Editor’s Note: This post is a part of What's A Man, a series exploring masculinity in India, in collaboration with Dr. Deepa Narayan. Join the conversation here!
By Faisal Pakkali:
When I was eleven years old, my father caught me watching porn on our family computer. We are a conservative Muslim family in which my mother ardently wears the hijab and dislikes shaking hands with men.
My sister is not allowed to have too many interactions with male acquaintances and my father always thought that his eldest son was an obedient and decent boy – till this shameful little sinner was caught ‘red-handed’.
“How can you watch such indecent things?”
“How will you feel if others came to know about what you have done?”
“Do you know how much you’ve hurt your mother?”
After a terrible scolding, he made me promise that I would never watch porn again. I broke that promise a week later – and thus began a long journey of self-hatred and shame that would carry on till my adult life.
I was always someone with a high sex drive. I remember having my first erection when I was four years old and immediately feeling ashamed of it. I felt like a freak. As a nine-year-old boy, with no knowledge as yet, of what sexual intercourse meant, I would often fantasise about nude women. I would break out of these fantasies – sweating, dry throat, erect and with a single thought – I was “the worst boy in the world”. I would often have nightmares of the Judgement Day, where Allah would ‘expose’ my fantasies to the world and shame me to hell.
From the moment I was aware of it, I stubbornly tried to repress my sex drive. Being a devout Muslim, I believed in the numerous restrictions Islam has when it comes to sex. Many Islamic schools of thought look down upon something as simple as masturbation and in extreme cases, even forbid it.
The only message I got from my own Muslim community was that sex is a weakness. It is a mere ‘indulgence’ that Allah ‘allows’ the humankind. Though compared to Christianity, Islam seems to be a lot more liberal in its views on sex.
Yes, this is the general attitude of my Muslim community towards sex. It is something that Allah has ‘allowed,’ but it is a basic desire. It can only be pure within the prescribed Islamic environment and social sanction of marriage.
The Messenger of Allah (Peace & Blessings of Allah be upon Him) said: “O Ali, do not follow a glance with another, for you will be forgiven for the first, but not for the second.” (Reported by al-Tirmidhi, 2701; see Saheeh al-Jaami’, 7953)
As a teenage boy, I used to glance at women discreetly. Once, twice, thrice and as many more times as I could slyly manage. I was enthralled by the feminine figure, every curve of a woman’s body, the casual flick of a stray hair and the pout of their soft lips.
To this day I cannot describe what femininity is. But I do know it when I see it, and I am in love with it. But, that was also the time I feared women; the time when I truly hated sex. I hated how my repressed sexuality held me tight, in an iron fist.
My limited interactions with the opposite sex as an awkward teenager enthralled me, made me angry and filled me with shame because of how they affected me. I had many male friends but hardly any female ones.
Back then, I truly believed that men and women could not be friends. This regressive social conditioning aided by my religion meant that I would only view women through a crude sexual lens bolstered by pitiful fantasies and long bouts of pornography.
Islam practices gender segregation to a great extent. All my deep-seated fascination and lack of meaningful interaction resulted in me dehumanizing women. I didn’t see them as fellow human beings. They were always the “others”. This train of thought was probably the seed of my sexism.
But that wasn’t why I feared women. I was deeply attracted to them, and I believed in my heart that sex was indeed a shameful act. This constant conflict was the start of my inherent fear of women, my eventual misogyny. I wanted someone I didn’t actually understand, to do something for me that I didn’t consider morally correct. I wanted women to have sex with me despite my belief that sex was impure.
Two men and a woman are talking. Man A thinks sex is bad. Man B is comfortable with the idea of sex. Man A is interested in the woman.
Maybe desperate and unsure if she would want to be with him. He cannot fathom the possibility that she may be okay with sex. He just wants her to do something that he thinks is ‘bad’. He approaches her with this desperate, dishonest and demeaning vibe.
Man B, completely comfortable in his skin, takes a chance to believe that the woman is okay with sex. He flirts and plays along, taking his chance fully knowing that it may not lead anywhere.
Man A believes that women are a game, and sex is the ‘prize’ they unlock. Man B knows women are fellow mates, and sex and flirting are things you do mutually and with consent.
The woman, on the other hand, would rather appreciate a free and honest conversation than one that is layered, deceptive and demeaning to her.
If this lady decides to play along with Man B, she does so at the cost of being called a slut, a whore or someone with a loose character by Man A.
Her potential involvement with Man B will also affect her status and reputation because she ultimately gave in to what was considered ‘impure’.
I honestly believe that the primary cause of misogyny is always a man’s inability to be secure about his sexuality. It is understandable. Sex may be fun, but it is scary. It’s a primal and consuming drive. It’s about celebrating our senses, our person-hood and in the climax, our inbuilt drive towards transcendence and beauty. Sex is unnerving because at its best it challenges you to be truly vulnerable to your partner.
Sex is indecent only if you believe that who you really are is not worth sharing. Only if you think that the lies you tell yourself, the masks you wear in public are what you really are. Because sex strips you of pretences.
No wonder people would be scared of sex and would want to control and curb it. They would not want to let go of their illusions of control.
The second cause of misogyny is a man’s inability to empathise with women. All failures of empathy are at some level failures of imagination.
Many men often cannot imagine a woman as a whole person. The only one overbearing lens through which they can see women is through the nightmarish kaleidoscope of guilt-stained sexuality. And of course, the social construct and reality that many men go through life not having any real and meaningful interactions with women.
This mindset of misogyny, sexism and tortured sexuality is passed on and engendered in a society that places women on pedestals, practices gender segregation and is religiously queasy about sex. We see this in practice when women are called sluts for enjoying sex, when “men will be men” and when a young boy who has fantasies about sex has to resort to calling himself “the worst boy in the world”.
It was a long process of soul searching and brooding for me before I got out of my rut of misogyny and self-hatred. I found a new groove. I finally embraced my sexual energy and drive. I left the code of my ex-religion. I found that the journey of my life was much more profound and richer, more fun with women (my sisters, my partners, my fellow travellers) around to share with.
So, guys, brothers, come out to play. Sex is nothing to be ashamed of. The gender that you’re so enthralled by is waiting for you to see them as whole humans.
They’ve been waiting a long time.