Deconstructing the mind of the Indian male

Deconstructing the mind of the Indian male

Our country’s patriarchal outlook is the principal cause of violence against women. Aditi Bishnoi sheds light on how the average Indian male interprets ‘masculinity’ and how he can redefine the existing gender roles.

A new study, ‘Masculinity, Intimate Partner Violence and Son Preference in India,’ undertaken by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and the International Centre for Research on Women (ICRW), takes a look at how the average Indian male interprets the idea of ‘masculinity’ and how it shapes his interactions with women.

The study employs an innovative masculinity index to measure the degree of behavioural rigidity, based on the levels of control men practice in intimate
relationship as well as their attitudes towards gender equality.

According to Frederika Meijer, UNFPA India Representative, “Gendered ideas of masculinity and childhood experiences are significant contributing factors behind men using violence.

This research identifies alternative expressions of masculinity that offer pointers to effectively engage men and boys in achieving gender equality. It
identifies triggers that could enable them to become change agents in addressing gender discrimination.”

Judging from the telling responses of the 9,205 men interviewed for the study, masculinity is all about acting tough, freely exercising his privilege to lay down the rules in personal relationships, and, above all, controlling women.

One-in-three men surveyed didn’t allow their wives to wear clothes of their choice.
66 percent men believed that they had “a greater say than their wife/partner in the important decisions that affect us”.

In the bedroom, 75 percent men expected their partners to instantly agree to having sex if they so desired. Moreover, over 50 percent didn’t expect their partners to use contraceptives without their permission.

Clearly, “being a real man” is characterised by authority, while a woman has to prove her femininity by epitomising the qualities of “tolerance and acceptance”. Any departure from these mannerisms and she would definitely risk provoking a violent reaction. Sure enough, the study shows a very high prevalence of intimate partner violence in India.

Around two out of five men from the seven study states of Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Maharashtra, Odisha, Punjab and Haryana were found to be ‘rigidly masculine’ in their attitude and behaviour, as they firmly stated that women should neither be seen nor heard.

What’s more, 60 percent admitted to using violence to assert their dominance over their partner if she so much as even tried to step out of her traditional roles or was unable to meet the expectation of bearing sons. In fact, 52 percent of the 3,158 women surveyed, too, talked about experiencing some form of violence
during their lifetime, with 38 percent suffering physical violence and 35 percent subjected to emotional violence.

If men with discriminatory gender views are more inclined towards physically
abusing their partner, then they are also the ones more likely to want sons, affirms the study. Male children are central to Indian families as they stand to inherit property, carry forward the family lineage and participate in specific religious rituals. However, this attitude only consolidates their status as the custodians of patriarchal values.

In order to be able to enlist men to become a part of the solution, and not the problem, a couple of factors need to be taken into account. Firstly, the study
catalogues economic stress as a major  trigger for both, violence against women and the desire for sons. A crisis that threatens their position as the primary providers instantly prompts them to lash out.

Simultaneously, it reiterates their belief that more male children can guarantee better financial security.

The other aspect that plays an essential part in intensifying conventional masculine attitudes is childhood experiences. The more men witness their father
exercising greater influence at home in their formative years, the less likely they are to develop gender equitable attitudes.

Two solutions that offer the promise of real transformation involve breaking the cycle of discrimination by reaching out to young boys with fresh ideas of masculinity that are not based on power or authority, and ensuring quality education for both sexes.

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