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MALE SEXUAL ROLES
"We doubt that you're a man. You are not even married!" ~ a 'humourous' comment from a laughter show on an Indian TV channel
We have not yet discussed the most important yet harmful roles of men. The most crucial expectations of men are in the sexual arena. The most important controls that society puts on men is on his sex and love life.
The following would briefly sum up the sexual expectations from men prevalent at this time in Indian cities. These roles vary according to region, period in history and socio-economic strata in society.
- A man should have unflinching sexual interest in women.
- This interest should be present all the time..
- He should have a big penis.
- He should have perfectly hard erections, which should stay till the woman reaches orgasm ----- at any time the woman wants sex.
- A man should be able to sexually satisfy women.
- A man should be able to produce children.
- A masculine male wishes to penetrate (and a feminine male, like women, wants to get penetrated)
- A man may not have any sexual interest in other males beyond wanting to penetrate them.
- A man may not love another man.
- Above all, a man should get married.
Not all of these sexual roles are expressed in words. Many are implicit. Like gender roles, sexual roles too are not fixed by nature, but by society.
"The concept of machismo encourages men to be promiscuous to prove their masculinity" ~ Population reports
Sexual roles are the most harmful to men. Some of the common adverse effects of male sexual roles on men and boys are discussed under the following heads:
When boys mean to say 'no' to a girl, they say 'yes'.
Man has lost the capacity to take sex as natural. Sex has become the most crucial tool for him to get that coveted social masculinity/power. How and with whom he can or cannot form sexual bonds with, has been rigidly laid down.
The pressure to exaggerate sexual desire for women than is natural for men has several ramifications ----- for men, for women and for the society as a whole. With this pressure, society ensures that most men participate in reproduction (although in the modern over populated world, we don't need to increase population). A number of social evils arise owing to this manipulation of men's natural sexual drive. For example, when manhood and social power comes from encounters with women, and chasing females is glorified as the natural essence of being a man, some men may abuse this power by raping and molesting women.
Even common men derive social power from acts like eve-teasing, which most women don't enjoy. On the one hand, women gain 'invisible' control over men by being the source of their social masculinity.
But most men, even when they eve-tease or have multiple female sex partners, act under immense pressure to earn social masculinity (popularly known as 'proving one's masculinity') in the race for manhood. What their inner self needs becomes immaterial. Many men stop enjoying sex and indulge in it only as a power source.
Men not only fail to enjoy sex, but also live under tremendous stress. Furthermore, their preoccupation with sex as a power source prevents them from developing positive intimacy with women that they bond with. They treat women only as sex objects or a social power source. Some men, on the other hand, start taking so much interest in sex (as to treat sex as casual is encouraged in boys) that they lose interest in developing emotional intimacy.
.Gender and sexual roles of men encourage men to be promiscuous and have multiple female partners. The greater the number of female sexual partners a man has, the more 'macho' he is considered. This is the reason why some adolescent boys get into sexual activities early in life ----- without proper information ----- making them vulnerable to AIDS/HIV and STIs.
The social power boys derive from sex with girls also makes them brag and exaggerate about their (often false) sexual escapades to impress other boys. The pressure to exaggerate sexual interest in women affects young men and adolescents the most, as they have not yet proven their masculinity (since they are not married). This makes them vulnerable and insecure. This is the root of male peer pressure, and creates unnecessary stress. This is the most important reason why boys seek sex with girls.
"…..people do not eat bull's testicles or powdered rhinocerous horn to increase their capacity for tension release or sensual responsiveness (much less to achieve greater intimacy) ….. sex is a test of adequacy….. of virility for men….." ~ Bernard Apfelbaum, PhD
When sex is turned into a source of power for men, it gives rise to several individual and social problems. For example, men lose the capacity to enjoy sex as natural. They start mistreating and harassing women. Men start oppressing other men with power that is not earned or deserved. Worst of all, it leads to unfair and unwarranted subjugation of men at the hands of women, leaving men vulnerable to exploitation. This issue is discussed in detail in a later chapter titled 'Sex Power'.
