Thug In Velvet – Revisited


Around a decade ago there was a watershed in Indian culture.

We saw a concept come about in India and abroad.

It was called the New Indian Male. The very idea of the New Indian Male was a gentleman. He wore clothes that fit and wasn’t picked out by his mother. He understood fashion. He was gentler, kinder and indeed “more in touch with his feminine side”. His image on the big screen and in populist media was not one of the country boy or poor, but a middle class hero and his actions resonated the most with that demographic. In the minority of India that is Upper Middle Class this may hold true. More men broke gender roles and cooked, cleaned and raised children and this allowed more women to break out of those traditional roles and do non-traditional roles such as working. More men cleaned up themselves and after themselves. But what happened? Why have we shifted out of that?

I claim to be a product of two cultures but I am really westernised. I may wear the shell of an Indian but my upbringing, education and ideology is one born out of living abroad. And a lot of things puzzle me.

I once went shopping with an Indian friend. Well, I went shopping. For him it was a new experience. It was the first time he had ever bought clothes. He was 25 when we went. And he simply had no idea about how to do something so basic. When I asked him “Why”, he responded with “Because his mum does it”. This was a young man who drove a nice car, had a girlfriend and even went to clubs. He was highly westernised in that aspect but was incapable of shopping. At one point he simply stepped up to me with a variety of items and told me he wanted them. I asked him if they fit for him and he said “yes”. I simply marched him back and told him to go try each one on. 20 minutes later (it was a large pile of clothes) he came back with a sheepish grin. More than 30% of what he picked out did not fit because it was too small. The rest were too big. He didn’t even know the size of clothes he wore because he never had to do laundry or even look at the label on what he bought.

I began laughing with the joke “If you are this bad with clothes, lucky I don’t have to help you with underwear!”. And then realised. He wasn’t laughing. He genuinely didn’t know how to buy them and was hoping that I would teach him. I told him about how they are all related to waist sizes so all he has to do is look at a package of them and compare them to what trouser waist he wore (which he now knew on the basis of trying them on). Then he asked about styles. I realised that his mother bought all his underwear too and only bought one type. When suddenly faced with the plethora of male underwear his mind was blown. All his life he has lived in the in underwear his mum bought (no. I didn’t want to ask what he was wearing. I felt it was impertinent) for him and he never realised he had a choice. I joked that it was a good thing he wasn’t a woman because there were different underwear for women and he told me he didn’t know that either. Either he has the most chaste relationship with a girlfriend I have ever known since me and my best friend declaring that we were going to marry each other aged 8 (What can I say? Girls like a man who knows his way around an easy-bake oven)  or he simply hasn’t paid attention.

And the payment of the bill was equally fraught with such peril. He was genuinely ashamed because he was purchasing underwear and the woman at the till may judge him for his lackadaisical choice in what he chose to clad his loins in.

I thought this was a one off. Until I went to a party where I mentioned that I was leaving and needed to buy clothes for friends back home. The conversation turned to “how do you know what to buy” and “do you buy your own clothes”. Most of the men there didn’t shop for themselves and had NEVER gone out shopping for clothes as an adult. Some of these men were around 60. They found it actually kind of shocking that I was not only capable of buying clothes for myself but also cousins (To be fair they know what size they are and I just pick up stuff that fi. They even brought up movies and how men buy their wives underwear in western cinema and asked if it was true that men in the UK bought women underwear.

And I didn’t think about it.

The New Indian Male died in December 2012 when the shocking rape of a young woman in Delhi and subsequent death. The bubble burst there. The public eye tore itself from it’s soap operas, movies and reality shows and focused on the incident. And under that scrutiny the realisation that the idea of the modern Indian Male was just a fantasy. The Indian Male is now the stuff of nightmares. Rape, Assault, Murder, Oppression come so easy. Here is one who drives a rape bus. Here is one who beats his wife. Here is one who rapes his daughters. Here is one who beats his children. Here is one who forces them to work rather than study. Here is one who gets in fights for no reason. Here is some who take justice into their own hands and attack drivers. Here is one who blinded a woman with acid…

Indian men may have changed a bit but that’s only in a tiny but vocal and visible minority. And even within that minority it’s not universal. The men who I spent time with were arguably richer than me. I travel by bus, share auto and the occasional taxi (if I am feeling fancy) but these are men who own nice cars, big houses and the trappings of western civilisation. The vast majority of men haven’t changed much.

These are people’s fathers. They are husbands to wives, brothers to sisters, colleagues and friends. The demonised men in the papers are no different from the men in our homes. The abuse that takes place in the papers that we are so shocked about is no different to the man in our houses.

