Psyche of the sexes

Standardising and stereotyping is the root cause of all evil.

One recently had the opportunity of watching the legendary Marlon Brando in the raging classic ‘On the Waterfront’.

In this tale of redemption, Brando plays a macho boxer turned hoodlum, who incidentally changes for the better towards the story’s climax. Brando’s virile, somewhat bestial appeal was milked and cashed on in many other movies. He immortalised (and celebrated?) the onscreen ‘Bad Boy’ — disruption, trouble, alcohol, violence et al were part of the characters he played.

In ‘The Wild One’, he plays one among an unruly motorcycle gang that takes over a community, while in Mario Puzo’s  ‘Godfather’, a middle-aged Brando plays the big gun of an all-commanding criminal moiety of NY. The typecasting of the beefy Brando may have happened early in his career, for the film adaptation of Tennessee William’s ‘A Streetcar Named Desire’ has him depict the primordial, brutish, low-bred Stanley, a hyper masculine character yet again, who chronically abuses his wife physically and emotionally, and the method he uses to call off his ‘intrusive and hypocritical’ sister-in-law’s bluff is, hold your breath — rape.

DSM classifies hypermasculinity as an abnormal psychological condition characterised by over -aggressiveness, horrendous physical violence and sexual hegemony over the female, among other things. While testosterone has the afflicted narcissistically building and flexing their biceps, an overdose of adrenaline has them routinely flirting with danger.
Western societies may lay the blame for related depraved behaviour on Playboy magazines and Hip Hop singers, but obviously something else is also providing staple for this malaise. For what could explain the skewed psyche of ones like those who perpetrated the recent barbaric gang rape in Delhi, and a spate of other abhorrent atrocities against women and little girls in India over the past few months?

For eons, women have also patronised and flaunted insignia of hyperfemininity – frills, curls, tiny laced waists in corsets, satin, heavy movement -curbing silk saris and gold jewelery in the Indian context. Typical traits of women who suffer this disorder are uber submissiveness, over dependence and masochism, combined with an inability to walk away from harrowing relationships. To conform to the so-called feminine ideal, cultures in the yore have practiced excruciatingly painful techniques like neck rings and feet-binding. This apart, when the Barbie doll arrived with her improbable body proportions, the feminists raised a minor tempest and not without reason. As the popularity of the dolls grew, the ‘Barbie Doll Syndrome’ also did — i.e. an epidemic among women to possess the physical appearance of the doll, resulting in anorexia.

With the advent of the ‘metro sexual male’, Ken’s (i.e. Barbie’s male counterpart’s) image was upgraded from a a la Marlon Brando macho to a more normal, guy-next-door one.
Standardising and stereotyping is the root cause of all evil. Apart from functional anatomical differences, present to ensure propagation of species, there are no appreciable differences between the sexes. The mind, quite independent of the body, is an androgynous one, if not routinely fed by clichés and conditioning. The side to which the scales are tipped are incumbent on the individual rather than the gender. In the absence of cataloguing and pigeonholing, it may seem perfectly natural for a man to be gentle (a quality typically associated with the female) and a woman to be ambitious (a trait originally associated only with the male). So, those who still mouth platitudes about men being from Mars, and women Venus, need to take a breather.

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