When a boy wants to say 'yes' to a boy, he says 'no'
Suppressing the sexual need for men has its own complications. This instinct has its origin in the days when human beings lived in the wild and male sexual bonds kept them together in male groups, supporting and caring for each other.
Much later, as the marriage institution evolved, it started forcing men to stop bonding sexually with men because it was impossible to bind men into marriage if they cherished their male bonds. Gradually, the pressure became so intense that not only did bonds between men became taboo, but even the feelings that drove men towards other men were stigmatised. However, the feelings still exist, and men in each generation have to deal with them afresh.
Most men experience sexual feelings for other men. These are especially intense during adolescence/youth. Most men suppress and disown these feelings, even if they trouble them from time to time and cause stress.
In male-only groups where complete suppression of such feelings is impossible, men keep getting emotionally and sexually attached to other men. Having casual but superficial sex between them in such male-only groups is fairly easy, while sleeping or bathing together, etc. Masculinity roles allow such acts as long as they are not given much importance, are kept secret and are camouflaged by an acceptable excuse. Men do have an 'acceptable' excuse in such circumstances: that they do not have women. However, men don't allow themselves to 'love' other men because such an emotional attachment is forbidden by social masculinity. In traditional societies however, intense sexual/emotional bonds persist in the guise of deep friendships.
But sometimes, in spite of suppression, men do get emotionally attached with other men. Then they have a tough time trying to break themselves off, as it can be emotionally painful.
There is an implicit understanding between men in such bonds that everything will be done quietly, under an excuse ----- while pretending that these things have never happened. Men see an open acknowledgment of sexual interest as betrayal of this understanding.
Often, when men get emotionally close to other men, they behave in ways exactly opposite to what their feelings of love ask them to. They would be rude to that person and avoid spending time with him. They would give the impression that the person does not mean anything to them. Of course no human relationship can survive such hostility. When men finally break off from the one they love, they feel relieved, as if they have avoided a disaster. Of course, breaking the relationship creates a void within them that stays throughout life.
"Hold my dick!"
As boys grow up, they hear such adverse comments about male-male sexual interest --- often as part of peer pressure --- that most of them develop deep hatred against their own feelings. They fight with it, suppress it, kill it, divert it disown it and hide it. Often, overcoming their sexual need for another man becomes a major obsession. Since these feelings are most intense during adolescence and youth, the struggle is the most intense during this time. Boys learn to wear a number of masks of 'power' (e.g. they may incessantly talk about girls or have girlfriends) to hide their struggle. While they burn inside, they appear cool, calm and controlled outside.
During this struggle, many boys also experience superficial sex with other boys/men. Such bonds are deliberately kept superficial, even if there is a strong emotional attachment. It is easy to suppress emotional needs, even if it has long-term harmful effects. But sexual desire can momentarily be overwhelming and boys can easily give in. The sense of shame afterwards is enough to make most boys to ----- what scientists call ----- "come out of the phase" eventually. In reality, eventually they build an inner mechanism to rein in their sexual need for men. They deaden the need, often cruelly. Most boys have 'achieved' this (and they feel proud and relieved) by the time they are 19 or 20. But when they kill this need, they also kill an important part of themselves, their power to bond, their power to love ----- and also an important source of their natural masculinity.
This extreme (but acquired) hatred for male-male sexual need is also externalised. It comes out in outward hostility towards male-male sex, and in jokes that boys crack about it. This also serves to keep peer pressure on one another. There are clichés that boys use to denigrate these feelings (e.g. I have the same 'thing', i.e. penis, as you, so why should there be any sexual attraction?). These clichés are handed down from generation to generation. The terms of abuse that boys use also have abundant references to sexual activity between men, especially penetrative anal sex.
There is an interesting observation that men who unusually or violently put down sex between men, often harbour strong unresolved feelings for men themselves. Therefore, intense inner struggle with one's sexual feelings make men behave violently or negatively to such bonds. (Because of this deep hatred, some boys victimise the rare boy who openly seeks sex with boys ----- who in most cases is a feminine boy ----- at the same time (ab)using him to fulfil their own suppressed sexual desires. They may have sex with the boy and then circulate the word about him being a 'homo', which subjects the boy to group humiliation, ridicule and abuse.
