media users astonishingly glorified Smith’s quote “Love will make you do crazy things”. Several Indonesian media outlets even covered how Smith’s speech was seen as a ’heartwarming’ moment. 

This begs the question, what leads to such views? Before we dig into the main explanation, we first must know how the concept of toxic masculinity works, as well as reasons why such an idea is still prevalent  in Indonesian society. 

So, what is toxic masculinity?

Toxic masculinity and its presence in society

When we see a man working, leaving his wife and children for days, we tend to see it as a normal thing. We may rationalize it as a form of family effort to survive. 

However, what if we see otherwise? A wife works, while her husband stays at home and takes care of their children? For some, this may be seen as normal. The rationalization given can be in the form of the same thing, namely the distribution of tasks between husband and wife to survive. However, if we see this – the wife works, the husband does the housework – as something that ’shouldn’t be’ it could be that such thoughts are toxic masculinity.

Indeed, masculinity is not essentially bad. It is a form of gender, a social construction that arises from the characteristics and behaviors associated with men and women. Gender is different with sex. Gender consists of some expectations: men and women are expected to behave according to what the society believes to be male or female. On the other hand, sex refers to human’s sexual anatomy. It is something that was born with us, such as chromosomes, hormones, and internal and external sex organs. 

However, when it becomes excessive and harmful, masculinity is a negative aspect or what is known as toxic masculinity. The notable narrative was made by The Good Men Project, which explained: “toxic masculinity is a narrow and repressive description of manhood, designating manhood as defined by violence, sex, status and aggression. It’s the cultural ideal of manliness, where strength is everything while emotions are a weakness.”

Then, why is Will Smith’s actions considered toxic masculinity? What about the harmful jokes made by Chris Rock?

Chris Rock’s jokes cannot be justified. Mentioning someone’s health condition is very sensitive. At the same time, violence is not something that should be normalized. When Smith took this action and said: “I’m being called on in my life to love people and to protect people and to be a river to my people,” it made the presence of toxic masculinity even more real. 

So, what’s behind the ‘heartwarming’ comments made by Indonesian netizens?

Indonesian society and toxic masculinity

Now, we turn our attention to the foundation of the society: culture. A structured interview was conducted by Anneke Zehan, head of Girl Up Universitas Padjadjaran, to discuss how Toxic Masculinity affects the behavior of Indonesian people. Anneke saw that the Smith and Rock incident had received attention from the various communities in society, indicating how Chris Rock and Will Smith’s actions were seen as a form of toxic masculinity.

“This incident was debated by many people from various communities, where discussions on this matter are still reaping differences of opinion. However, what is certain is that both Will Smith and Chris Rock are showing Toxic Masculinity,” Anneke said in the interview. 

There are three norms that make up toxic masculinity, namely status, toughness, and anti-femininity. “Status means power, indicating that men must have a position as a form of masculinity. Toughness speaks about men’s demands to be strong and emotionally insensitive in all circumstances. Anti-femininity is a form of action that rejects feminine characteristics in women,” she explained. 

“Society’s expectations of masculinity can burden men with obligations to fulfill these three norms. What’s more is that this kind of culture still persists in Indonesia,” explains Anneke. Positive comments that support Will Smith’s actions show how the mentality born out of patriarchy remains internalized. This may be a result of gender socialization delivered by socialization agents which are still colored by patriarchal values. 

“Family, peer group, school, and mass media. This socializing agent influences how we think. Therefore, gender mainstreaming is very important for children so that they are aware about the values of social construction of masculinity and femininity,” she explains. “For example, boys are taught to play ‘masculine’ games, such as racing, war, and other games that are seen as games that could make him a dominant character without involving any feelings (insensitive).”

The “heartwarming” responses that support Will Smith’s “aggressiveness” show how Indonesia is still precarious about patriarchy. Patriarchy that has been internalized in individuals has formed a social construction of how masculinity should work, in accordance to these three norms. This makes sense when we see how Indonesians are amazed at Will Smith’s masculinity. Toughness, status, and anti-femininity have influenced Indonesian people’s mindset to measure masculinity so that these “admiring” comments appear, showing how Will Smith fulfills these norms. Indeed, this does not only have a negative impact on women, but also on men themselves due to the emergence of pressure on men who must meet the expectations born of these values.

Penulis: Rifia Azka Nabiilah

Reporter: Rifia Azka Nabiilah

Editor: Fareez Eldacca

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