By Aman Pandey
Growing up in Mumbai in the late ’90s-early noughties with all its rap music, Neal ’n’ Nikkis, and Entourages, toxic masculinity was mainstream. Sex education came from 50 Cent videos, and ideas on how to approach women came from Bollywood. Almost everyone knew that men spoke a certain way when women weren’t around.
We are now in 2018 and the #MeToo movement has drawn attention toward the problematic, often predatory behaviour, of men. And even as more men are exposed, some of us chose to feign surprise and divert the argument into what behaviour is acceptable now. (“So I can’t do anything but wave?”) A lot of this has probably to do with the fact that when we were growing up, much of what we define today as inappropriate behaviour was simply dismissed as “being a man”.
The first kid to procure a pornographic magazine and bring it to the classroom was a local hero. In every single break, we boys would get together, and browse through the sticky pages with eyes wide open. The one 13-year-old boy, who decided that it was a little gross to be going through another’s pre-cum, and made his disgust apparent, was labelled “gay” or “sissy”. His “sensitivity” made him an outcast.
The magazine, as innocent as it was at the time, soon grew into something more cancerous. As we hit puberty, it was only natural that most of us would be attracted to women around us. Unfortunately there was no guidebook to “correctly woo” a woman. Writing poetry was for the nerd who cries himself to sleep, quoting musicians was cringe-y.
“As we entered college, and phones became indispensable, this already borderline toxic culture was introduced to platforms like Snapchat.”
What did become acceptable, thanks to the popular perception of “being a man,” was making highly sexualised remarks, talking about how often you watch porn with your bros, and “scoring chicks at parties”. Of course, these were the ways of the “real men”. The so-called “sissy/sensitive” guys would cringe, but not wanting to be left out or bullied, would keep their mouths shut. Many probably thought it was them that was the problem. No one wanted to be the shy boy who sits in the corner and says I will kiss a girl only two months into dating, especially when they had been fed all the regular BS about men having to make the first move.
As we entered college, and phones became indispensable, this already borderline toxic culture was introduced to platforms like Snapchat. Now to be part of a guy’s circle meant listening to them drone updates on all the “hot girls” who “send them nudies”, and riveting discussions on how they’d try (and fail) to get a girl to have sex with them using as few words as possible.
Once again the guy who didn’t approve or take part in these conversations was seen as the weird other. The “sensitive” guy was left out of the guy gang and would probably go home feeling jealous that some people were “getting some” while they were spending their time mucking around, and respecting individuality. So the “sensitive” guy learnt to keep his mouth shut and laugh along if he ever wanted to be “one of the guys”.
This culture lasted up until the time “wokeness” became the new label everyone wanted to wear. Suddenly being seen as the “sensitive” one made you the hero. Calling someone gay disparagingly and bragging about your sexual exploits was considered uncool.
But the set of men remained the same. The same “macho culture” that idolised Barney Stinson, or laughed along to Entourage, went on to become part of the new performative woke crowd.
For them, every new statement – “we can’t talk to women like that,” “no means no” – was an exercise in performative tweeting; playing a character that they assume women will appreciate. When stories fall out of their closets they can confidently proclaim: “Hey, I didn’t know any better back then!” when the truth is that they knew all along, and contributed in such a significant way to perpetuating that culture.
Every man should do his part and acknowledge that the change begins with us – it never has been about what a woman wears, or where they go – it’s about changing this idea that a man’s worth is measured in how well they can “pleasure a woman” or be “one of the guys”.
We’ve shut sensitive men down in the past – but if India’s #MeToo reckoning has proved anything, it is that we’re part of the problem. By not speaking up, sensitive men have enabled harassers. #TimesUp on predatory behaviour… and also on quiet, sensitive men.
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