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!
TW: Mentions Of Rape
There is a constant public uproar whenever a rape case is published in the news. All kinds of counters and theories are brought up in favour of men. Some have become daily jargon like ‘Men will be men’, #notallmen, men have biological needs, men love sex, that is how their body and mind are wired, and more.
I have been trying to form an academic perspective on the causes of rape that are generated by how the public perceives it. In addition to that, I wish to add an underlying tone to how the public views it.
In that way, when debates around rape and crimes against women take place, we do not entirely dismiss public opinion but attempt to tweak their opinion and understand in a critical sense. We need public support; we need to change the stereotypical thinking and the societal discourse about sex crimes. The societal discourse needs to be shaped by adding more perspective through the dynamics of power and sexual politics.
Rape is defined as an unlawful sexual activity and usually, sexual intercourse carried out forcibly or under threat of injury against a person’s will or with a person who is beneath a certain age or incapable of valid consent because of mental illness, mental deficiency, intoxication, unconsciousness, or deception.
When it is believed that a man owns his sexuality, he perceives himself, his identity as a man, and his masculinity in terms of his sexual urges. Secondary sexual characteristics that begin from the adolescent age are new and the lack of healthy sex education makes them look for incorrect ways of attaining sex education which is mostly pornographic material such as porn films, porn books, and magazines.
The society that imposes that sex must be done only after marriage and has definite control of women’s bodies and their sexual autonomy, coupled with the objectification of women, sexualization of their bodies in popular culture, such as television, movies, etc., further adds to this.
The fetishization that happens around the semi-nudity of female bodies in popular culture somehow contributes towards wanting more of the female body for pleasure. Here, no conditioning or regulation happens regarding whether it is right or wrong, there is no parental supervision, and the popular culture also does not contribute much towards narrating the language of consent.
When a man has sexual urges, he thinks he should get them fulfilled which he claims is a part of his masculinity, no matter what happens. He feels entitled, he looks out for bodies that he perceives as less powerful or someone who does not resist. Someone who does not fight back, someone on whom he thinks he can show his aggression (that often comes out of unhealthy emotional coping mechanisms). He does not pause for a moment to think if there needs to be consent if his aggression or forceful coercion to do a sexual activity needs consent from the opposite person.
When a man rapes a woman or a child, it is not just about the male ejaculation/orgasm. It extends to the sense of power and achievement that is overwhelming where in that position he treats the opposite person as inferior or more like an object of pleasure, but anywhere not even close to equal.
The perception among men regarding “women don’t agree for sex”, “women don’t want us”, “women don’t need sex”, “women don’t like sex”, etc., But when it comes to his own understanding of his sexuality, “man has sexual needs and desires”, “his body is designed to get sex“, etc.
It is imperative to note at this point that there is a clear display of the idea that his idea of sexuality revolves around having control of the other sex and their bodily autonomy without them having any scope or say in the situation.
But his needs must be fulfilled with any means the man finds suitable at that circumstance (which can be impulsive too). The other sex is not perceived as an agent capable of having control of their body.
The societal discourse around the idea of masculinity and femininity needs to be revisited to understand if any underlying tones have elements that are criminal in nature.
When we define criminal, it often is seen from the viewpoint of the state. There is a fragile thread that distinguishes the morals of society and the laws of the state. The social construct of the male sex grows on an individual ‘becoming a man’ and for female sex grows on ‘becoming a woman’.
The becoming process does not often take place naturally without any external forces of regulation. Historically, gender roles have been assigned, gender traits are conventionally placed so that the exercise of power happens in one sex becoming the oppressor and the other sex is ‘otherized’ and oppressed in all forms that suppress the development of a female human being in all aspects such as emotional, physical, sexual, control over wealth, mental, status quo, reproduction, social privilege, etc.,
The idea of masculinity becomes toxic, meaning it has the capacity of causing serious harm or injury or even a threat to another life. Toxic masculinity is defined by Oxford languages as a set of attitudes and ways of behaving stereotypically associated with or expected of men. The destructive messages associated with toxic masculinity can lead to men feeling entitled to engage in violence against women.
The concept of toxic masculinity does not condemn men or male attributes but rather emphasizes the harmful effects of conformity to certain traditional masculine ideals such as promotion of toughness, dominance, self-reliance, and the restriction of emotion can begin as early as infancy.
The harmful behaviours include sexual assault, domestic violence, socially irresponsible behaviours including substance abuse, etc., the expectation that boys and men must be actively aggressive, tough, daring, and dominant, men are associated with finance and capital as the sole breadwinner.
The problem lies in this kind of association of gender roles and behaviors that ultimately results in the dehumanization of men. When we fight for equality and equity, it is important to uplift the ones who are vulnerable to such kinds of violence but there needs to be enormous efforts and advocacy not as men’s rights, but as rehumanizing men.
The problematic nature of the idea of men’s rights is that all kinds of violence against women, atrocities, sex crimes, sexual harassment take place with an underlying tone that men have control and right over the other sex.
The privilege is over-exercised; hence it can never be seen as men’s rights but only through the lens as an attempt to rehumanize them is the imperative need for this society.