DNA, Wednesday, January 6, 2010
The end of the Noughties is a good time to think about boys and men. Contrary to what is articulated in the media and by card-carrying feminists, boys need more attention than girls — not because they are special, but because society has more to lose for boyhood gone wrong. When it comes to girls, we know what has to be done: allow them to soar. But do we know what to do for our boys apart from bringing them down to earth?
Do we know how to deal with the crisis of manhood? The issue is aggravated by the deluge of daily images of dysfunctional men: from rapists and molesters of various kinds to the Rathores who use positions of power to subvert the law, from boys who learn to murder for money to perverts who stalk potential victims on social networking sites.
Reverse sexism is not helping. You may not see gender-insensitive headlines like “Boys do better at IITs,” but “Girls top SSC rankings again” is par for the course. In short, men have very few positive images to build a reworked future where women will claim their rightful share and men have to do most of the adjusting.
Power corrupts. Male power has, over the past few centuries, been used as much to subjugate as to protect. It is time to change that —and the best way to do that is by focusing on how we need to bring up our boys so that they grow up to be the kind of men we need. Demonising men may be a useful way for damaged women to vent, but it is not going to get us anywhere. To understand why men need to change, we also need to acknowledge evolution’s impact on male development.
Fact 1: No species apart from humans has given only one gender extraordinary dominance over the other. Why did this happen? Answer: unlike humans, power is more equal between the sexes in most species. Have you ever heard of rape in another species even though all males in all species have the same biological urges? Probably not. Equality of power doesn’t mean equal physical strength. In all species, the male is bigger than the female. But in no species is the female incapable of defending herself well enough to deter over-aggressive males. Why did this happen only in humans?
Fact 2: Humans began to dominate other species because specialised male functions helped generate long-term wealth and consolidated power. Males developed physical strength, risk-taking abilities, and aggression. Females developed the ability to empathise with other humans and built networking capabilities. Tribes with specialised gender roles grew stronger and from this realisation it was just a hop, step and jump away to formal patriarchy and male dominance.
Fact 3: Women, especially Indian women, have played a major role in making men what they are. The typical Indian mother, trying to make up for the emotional deficit in her relationship with her spouse, ends up building up her son as surrogate to step into the void. (While psychologist Sudhir Kakar has made this point several times, a good recent book to offer insights in this area is Shaifali Sandhya’s Love Will Follow).
This kind of toxic maternal affection and high emotional expectations permanently scars boys and as they develop their own sexuality, they sometimes develop both deep bonds and deep anxieties about their mothers. Later on, they tend to see women only as mothers or whores, not equal sexual and emotional partners. This is the mindset that sometimes creates rapists and molesters even while ruining spousal relationships.
All these factors have taken a heavy toll of men. The vast majority of ordinary, decent men have limited awareness of their own emotional needs and an even poorer ability to communicate. Half their human faculties have been sacrificed to the cause of evolution.
Today, the relentless cycle of evolution is moving in the direction of female empowerment not only because it is the right thing to do, but because unbridled male power is damaging all of earth. The power imbalance is leading to constant conflict (global war-mongering), and destructive self-aggrandisement (the crash of the global financial system is a male greed issue).
As a society, we have a lot of things to fix. Top of the agenda is a focus on boys and their developmental needs — mental, physical and emotional, including gender sensitisation. A significant chunk of investment must be made in counselling parents and schools, for this is where many innocent little boys become transformed into problem men. There is no time to waste.