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MECHANISMS OF MEN'S OPPRESSION
When you do not fulfill a required male role, you are held in contempt. People will see you as 'lacking' and pressurise you to conform. You may also be ridiculed.
But when you do something which is 'banned' for men, especially in the sexual field, the punishments really get extreme. You may be considered 'abnormal' and made an outcaste.
Indeed, hijras are living for centuries the worst possible punishment. Their crime is that they have chosen to live like females when society expects them to be men, and have refused to participate in the reproduction process by getting castrated.
For so-called 'normal' (masculine gendered) males, the punishment for doing the 'forbidden' would still be enormous, even if not similar to the hijras. They would be given the 'lesser' male status, that of the namard. For example, any male who refuses to partake in the reproduction process will be looked upon as a namard, unless he has a valid excuse. Punishments vary with the kind of social roles broken. It can include from social ridicule to isolation to outcasting to physical and mental violence.
For someone who breaks one of the important sexual roles, the punishment can be socially extreme. He may be thrown into the extreme depths of disgrace from the high pedestal that the society puts men on. He can lose all respect, dignity and status. He may lose his honour, which is extremely important for a man. He may be ridiculed and disgraced as a namard or worse, as homosexual. The society may not acknowledge his manhood, and this could really break a man.
It is typical that in the modern heterosexual world, while the woman is rewarded for breaking her gender/ sexual roles, the punishment of men for breaking theirs is increased several folds.
The only possible way to defeat this reward and punishment mechanism for men is to fight it unitedly and change the society and its anti-male roles.
"No one can make you feel inferior without your permission." ~ Eleanor Roosevelt
Social ridicule is often used against men, and it is often enough to make men comply. Such ridicule could become extreme and affect the person seriously. Ridicule is also a major tool involved in peer pressure. The most prominent words used to ridicule men are:
aurat, girl, ladki, woman, wimp, fag, pansy, chakka, homo, hijra, gaandu, halwa, namard, etc.
These words hurt men the most. Especially a boy who has not yet seen the world, can be broken by such abuses. If we want to empower boys to deal with ridicule, the first step is to make them understand that these words are hollow. They have significance only as long as we fear them. There is no need to fear them, because their base is social, not natural.
Let us find out what it is about these words that are so offensive to men. These words belittle men by challenging their masculinity and hurting their socially enhanced ego. Worst of all, they attempt to take away a man's honour by challenging his 'sex power', which is the key to his social manhood. They either compare men to women, or to extremely feminine males who are believed to seek receptive anal sex from men as an assertion of their femaleness.
Let us examine these words one by one and see what they mean and how they hurt:
Words such as girl, aurat, ladki, etc. are sometimes used for feminine boys. Femininity in men is considered extremely unbecoming by society. Feminine boys have to live with their femininity as if it were a handicap. Feminine boys can make up for this handicap by fitting into the more important 'sexual' roles, but their effeminate behaviour will always leave them open to ridicule.
These words, however, are used more commonly on non-feminine/masculine boys when they break social masculinity roles ----- even minor ones ----- by socially stronger boys. These words hurt a boy by making him feel that he is lacking in 'maleness', or by making it clear that he is weaker than the abuser. Unless he wins back his lost position with wit, confidence or a fight. These words are also used to challenge or instigate a boy into doing something he does not otherwise want to do.
Considering that Sushil is not physically strong, a better approach would have been to approach a teacher or an elder and make a complaint. But peer pressure forces Sushil to get involved in a fight he cannot win.
The word ladki can also be used by family members and others to teach male gender roles to a boy. A lesson taught this way is not likely to be forgotten by the boy, as he will always remember the insult.
Just by someone calling a boy a ladki, a boy does not become a girl. Just like a girl cannot become a boy. Sex is biological. So is gender. A masculine boy cannot become feminine, nor can a feminine boy become masculine, just by someone's degrading or derisive remark.
"Impotence cuts to the core of men's self-esteem in our society," ~- Ivker
The word namard is far more abusive and downgrading for a man than the words ladki or girl. Namard is used when the boy/man is seen to be unable to conform to the more important sexual roles of masculinity.
The word namard is used for a person who is supposed to be physically unable to have sex or to satisfy one's sexual partner. If he cannot 'satisfy' a woman, it is believed that he has a physical 'sexual' deficiency. It is commonly used for the following real or imagined conditions:
i. Small size of penis
ii. Erectile dysfunction
iii. Premature ejaculation
i. Small size of penis: It is believed that the size of the penis needs to be big in order to satisfy a female. This is a myth, as the vaginal passage of a woman is only 2 to 3 inches long. Beyond that, the woman cannot feel a man's penis. At the same time, too big a penis can make sex painful for the woman.
Ironically, many feminine gendered males including several non-castrated hijras have big penises. And several macho men have small penises. Penis size thus cannot be a measure of one's masculinity. Thus a small penis cannot make a person a namard.
ii. Erectile dysfunction: If a man has a problem getting an erection or if the erection is not hard enough or not for long enough, the person is said to be impotent or namard. However, most cases of erectile dysfunction happen because of psychological reasons and not because of a physical or anatomical deficiency. In fact, most men have phases in life when they experience problems getting a 'proper' erection. This usually happens when the person is stressed or too busy or suffering from health problems.
