Rite of passage?
"Nature has given
women so much power
that the law has very wisely given them
very little." Dr.
TRYING to be dispassionate
about "eve-teasing" (an odious term in itself) is not easy,
for its very mention raises the hackles of every thinking, feeling urban
adult. One simply cannot be neutral on the subject.
One either sympathises with
the person in question and spews venomous rhetoric at the perpetrators
from a safe distance or agrees with Dr. Johnson's curmudgeonly views
on the subject and sanctimoniously assumes that the victim asked to
be teased. However the sheer brazenness of the recent distressing event
at a Chennai cineplex demands that we take fresh stock of the issue.
Whether Dr. Johnson would
have stuck to his guns if he had lived in 21st Century metropolitan
India is moot. For, it is apparent even to the obtuse observer, that
women are no longer teased; they are hit, pushed, slapped and pummelled.
Also, sexual gratification
does not seem to be the present day predator's raison d'etre even though
the frotteur is still very much alive as most middle-class women who
have been subject to the unwelcome body contact of strangers in congested
buses and other public places will readily testify.
You don't have to be a biological
scientist to figure out that testosterone does have a lot to do with
this problem, for you never come across adam-teasing, at least not of
a kind that assumes the proportions of a social phenomenon.
Also, the violent eve-teasing
referred to earlier occurs more usually in groups and the perpetrators
except, perhaps, the gang-leaders are usually otherwise unremarkable,
and often nondescript characters.
Considering that sex is not
the only motive and that only men indulge in this form of behaviour,
it would be reasonable to conclude that the psychodynamics of eve-teasing
are closely linked to the issue of masculinity and the masculine agenda.
At the risk of appearing
to oversimplify a complex phenomenon, it would not be imprudent to say
that in our country, the construct of masculinity is usually equated
with patriarchy. In other words, masculinity is experienced not so much
as a set of emotional or behavioural characteristics unique to the male
gender, but more in terms of hierachical domination over the feminine
gender; so even the most "feminine" man gets a socially dominant
position over his female counterpart.
Gender-segregation from childhood,
lop-sided parental relationships as well as the representation of the
man-woman relationship in literature and popular cinema, all serve to
reinforce the patriarchal model of masculinity in the mind of the growing
It may appear paradoxical
that in a country where the mother is generally deified, the growing
male child does not learn to respect members of his mother's gender.
But, it is because of this deification that the boy finds it easy to
slip into the patriarchal mode, for he does not relate to his mother
as a woman, as a person, as a human being, but as a helpless and martyred
dependent who needs to be venerated and cared for.
The vocal emergence of feminism
has also pushed the contemporary male a little on the back foot, not
only because women are threatening to encroach on his masculine dominion,
but also because he does not have any idea about how he can counter-encroach
on hers. So he moves squarely into the adversarial position, something
he's instinctively comfortable with and, during adolescence, focusses
not just on how he can express himself sexually, but also on how he
can claim his patriarchal right.
As part of his evolution
into the patriarchal role, an arena is required in which his valour
can be expressed. Organised sport and cultural activities are examples
of these, but require some talent and application.
Whereas standing with a group
of peers at a bus stop or in a cineplex, passing lewd comments, gesticulating
lasciviously and generally behaving obnoxiously requires mere numbers.
When the hapless girl is in no position to defend herself despite visible
evidence of distress, domination gets established.
And if she does make an attempt
to, physical assault is restored to. Put differently, eve-teasing can
be seen as a "rite of passage" for boys on their way to becoming
Whatever the origins of this
patriarchal-masculinity, it is clear that, in the words of Mumbai sociologist
Mangesh Kulkarni, "traditional forms of masculinity, which valourise
self-centred, unemotional, competitive, aggressive and sexually promiscuous
behaviour, require serious re-evaluation for enhancing the well being
of both men and women".
Urban India urgently requires
more mature orientations towards masculinity, perhaps along the lines
suggested by Robert Moore and Douglas Gillette in their book, King,
Warrior, Magician, Lover: Rediscovering the Archetypes of the Mature
Masculine (HarperCollins, 1991).
For this to happen, we need
to reinforce policing in key areas (like Chennai's "white brigade"),
strengthen legislative support for victims, encourage co-education in
a manner that promotes mutually respecting inter-mingling between the
genders, endeavour at individual levels to de-deify the mother-son relationship,
create more social forums to facilitate inter-gender interface and encourage
the formation of more organisations like the Mumbai-based-Men Against
Violence and Abuse (MAVA). Let us not do a disservice to our eve-teasing
sons with an indulgent "boys will be boys" attitude. For,
to be part of the new masculinity model of the 21st Century, our boys
will have to do much better.
(The writer is a psychotherapist,
relationship consultant and author of Courtship and Marriage: A guide
for Indian couples.)