Extreme measures and mechanisms are put in place ----- both at the individual and the social level ----- to block, suppress or kill men's sexual need for men, and to divert this need towards women. These mechanisms include social restrictions, barriers, mispropaganda, rewards and punishments, apart from manipulation of social masculinity.
These measures are put in place before the individual experiences positive male intimacy or has the chance to develop his sexual need for men in a healthy manner. This means that adolescence is an extremely crucial stage for building this mechanism. If society fails to put this in place during adolescence, it has little chance in diverting/ restricting this invaluable male power.
Effective measures have been in place to ensure that the evidences of this 'diversion' are well-hidden. No discussion of this issue is permitted in society. Added to the fact that this has been in place for a long time, it is hardly surprising that male sexual attention 'naturally' appears to be solely towards women.
By the end of this diversion process ----- and after innumerable harmful side-effects to the individual ----- men come out with a diverted, bruised or mutilated sexual need that makes them incapable of forming intimate bonds with men --- although in most cases this need survives in suppressed forms.
Many feminine males do not go through this diversion process ----- because they don't consider themselves 'men'. They find solace in separate social identities such as 'Hijra' or 'homosexual' which accommodate and recognize their femininity.
There will always be some masculine boys who experience positive male intimacy before their same sex need is mutilated. The 'diversion' process will fail to have much effect on such boys. They may go on to develop a strong sexual/ emotional need for men. But life will be difficult for them --- more so if they don't have a sexual need for women. Their well-developed sexual need will find no space in society. They will suffer consequently. But unlike feminine males who become homosexuals, they will suffer in isolation and silence. Most of them will get married. No one will know of their plight. It will go unacknowledged. They will have to undertake enormous social risks to fulfil even superficial sexual needs. There is no space for them to fulfil their emotional needs. In frustration, they may either lead a totally non-sexual life or become promiscuous, especially as they grow older, and chances of finding an emotional partner diminishes. As they grow older, their desperation may grow, and they may start taking greater social/individual risks to find sex, may use unhealthy ways, and a few may turn anti-social to fulfil their sexual needs. In a heterosexual society, they will face another enormous social risk of being labelled a 'homosexual'and thrown into the homosexual space.
In the case of the rest of the boys, what remains of their sexual need for men after the diversion process, is a highly negative/deformed sexuality. This may come out in suppressed, superficial and unattached sex with other boys/men, or worse, in situations where men are in a position of physical power over other men due to social circumstances ----- in ragging, prison abuses, etc.
The social mechanism of man's oppression, through social masculinity pressures, has created such circumstances that the driving force in men's lives is the pursuance of outer power. Everything else becomes secondary ----- be it feelings, relationships, bonds, loyalty, character ….
Human beings, especially men, care about only those feelings that are valued by society, value only those relationships that are sanctioned, institutionalised and celebrated by the society (more the importance and significance given by the society, more it is valued by the individual). They celebrate only those events/feelings/relationships that have social value. Since society has long discarded and dishonoured male-male intimacy, men fail to honour these needs and bonds, however intense these may be. Indeed 'civilised' societies have not institutionalized even friendships between men. Male friendships are also seen as more or less eyesores for the institution of marriage.
Male need for intimacy with another man is a reality and cannot be wished away. Suppressing this important human instinct harms men in a number of ways. For one, it breaks man from man. A typical heterosexualised man is unable to relate with another man at any significant level. In modern heterosexual societies, deep friendships between men have become a thing of the past. Broken from each other, men become isolated and vulnerable, unable to protect even their most basic interests in society.
For another, it takes men away from the most important source of their natural masculinity.
"the more a man thinks about how much he needs to get and maintain an erection, the more difficult it becomes." ~ Jack Challem
Tampering with natural sexual lives of men gives rise to sexual problems which, though seen as diseases, are actually there because of socio-sexual pressures. But men are extremely worried about them because it is believed that they come in the way of 'satisfying' women, thus making men namards. These problems include premature ejaculation, those related with erection, size of the penis, angle of the penis, and several other minor concerns. Unscrupulous 'sex' clinics thrive in India, which exploit men by promising to cure them.