The basic requirement for getting an erection is that the man should be interested in sex at that particular time and with that particular partner. If a man has to have sex with a woman he does not find sexually attractive, he will find it hard to get an erection. It does not mean that he has a deficiency or he is a namard. The man may easily get an erection with another woman or man that he does find sexually attractive. Similarly, a man may not find women partners attractive, but may get perfect erections with a male partner whom he likes. None of the above conditions point to a physical or anatomical deficiency.
iii. Premature ejaculation: There is a prevalent myth that it is important for a man to withhold his ejaculation for as long as possible in order to satisfy a woman, and that a man who is unable to do this is a namard. However, nature has not made men and women to reach orgasm at the same time. Man is designed to reach climax sooner. Moreover, ejaculation timing has a lot to do with a person's psychology. Therefore, premature ejaculation is not a valid ground for calling a man namard.
Most men, especially in their younger years, go through premature ejaculation because of psycho-social reasons.
iv. Infertility: If a couple cannot conceive children, it is believed that the man is impotent. However, in almost all such cases, there is no problem at all with the man achieving or maintaining an erection. Conception, in any case does not need 'perfect' sex or even a good erection. Even if a few drops of semen enter the vagina, even without penetration, conception can occur.
Infertility has several other reasons, which can be both in men as well as women. The man's sperms may be deficient. But it certainly does not mean that he cannot have sex or enjoy sex or that he has a sexual problem. Therefore, he cannot be called a namard. After all, we don't call a woman who doesn't conceive a na-aurat (a non-woman).
Hijras are a community of transgendered men (i.e. males who are extremely feminine and who wish to become women or live as women) in India. They live, dress and conduct themselves as women. Most of them get castrated and become eunuchs because it makes them symbolically closer to women. Hijras are known as the third sex ----- meaning they are neither men nor women.
People with some other conditions affecting their sex identity may also join the hijra community. These include hermaphrodites and intersexed people. Hermaphrodites are people with both male and female sex organs. Intersexed people are those who may have sexual organs belonging to one sex, but their internal reproductive organs may belong to the other sex.
Hijras are a secretive community, which live on the fringes of society. Therefore, a number of myths are prevalent about this community. Not all transgendered and hermaphrodite males join the hijra community. Many of them live in the mainstream. But they hide their sex identity from the rest of the world.
Just like the mainstream male community has pressures to have sex with women and sexual desire for women is considered an essential male quality, in the hijra culture ----- which is an extension of the mainstream culture ----- there is a pressure to have receptive anal sex with men as a social symbol of their femininity. As a result, mostly transgendered males who are interested in men join the hijra clan. Most of the rest of the transgendered population live secretly in the mainstream. But in spite of this pressure, many hijras openly or secretly have sexual relationships with women. Indeed in the west most transgendered and transsexual males identify themselves as 'heterosexual'.
Even though hijras are only partly males, it is not proper to call them namards or 'non-men'! A person should be known for what he or she is, not what he or she is not. Hijras prefer to be referred to as the feminine gender, because they feel they are actually females caught in male bodies.
Although words like gaandu and sometimes 'homo' are used jokingly amongst friends, these words can be very hurtful when used in an abusive or humiliating sense.
Gaandu: The word gaandu is quite different from the word 'homo'. It originally refers to a (usually masculine gendered) man who likes to have anal sex with another man or a woman, though its most common usage is to refer to a liking for receptive anal intercourse. The word Gaandu is not a sexual or gender identity, but only denotes a liking or addiction to a particular sexual activity. The word 'homo' however is a gender identity.
Homo: The Indian version of the term 'homo' is quite different from its original usage in the west. In India it refers to transgendered males who have sex with men.
The term 'homosexual' is used for a feminine male who is stereotyped as being desirous of having receptive anal sex with men as an assertion of his feminine gender. (S)he is often believed to be promiscuous.
Although both 'homos' and 'hijras' are feminine gendered, there are several key differences between them. For instance a hijra is castrated, while a homosexual is not. A homosexual is usually content with his male body in spite of his femininity. A hijra wants freedom from the male body, hence the castration. A hijra lives outside the mainstream society. A 'homo' lives within the society and may get married and raise a family like other men. While a hijra dresses and behaves like women, a 'homo' only behaves like women, and usually does not dress openly like women (though he may use make-up and jewellery, etc.) probably because he lives under the pressure of the mainstream society.
With the increasing heterosexualisation/globalisation of the society and rising hostility against male-male bonds, the words 'gaandu' and 'homo' are now often used interchangeably to refer to a liking for receptive anal sex.
It is interesting that although in the West 'homo' refers to sex between any two males in our traditional society, masculine or so-called 'normal' men who have sex with other men are not considered homosexuals. On the other hand, a feminine male who may have sex only with women would be described as a 'homo'. So 'homo' in India is basically a feminine gender/ third sex identity rather than referring to a sexual preference.
The word namard (and all such put downs) is basically a scare meant to control male sexual behaviour according to the demands of the society. There are a few questions that all men should ask:
- If nature has made us men, how can society impose its own requirements on us before letting us be men?
- Isn't it true that society makes men subservient to women by demanding that men satisfy women in order to qualify for manhood? After all, no one asks men if they are satisfied or not. The woman does not become a na-aurat if she does not satisfy men.
- Is having sex with women really a hallmark of manhood? Is that a requisite biological function of a male? (we shall examine this issue in the next chapter).
Contrary to propaganda, a real man is not someone who bends over backwards to 'satisfy or serve women's passions' or in other ways inconveniences himself to fit into social masculinity roles. A real man is someone who has the courage to challenge the social masculinity roles on the strength of his natural masculinity.
Next: Other traditional mechanisms of men's oppression