The discussion on gender inequality has been going on for a while now.
Thankfully as a society, we are slowly redefining gender roles that have been instilled in us. We need to move away from the stereotype that men can only bring home the bacon and women can only take care of the family.
Yet, many obstacles still stand in the way of truly achieving this positive change in society. One of the most prevalent obstacles being toxic masculinity.
This is what Vaibhav Toshniwal, 31, wanted to tackle when he founded Mantor, an online community-based well-being and personal transformation platform for men.
Vaibhav tells The Pride: “I had the idea for Mantor a while back but starting a company takes courage and I was scared. But I finally told myself that this is really what I want to do. This is what inspires me. So why am I not doing it?”
Mantor acts as a platform for men to get the help they need through group video calls and curated self-help content.
Vaibhav elaborates: “These video calls are led by trained facilitators and members can come and share their challenges, the issues they face and find solutions with their peers or through expert support. At Mantor, you will get the opportunity to reflect on yourself and achieve transformation.”
These calls, he adds, are limited to a maximum of 10 participants so that each person has enough time to share their thoughts.
Vaibhav acknowledges that there is no one-size-fits-all solution to men’s issues.
He explains: “Think of happiness on a scale of zero to 100. If you are at zero to 30, you may have some deeper-seated issues and you’ll probably need a therapist, counselor or psychologist. From 30 to 60, you might prefer a community to vent, share and talk about your problems and get helpful content or insight from experts.”
“If you are at 60 and above, you may be looking to transform yourself, which is when you need access to people like transformation experts.”
Vaibhav says that the self-help content covers various aspects of men’s lives, such as mental wellness, family and fatherhood, as well as tougher issues like handling emotions, managing guilt and dealing with divorce.
Image source: Vaibhav ToshniwalThat said, he doesn’t want the community to be all about dealing with negativity either. Says Vaibhav: “It’s not just talking about problems alone. It’s about growth. We talk about evolving. Humans are driven either by dreams or fears. I want to focus on a more empowering narrative.”
However, access to this content doesn’t come free. Membership fees cost $9.99 a month (there is a trial period) when the website officially launches on Jan 30.
When asked about the fee, Vaibhav explains: “Personal counselling is expensive. A one-on-one session can cost up to $300 to $400. (While the experience isn’t exactly the same), you can get the support you need without overburdening yourself financially just to be heard.
He adds: “There is also another thing. If something is totally free, people get less engaged. People who don’t pay, don’t care as much. If you pay, it means that you’re committed to personal growth and being involved in the journeys of your fellow community members.”
“I want to make it affordable, but if someone can’t and isn’t convinced, there will also be free webinars and events for all to attend.”
But why a men-only platform? Isn’t that exclusionary? It is so that men can have a safe space to share openly about their emotions and fears without having to worry about how it may come across to members of the opposite sex.
It gives them the confidence to be vulnerable, says Vaibhav.
Current and future plans
Mantor collaborates with experts who believe in helping others and are willing to use their own resources to reach out.
“One expert we are working with is Anna Chandy, who has a large team of qualified counselors. Anna is one of India’s most renowned social psychologists and regularly works with a lot of credible professionals and celebrities to help them through issues and gain clarity.” Vaibhav shares.
He also plans to expand Mantor in many different ways, particularly working with more experts to help members in multiple aspects.
He says: “Over time we want to get to a point where we hold webinars with experts in specific things. Anxiety for men, anger management for men, how do you rebuild your life after divorce, how do you achieve happiness, how do you get into a new relationship etc. Things which are more transformational than issue-driven. And then at some point hopefully we will also try to get counselors, coaches and mental health experts so that people who need one-on-one support can also get that.”
Dealing with toxic masculinity
The idea for Mantor came about after Vaibhav noticed the prevalence of toxic masculinity in many countries, more specifically Asian countries. He feels that it stems from the culture that previous generations have created.
He says: “I think toxic masculinity is prevalent across the world but especially in Asia, where it is more patriarchal. The majority of the men in Singapore are primary breadwinners. I see more men feeling guilty for not able to spend time with the family. Then on top of it, they are taught from a young age that men have to be strong.”
That is why the shift in gender norms in today’s society exacerbates the internal conflict that men face when trying to define their identity.
Vaibhav says: “Things have changed, and that’s why men are confused because now they see the conversation about feminism and equality but they grew up with a different idea about gender roles as they’ve seen their fathers and uncles being the breadwinners.”
“Men grew up thinking that they are supposed to take care of the family financially. Emotionally, women can do it. That’s why you don’t see a lot of men becoming househusbands. You don’t see a lot of men taking gap years because they think ‘who’s going to make the money then?’” Vaibhav explains.
Yet it’s not healthy when men feel trapped in a role that they may not want to be in.
Vaibhav shares: “My dad started working at 15, providing for 12 people in the family. He just turned 60. I have never seen him cry or complain. I asked him, ‘Dad, do you not feel like crying? You’re always laughing.’ He replied, “I want to cry. It’s just that I’ve learned to hold back from crying because I was told women cry and men don’t.”
“And that to me was just so mind-blowing because my Dad actually wants to cry. It’s just that he has learned to control it.”
Vaibhav hopes that more men will be open to seeking external help when they need it. He also encourages men to treat themselves better. With the right support, men can update themselves with the idea of new gender roles and live happier lives.
To men suffering because of toxic masculinity, he says: “Share with vulnerability with the right people. Treat yourself with respect and seek external help when you need to. Become mindful, do things like meditation, yoga, journaling. I think all of them together will make life very robust for you.”
“Be more grounded and centered in what you want to do, because that will allow you to be happier. As an extension of that, it will allow you to make sure your families are happy, because that’s ultimately what we all want. We want a happy family, and we want to be happy in life.”