Nowadays, even qualified doctors make a claim to treat such problems, calling them diseases, yet most of these doctors are unscrupulous. They play up the worries of ignorant men, conduct expensive tests, and give expensive medicines, when they suffer from nothing that medicines can cure. While medicines fail to have any real effect, any minor relief is purely psychological, as these are basically psychosexual problems and are best addressed with counseling.
"Most people still snicker about female harassment of males" --- Harsh Luther
The social masculinity roles regarding the sexual conduct of men make them victims of sexual exploitation. They suffer the trauma associated with sexual abuse, but their abuse is not seen. They often themselves give in. There is no way they can complain without compromising their manhood.A man, when approached by a woman for sex, is not supposed to say 'no'. The society judges a man's manhood on the basis of his 'ability' to empty into a vagina. The 'invisible' but real power that has been granted to females to proclaim a man mard or namard obligates the man to have sex with her even if he does not want to, in order to save his manhood and honour.
Society would not think much about the plight of Ravi or Sailendra. However, if the same thing happens to a girl, it is considered a major issue.
Women who misuse the 'invisible' power to pressurise men to have sex with them are mostly sexually aggressive women. They have little power in traditional societies. But in heterosexual societies they are given unregulated and exploitative powers.
Marriage is an institution that is especially taxing and restricting for many men. For this reason, men have tried to escape from it in all ages. In fact, if it were not for strict social pressure, few men would get married. In some cases marriages can be negative and harmful for the couples. Expecting or forcing boys and girls to get married (or to be 'heterosexual', in the west) as a rule, whether through direct or indirect means, is also a form of sexual abuse ordained by society.
"A man feels no shame" ~ a heterosexual cliché meaning he should not have a sense of modesty in front of women
Modern heterosexual societies take sexual exploitation of men to new heights ----- often with official sanction. Grown-up boys and young men in the West are required to strip naked before female doctors, nurses, or officials, for compulsory check-ups that are required for entry into several government programmes, in sports and the army etc. It is said that if you are a sportsman, you cannot avoid that.
Unfortunately, with the heterosexualisation of the Indian society, the practice has now come to India. Only a few years ago it would have been unimaginable. Indian men have a different sense of modesty than Western men. Many are not comfortable stripping before women, even for sex.
A similar army incident where a girl was asked to strip in front of a male doctor resulted in a hue and cry. Unfortunately, society uses different standards for boys and girls. That is not real equality.
While the major public hospitals in Indian meteropolitan cities take adequate precautions to safeguard the modesty of women, they treat their male patients with insensitivity.
Moderate forms of initiation rites that also involved nudity has been a part of male-only groups since ancient times (when masculine eroticism was glorified). It was beneficial in the bonding between newcomers and seniors. As society changed, such rites took the negative form of ragging. When rogue elements get involved today, ragging can get extremely cruel.
But things changed drastically when in the West boys' hostels opened to girls. Now, ragging in the West almost always involve boys being forcibly stripped by girls (with the backing of male seniors) or made to masturbate in front of them or be fondled by them. Interestingly, this opposite-sex ragging or hazing does not victimise girls.
Allowing girls access to boys' hostels facilitate such horrendous practices. For girls are as likely to sexually exploit/abuse, if given a chance, as are boys. But while boys can (in most cases) deal with boys, the social masculinity roles render them helpless to deal with girls as sexual abusers. Unfortunately, such practices are now being forced upon the helpless Indian male.
Being sexually humiliated in front of females affects men tremendously. Apart from the sexual trauma and a sense of being forcibly exposed/violated/abused, they are also in a situation where they lose their sexual masculinity masks that they badly need in the race for social manhood or for status as a man. But their modern sexual roles prevent them from resisting, complaining or from seeking redressal. Heterosexual roles expect him to enjoy any sexual interaction with women and not to be shy or to show modesty.
Traditional masculinity roles placed no such demand on men. In fact, a man was supposed to protect his modesty in front of women. Such forced exposure would have been considered a blot on one's manhood. That is the dilemma of being a man in the modern, mixed-gender world. You are not allowed to feel violated. You are abused, but you end up feeling less of a human for not enjoying that abuse.
