Wednesday, June 19, 2024

In Focus :Recasting gender stereotypes- Being manly through womanly eyes

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Traditional gender roles i.e. man as a provider and woman as a homemaker have made way to newer relationships where today an increasing number of couples are partners with shared responsibilities, thanks to the thrust on education and economic empowerment of women in many parts of the world.

Today a section of women have become so accomplished and independent that, should they want, they can individually reverse traditional gender roles by becoming providers at home with their husbands caving in to be homemakers! Between these two extremes of stratified gender roles, in today’s fast-evolving society, we come across somewhat inharmonious couples with men calling the shots due to sheer masculinity carried to the hilt and women cowed by deeply ingrained patriarchal systems, norms and social cues.

The Pioneer’s Amartya Smaran puts together views of experts and couples to decode what today’s well-rounded women find appealing in men and what constitutes disgusting sides of their ‘manliness’. It appears that these days, beefcakes with toxic masculinity do not make the grade, while those who are empathetic, patient and understanding get full marks.

In India, a vast majority of us have grown up in a society steeped in patriarchal systems and norms. Long repressed by men, women from all walks of society have begun to realise that they are being taken for granted. Many women have started fighting for their basic rights that include being treated on par with men in all respects. However, some of these changes have not been whole-heartedly appreciated by conservative sections, due to which oppression still exists in many forms.

The traditional stereotypical gender roles assigned to men and women by society fizzled out with time. Notions such as: a man should earn and a woman must take care of children; promiscuity is fine in the case of men, but women? It’s bad! Ask them why? They start a lengthy sermon about character and upbringing. You get the idea, right? With modernity and awareness, these preposterous arguments have almost come to an end.

More than ever, women today are financially independent and capable of manoeuvring through life. By breaking the shackles of pre-existing shoddy norms, a modern woman is now in a position to live life on her own terms. Of course, there is still a long way to go. All told, women are in a better place today, when compared to bad old days!

Have you ever thought about what being ‘manly’ means? In a research conducted by evolutionary psychologist David Buss, it was discovered that men have a sexual over-perception bias; most of them think they are really great but it doesn’t reflect in reality; more so, in the case of a narcissist. In the study, a video of a man and woman conversing with each other was played out.The footage was paused abruptly at a point where the woman smiles at the guy. When the subjects were asked as to why the lady smiled at the guy; what was her intention and what was she trying to say to him?; majority of the male subjects said, “Oh! It is obvious, she’s sending sexual signals!” and the female subjects reacted to the same experiment with, “She was just being friendly and polite”.

It is possible to think that the definition of being manly might have stemmed from the sexual over-perception bias that most men have. Of course, mainstream Indian cinema has popularised heroes who indulge in activities like stalking, cat calling, and bullying — traits which are otherwise not socially appreciated at all.Oftentimes, the protagonist in mass commercial movies is someone who is macho in nature. Beating up 10 guys, being violent and insensitive for the heck of it, feeling entitled about everything around him. These are just some examples. This is not to suggest that every film portrays heroes in such light.

In another study, where men were asked as to why they cheat on their partners, the participants admitted to wanting more sexual variety. In the case of women, it had more to do with them building an emotional attachment with the person whom they were cheating with (emotional infidelity). Therefore, does having multiple partners make one manly? Definitely not, but we often hear men bragging about their notch count. What about having a chiselled body? Does that make a guy manly? Oh God! What makes a man, manly? Well, let’s ask the ladies what they think about it. Also, let’s find out what women desire the most in a potential partner.

Ankita Donthamsetty, a young chartered accountant, raises some interesting questions. “Broadly speaking, people associate masculinity with being strong, muscular and beating people up, but that’s not the case. The ability to empathise with people is really undervalued in today’s scenario. I think it is really important to be appreciative of the ones who are empathetic in nature. When we take relationships between a man and woman into consideration, what matters is how supportive can one be without any judgement? They might have their own insecurities, but are they willing to give the much-needed push and support that’s necessary? This quality is pretty rare to find and really attractive.”

Giving us an idea about how her preferences changed over time and what she fears the most in a relationship, Ankita points out: “When I was way younger, it was more like who’s more attractive and stuff like that. With experience, what I learned is that having a good emotional/spiritual connection is quintessential. If my partner can’t reciprocate with me emotionally and finds it difficult to handle my highs and lows, then it is going to be a bad match in the long run. I am mostly scared about investing my time and emotions on the wrong person. We all get into relationships thinking it is going to work, but you never know what’s to come.”

Speaking of a rather peculiar but common trait that persists in men, Ankita comments: “A few men have this idea of themselves that they can never go wrong. Even when they make a mistake, they don’t give a chance to themselves to correct the mistake. They simply can’t come to terms with what they’ve done. That kind of a character trait is a big turn-off for me.”