The men haven’t changed. The New Indian Male exists but he isn’t around in the quantities to make a change. They are mainly the product of westernised life in the upper middle class, foreign influence and rejection of Indian ideals or being born to the socially liberal. But the vast majority, including myself are cuddled and coddled.

What was astonishing about the Delhi Rape was not that it happened but that it was so brutal. It was not news that it happened, it was news that she was so horribly hurt. These things are the “norm”. The Indian Male has such a casual and innate grasp of power that wielding it like a bludgeon or scalpel is innate. And power does corrupt. I know that I leave cups around female friends because “they will always take it to get cleaned”. I wouldn’t have done that 5 years ago.

I have seen it elsewhere. There are men who are well behaved in public but have no qualms about throwing their plate like a giant infant if the food isn’t nice or is late at home. There are men who cannot deal with empowered women and who regularly stop their wives from working. There are men who believe all young women are interns or secretaries and if they are in any position of power they got their through either affirmative action or by sleeping with people. There are men who demand the “perfect wife” while being nothing special to write home about. There are men who don’t think groping a woman is wrong if she is in his house. There are men who simply ignore women wholesale. And there are men who are so critical of women’s actions that a woman cannot live without being categorised as a slut because she doesn’t adhere to some fantasy. In India, there is no contradiction between a man being described as a doting father and banning his daughter from staying out after dark (AKA 7 PM).

The man in the designer shirt with a designer iPhone (and let’s face it. The product is a premium luxury product) and designer shoes driving a designer car to his designer home from his high powered job and then goes out to hit the clubs with his designer wife in designer clothes can casually beat her for serving the designer coffee cold.

My aunt was like that woman. She was a doctor. So was he. You don’t get more upper middle class than “doctor”. You don’t get more quintessentially part of the Indian Dream than to hold a medical degree. And she was beaten for so much as looking at another man or having the handle of the cup face to the left rather than the right.

And there is no contradiction in that sort of behaviour. A lot of Indian men and women (lest we forget) don’t seem to think there is anything wrong with spousal abuse and even thinks it is necessary sometimes. You heard me right. People consider appropriate conditions for when you can hit women.

The Indian Male exists in a haze of machismo and preposterous testosterone. You can tell the ideals of society by their heroes. And the Indian Movie Hero oozes a preposterous amount of testosterone to the point that he is very nearly parody. Awesome hair, Awesome Moustache, Punchy Dialogue and Flying Punches, the Indian Male Hero is so manly that logic, women and the laws of physics prostrate themselves before him.

That may sound harmless but is indicative of the sort of ideal that the Indian Male strives to achieve and indeed the expectations of Indian Society on it’s boys and men. And this machismo is what the Indian Male often brings to conflict of any sort. An accident on the road will often see a crowd of angry bystanders appear out of nowhere to declare one person the victim and the other the perpetrator irrespective of who is really at fault. Let’s look at a personal example.

Yesterday, as I was being driven back home in a share auto, I was kept company with banter with the driver. I am taller than the average Indian so must sit in front where there is some leg room. As we discussed the power cuts and medicine we suddenly braked. Two young men on a motorbike weaved in front of us forcing us to brake and then proceeded to cut in front of a turning car and drive off. Had we hit him or had the driver of the car hit these two stellar examples of human stupidity they would have died. We were on a main thoroughfare and they were not wearing helmets. But their death would have attracted the “mob” that is the Indian male who would simply harass, beat or even kill the driver of a vehicle they judge to be responsible for an accident. Many an accident has seen a driver run and hand himself over to the police rather than face the mob. There is no reason for this. It’s not justice. Just an excuse to be violent and fulfil the power fantasy of bringing someone to justice. It’s this same power that a lot of Indian Males bring to any conflict. Be it a fight on the road or with a wife, child or employee. And society doesn’t shame and ostracise him. It instead protects this attitude like a indulgent parent and a spoiled child.

This creates a hardwired sense of entitlement and privilege that is so pervasive that it begins from birth and so creates men who have no introspection. No self consciousness and indeed no foresight of the consequences of actions because society doesn’t value the repercussions of actions. If we stopped the two idiots on the motorcycle and asked as to why they were driving like arseholes and whether they considered how unsafe that is or indeed what the repercussions of an accident are all you will get is sheepish grins and foot shuffling. They may defend themselves with “I am a good driver” which is the defense of all drivers in accidents. No man thinks he sucks at driving. All Indians think they are the second coming of Senna and this shows in the statistics.  These men do that because society doesn’t encourage men to worry about the repercussions of their actions.