"In America….. strangely strict physical boundaries are necessary among men." ~ Mark Stevens
Herding into male groups is the basic drive of mammalian males in the wild. Males spend their entire lives into the herds they join where they form close bonds with other males.
In humans, the marriage institution has long ago de-institutionalised such male groups. But the basic male instinct to 'herd' together remains. Traditional societies gave a lot of social space for men to live and bond with other men before marriage, primarily because the societies were segregated on the basis of gender. But the fast heterosexualisation is swallowing up these spaces, driving men into a corner.
Boys need to grow up with other boys in male-only spaces to develop their true masculinity. It helps them learn about being male and experience the world as a male. It teaches them to relate and bond with other boys. Male-only spaces give them freedom to be themselves. Society may have artificially made women the source of men's social masculinity, but a man's real masculinity and happiness comes from bonding with other men. This is what makes a male a man.
If they lose this opportunity when they are young, they can never make up for it in the future. A boy who does not get the chance to grow up with other boys will grow up with underdeveloped masculinity. Young men, like adolescent boys too, need time to develop masculine bonds and revel in their masculinity. That is the best part of their life, which no one should deny them. Youth is not the time to bind men in marriage, raising of children, dating, and relationships with women.
Young men can play an important social role in helping adolescent males develop their masculinity positively. For no one else has the time, inclination or the capability to do that. Due to lack of guidance, adolescents channel their masculine energies into negative activities, which harm them as well as the society. In a research conducted on male adolescent elephants, it was found that if an older male elephant was not present to guide their masculine energies, adolescent elephants became destructive.
Even when boys become older men and get married, they need male-only spaces to rejuvenate their masculine energies. They need this to rejoice in their masculinity and celebrate it, because that is the essence of their happiness.
Modern societies take away this natural right of boys by forcing them into mixed-gender spaces, right from childhood. While girls still have some separate spaces for them, almost all boys spaces are intruded by females, be it the school, the gym, the swimming pool, the hostel or the army. Because of intense pressures of 'heterosexuality' in these spaces, boys lose the opportunity to learn to relate and bond with other boys. While mixed gender spaces are sensitive to the special needs of girls, including their need for privacy, they are insensitive and uncaring about boys' needs. The notion about privacy for boys does not exist in such societies. The entire focus is on moulding boys to fit into male-female bonds, by forcefully exposing them more and more to females in their personal space. Deep male bonds are actively discouraged.
When the traditional social masculinity roles of men are combined with a mixed gender space --- they become heterosexual spaces which enhance the vulnerability of men thousand folds, while taking away all routes of escape or respite. India is passing through a phase, led by the media, in which vested interest groups are forcefully changing the entire social structure into a mixed-gender, heterosexual one.
While girls are liberated from strict gender and sexual roles in these settings, male sexual roles get especially intense. Girls, who suddenly have a direct power over boys, have lots of opportunities to exercise this power as well as the social sanction to do so, now easily exploit boys. Not only does the role of girls as source of social masculinity become more prominent, girls also have more direct power here to pronounce men namard. This is a poor model of gender equality.
In a heterosexual, mixed-gender society, any relationship that men have with each other is superficial, limited to things like an occasional game, or purely professional relations. This isolation of men from other men and their total dependence on women is making them socially weak and vulnerable to exploitation. Men are losing their human rights as the society becomes increasingly anti-man. Man has now lesser rights in marriage, over their children, property and so on. Their privacy and modesty is invaded. They are made more vulnerable to sexual exploitation. The irony is that they are still made to believe that they are the powerful gender.
While women get together to fight for their rights, men are unable to do so, because they are already broken from each other. They don't feel one with other men. They don't know how to come together. They see men only as competitors.
In this extremely hostile world, male-only spaces are like oases for men. These are places of respite. In spite of negative elements present in them, these have less harsher pressures of social masculinity and are less hostile to their natural masculinity than the mixed-gender spaces. Boys who have lived in male-only settings instinctively sense their disempowerment in mixed-gender settings.
Men will continue to suffer unless they learn to deal with their gender and sexual roles. For this they need to come together, which is not possible in heterosexual societies. It is certainly possible to achieve gender rights for women without forcefully mixing the sexes and without taking away men's freedom.