Social media is buzzing a little again—this time a sixteen year old boy was beaten to death by three other teenagers over what is apparently some kind of gang rivalry. There were adults involved too, by some accounts, guards and an uncle, etc. All of them were men, though, many of them young enough to probably just have started shaving. It echoes the case of Shahzeb Khan, who was gunned down in Karachi in 2012 by goons he had the misfortune to encounter in a fight purportedly provoked by their harassment of Khan’s sister. The goons happened to be members of rich feudal families, but to paraphrase Forrest Gump, goon is what goon does, so I suppose it matters little how they were raised or what their backgrounds were; in the end they behaved like any miscreant off the street would.

The thread that links these two narratives is frighteningly similar: men being macho. Men being violent. Men ganging up on other men with cruel, premeditated and murderous intent. Men being, in a nutshell, men. For a real man is the one who defends his women’s honour, no matter what that honour means. A real man is one who punches—or in these cases, swings a tire iron or pulls a trigger—first and asks questions later. A real man has swagger, is tough, is ruthless. A real man is basically someone who has sublimated any normal human emotions he should have, like empathy and generosity and kindness, and kept only the worst ones: ego, anger, insecurity. It seems like a real Pakistani man is the one whose masculinity is so perpetually threatened that he has to permanently be defending it by anyone foolish enough to flout it. Flouters of manhood include wayard women who won’t listen to you or be indulgent of your vices, insolent children, people who overtake your car (particularly a huge insult if the overtaker is a woman), people who won’t let you cut a line—the list is endless, and can include anything.

This is because we raise our sons to think that the sun rises and sets on their heads. That they are the pinnacle of accomplishment, the best and most amazing beings to set foot on this earth for no other reason than the fact that they are men. That’s it. Winning the genetic lottery means you’ve basically won at life, and in Pakistan, no matter what your economic or class background, being a man means you are entitled to do whatever you like, whenever you want to. Anyone else who says otherwise is questioning this entitlement, and therefore questioning the very basis of your masculinity. For why else would this kind of rampant, pernicious gang and honour culture abound, if our men based their identities around other, more meaningful things rather than what they think they deserve? If our men felt like men because they were honest, decent and kind, then they wouldn’t care whether some moron cut in front of them at an intersection. There would be no car-chasing and main-teri-aisi-ki-taisi attitudes towards people defending their sisters. You wouldn’t go killing people who dared talk back to you. But in Pakistan you do, because not only is it expected of you, but it’s often presented as the only way to regain your lost honour. If you don’t, your masculinity is gone forever because it’s just that simple for someone to topple it. It’s gone in a second, like a puff of air.

As the mother of daughters I am often told to pray for a son. I wonder why? All we do to our sons here is to prop them up on the falsest, most unfair of pedestals. We tell them to be men—but not men like Martin Luther King, or Buddha, or our Prophet. We tell them to be the worst kind of man: vicious, pompous, aggressive, entitled. We make them feel special for the mere fact of their existence whereas we should be making them work just as hard as our girls to earn that specialness. What makes a person special? What values do we give our sons when we send them out into the world? To be generous of spirit, to try and see the good in others, to be confident and empathetic? No, of course not. Those are all things women are supposed to be. Men are encouraged to walk like they own the earth. The irony is that there isn’t enough earth for everyone if they all start behaving like that. And that is how teenagers become so hard-hearted that they can murder a peer in cold blood. That’s how young men smirk when they are read their death sentences in courtrooms, because they are so supremely confident of their demi-god status. That is how a brother can hurl bricks at his pregnant sister outside a courthouse. This is how mobs lynch young men while the police look on. These are the men we are so desperate to give birth to. These are the sons so ardently prayed for, so reverently raised. These are the macho men we want to be so proud of. Well done, society.