That’s what women are for.

And so you end up with the Indian Male. A child in the form of an adult. A bewildered child out of place in a world that’s changed too fast and too soon. The same privileged boy has grown up into a privileged man into a changing world where women want “the New Indian Male”. So he wears the skin of one but is not brought up to be one. No one has taught him how to live in a society where women are equals. The rules haven’t changed. The Entire Goddamn Game has. And Indian men weren’t even given a set of the new rules. It’s like trying to play Monopoly while following the rules of Chess. Men are left constantly guessing. And since they have no role models, they are forced to get advice from TV, Cinema and each other. All three are terrible sources of information since two of them are fantasies and the other is populated by people who know absolutely nothing but will still give you advice. Advice they may have gained from the first two. And I already spoke about the problem with getting ideas from those sources. The role models there are not “good” men but “MEN” oozing with so much testosterone that Chuck Norris jokes are considered advice to emulate. And it’s tragic. This genuinely harms men, maybe not to the same level as women but it certainly cripples their entire personas.

Privilege of men is so virulently dominant in Indian society that most people cannot understand it. The majority of Indian marriages are still arranged marriages and they are still thought of as acceptable, respectable and even better than the alternative. And most men are highly demanding about what they want in a wife. From Caste, Religion and Career (or sometimes a lack of) to Music, Religion, Diet to Young and Attractiveness and even the Dowry. And society dances to his tune.

The reverse is also true. The New Indian Male who no longer is in the shadow of the family has  to fight through India’s Single’s Market. Nothing the average Indian Male learns teaches him to engage women as equals and there is no help. The Privilege Cuts And Damages both ways. The Tyrant revels in his role in society due to his privilege. Those aspiring to the idea of the New Indian Male despise the thug and his privilege but don’t know how to live without it. Why should we teach men to talk to women when they don’t really have to?

It is a simple equation. Family and Education shape the child. The dearth of responsible men is squarely due to the absolute disconnect between the social education of children. Men are taught to be privileged and women are taught to empower and give privilege to men. Men in India don’t learn to cook outside of the few who cook to live. They are not taught to be polite to those who do cook and clean for them. They don’t learn to anticipate others needs. They never have to sacrifice and even when they do have to they sacrifice the least. Even when it comes to settling conflicts peacefully, there is a dearth of advice to adhere to non-aggression and to settle arguments through conversation.

Indian Men are not just the perpetrators. The Indian Male is a symptom of the disease. They are victims of the disease just as much as women are but the difference is how the disease affects them and the severity of the disease. The Indian men are perpetrators, symptom and victim in one bundle.

The assumptions of society limit the potential of members within it. Maths is Hard dominated society to the point where women are such a rarity in Mathematics, Computing and Engineering but India never had that so women do well in those groups. Remember, there is a Doctor Barbie but not a Mathematician or IT Specialist Barbie. Indian society’s stereotypes are likewise harmful. Girls are expected to study and so they do better than boys. It’s excused away as “Girls Are Quieter” and “They Have a Greater Desire to Sit Still”. Boys are “Naturally Restless” or “Have ADD”. At no point has anyone said “That’s Bullshit, we aren’t expecting boys and girls to do the same things, that’s why one is doing better in education” and “Boys are given more leeway than girls so girls perform better in an education system designed for maximum obedience”. This pervades into life after schools. The wild disparity of freedom between the genders makes it clear that the behaviour of men is down to that. And this is made harder with the explosion of books on gender which treats either gender as either excessively simplistic (eg. FHM or Cosmopolitan) or as inscrutable fairy beings from the tenth dimension. The fact of the matter is boys and girls are effectively the same bar the few biological differences. That society and family dictates the differences.

For example? You may give your son the same Lego that you give your daughter but your son may make a toy gun out of it or a toy sword. You may not have shown him or taught him to make one but then society and social roles may have.

And parents fear that behaviour. They want their sons to grow to be the New Indian Man yet don’t know how to shield their children from the poison of greater Indian society. There is a fear that these children who are at the vanguard of change will simply be buried by the mass of greater India or worse. Destroyed by the majority. The language of the MRA abounds here. These men are considered “wussy”. The New Indian Man is not a real man. He is to be mocked in a society where testosterone is currency.

The concept of machismo is such a common affliction that nearly every person has a story about a “man who cannot deal constructively with feelings and emotions and failure”. Young men fall in love and pine after women who often have no idea these boys exist because men fear talking to women less they are rejected. Even middle aged men end up in such situations. I read of a wife who found about her Husband who had left home daily dressed for work was really sitting by himself in a park. He could not admit defeat and say that he had no job anymore. Admission of defeat is loss of machismo. Admission is defeat and admission is to accept that you were broken.