In agreement with Ankita’s views, Joycee Selvaraj, who works as a process associate, observes: “I don’t think being masculine means being muscular and strong. I think it’s got to do more with them trying to understand us. We’d love to have men who understand and support us. In my opinion, it is extremely attractive. More than physical appearance, if a man is kind towards others, that is good.”

Speaking of the kind of behaviour that annoys her the most, Joycee remarks: “Also, not respecting my need for some space is a big no for me and it’s really annoying if they constantly keep asking questions about who I am talking to or who I am going out with.”

According to evolutionary psychology, men and women chose partners based on certain cues. Men were often attracted to women who showed strong fertility cues and women preferred mates who demonstrated strong genetic cues. For the fear of exposing their offspring to disease-ridden environments, women seldom avoided men who possessed weak genetic traits. However, we live in a different world now. We no longer need to go hunting to put food on the table. With that being said, we are a product of our ancestors and we are hard wired in the way we organise our sexual mating strategies.

Resource-gathering capacity, high social status, industriousness, physical appearance, social adeptness, health and strength, intelligence, generosity, sense of humour, and conscientiousness are some of the most desired qualities that women look for while selecting a partner. For example, resource-gathering capacity (a man’s ability to make money and accrue wealth in future) is considered to be indispensable in most cases.

Several scientific studies found out that women place a great value on their mate’s social status. While cues such as intelligence and sense of humour make men more attractive to a woman, they are not indispensable. Surprisingly, according to evolutionary studies, generosity is one quality that women admire in a man.

Concurring with the scientific findings with respect to the quality of generosity, Pragnya, a bright student from the city, enthuses: “A man is someone who is comfortable in their masculinity — a person who is not afraid to openly show his emotions and express his feelings.”

On characteristics that she looks for in choosing a potential mate, Pragnya shares: “A guy who is kind and treats you right and respects your feelings.” While she adores the rare quality of kindness, for Pragnya, physical anger is the ultimatum in a relationship. When we questioned her about what scares her most in a relationship, she pointed fingers at the two usual suspects: abuse and cheating.

When it comes to mate selection, in most cases, boys and girls from orthodox families don’t have an option but to listen to their parents. The matter gets a tad serious when the families deal with a girl child because it boils down to prestige.Guys! I’m not saying this… but it is a fact in India. Just in case, if the individual musters up the courage to confess about her true love, the parents have an emotional breakdown. In some cases, the girl’s lover finds himself at the back of a truck. Anyway, there are individuals who are fortunate enough to make their own decisions. For now, we are concerned about the ones who take complete responsibility in choosing someone for themselves.

Sriya Rina, a journalism graduate, shares her views on the topic: “Men should try to understand women more than anything else.They’ve got to behave according to the circumstances. Patience! I’d say that’d top my list. It’s alright if they’re prone to anger, but they need to know how to balance it. I mean if my going out with a guy friend is a huge problem for him, then it’s not something that’s desirable. If guys feel the girl has done something they don’t like, I feel there’s a way in which they should question them.

Most of them get aggressive and that makes things worse. Of course, appearance matters, and financial stability plays a crucial role. When it comes to finances, there should be a good balance from both ends. In my opinion, people should first settle down in their careers and then take important decisions in life. What’s my biggest fear in a relationship? I think I have basic insecurities like what if he falls for another girl? I feel a bit jealous when he moves along too closely with other girls. I also fear being cheated on in a relationship. Again, if the guy is honest and comes clean with whatever he’s doing, that wouldn’t be a problem.”

In conclusion, folks! When will we realise that it took two wonderfully naughty people to put us here on the planet? Well, we can’t be sure if it was a cozy night or a sunny morning that landed us here. All that we should be concerned about is we took off without crashing anywhere. A few bumps here and there shouldn’t be a big deal. We’re just lucky to be here: living, breathing, eating, and working. Finding a partner is not rocket science, but a skill that can be picked up over time. For sure, it is interesting to know what the opposite sex thinks of you. It is intellectually titillating and certainly gives a great insight into what they truly desire. Putting gender aside, finding out a piece of us with every setback in life is all the more important. Heartbreak, treacherous past looming over the horizon or the comments of an insensitive partner that makes you question the idea of masculinity or femininity shouldn’t let you down. In somebody’s point of view, you might not be man or woman enough. Hang on; don’t you think it is for you to define who you are? Happy mating! (wink).

K Navya Sree, a married woman puts out her thoughts on how her firm filmy idea of a “man” changed post marriage, “When I was in my early 20s, while I was dating my now  husband, thanks to Indian movies, my definition of someone being manly was very filmy.

Like I wanted my husband to be the protective one, the caring one, and all those filmy stuff. But all that is good in movies only. In practicality things are different. Now that I have been married for over 7 years, I find my man ‘manly’ when he is himself around me.

Shares finances, household chores, responsibilities with me and not just boss around at home for being born a male. A man who respects, adheres to my needs and responsibilities, and knows his boundaries in all ways, is what being ‘manly’ is to me.”

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