Real Men Are Unbeaten and Unbroken.

Nowhere is this more evident than in the brutal realm of the Ragging. It is similar to the Hazing popularised by American Fraternities but without the voluntary nature. Ragging is universal and while present in young girls too it is to a lesser severity and with less permanent damage than simple humiliation.

I have collected stories and it ranges from simple introductions and jokes to nudity, beating, humiliation. There have been cases where students have told me that they fell ill because they were made to literally consume human/dog/cow faeces or lick toilets. There have even been rapes. And these are often told to me with a grin. It’s justified often by the victims and the perpetrators as socialising. Breaking will get you ostracised. Not Breaking means you Win.

What you win is alien to me. Social acceptance does not come based on how much faecal matter you can consume. The fact that young men often remember this period in their lives fondly means that they not only don’t realise it is wrong but see it as harmless.

This kind of “ragging” has lead to deaths. People have died either through suicide after such bullying or from the actual acts.

This uniquely childish act has no reason for existing. I bet when you do catch someone doing this, all they will do is shrug their shoulders. They don’t know why they do it, just that everyone does it. The men who do it are children asserting their dominance over other men in the same way that children dare each other to greater and greater feats of stupidity if not for adult intervention.

These men exist in the limbo of the lack of responsibility of childhood and the responsibility of adulthood without the education to be responsible. There seems to be a complete lack of markers of the end of adolescence and childhood. Between the age of 16 to 18 you are considered an adult in the west. You are still considered a child until you leave the house. My lack of marriage has people often asking me for my “Father’s Name”. I am 27…

A young man leaving home is awfully woefully under-prepared. Most cannot cook, few if any iron and many have never ever held a broomstick. Most hire cooks and chefs. I will hold my hand up… So Do I (I am le tired!!!) but I still help out. I try to keep my room tidy and the lady who helps out here has often been puzzled by me taking over the kitchen or cutting vegetables for her. She jokes that she wishes her son was more like me because I generally keep the house clean, can cook and at least clean up after myself. All it really needs is a weekly mop and the only reason I actually pay her is because she has worked here for “decades” (Like 30 years or so according to her) and not letting her do this means she would be out of a job. I am happy for her to come over and sweep an already clean floor rather than put her out of a job.

Or maybe I am just lazy and finding excuses to take advantage of such a privilege.

Which comes back to the hazing in colleges. For many a young man the hazing is a rite of passage. Like your first drink or your first fumbled kiss or your first terrible dance or your car. Many Indians consider ragging as the defining rite of passage. It’s the only time they have to really suffer for who they are and to pass through that is often an achievement.

There are new complications that come with the advent of western culture to India. On the plus side it’s morphing Indian men from the hirsute, smelly and unfashionable and often uncouth (I have seriously had people rip massive farts in my waiting room. The concept of going somewhere ventilated rather than subjecting everyone to noxious bum fumes is alien to many a person) predecessors to the metrosexual, fashionable and suave creatures that we consider the modern man. On the negative? The concept of masculinity is being formalised and made rigid. While there are many stereotypes for women to fit into comparatively there is only one for men. Gone are the days when Indian men could hold hands, slap arses and put their arms around each others shoulders in a friendly manner. Now that manner is associated with homosexuality and Indians are picking up the homophobic mores of the west. The south Indian nerd stereotype may have been saved by Rajesh Kuthrapali from The Big Bang Theory, but the overweight romantic hero of India’s past is dying. Replaced with men who have more in common with greek gods and bull testosterone than should be considered normal.

The Indian Male stumbles because he finally has to face down something that Indian Females have had to do for nearly all of History. For the first time their place in the world is not guaranteed. They have to face the worries that women in India and indeed across the world have had to deal with for centuries. And the scary thing is that there are no women to light the way. Our society is the product of feminism which liberated women and got men to change out of a similar role during the 50s and 60s in western society.

India is learning feminism from western TV. Men don’t have anyone to guide them to deal with this empowerment or to help them realise that what they think is appropriate, may not be.

We should not hold up a single ideal for men to follow and fit into. There is not one solution to problem. There isn’t a single solution to the lack of empowerment of women in India, so why should there be a single solution to the problem of a society dominated by machismo? If there is to be a movement to change men, a so called masculinist movement, then it will have to destroy the deprivations of the Indian Male. And that means destroying machismo. Men have to learn to feel and understand rather than simply win bread. They must learn to empathise rather than merely shout orders. They must learn to stop expecting their companions to simply obey orders and rather learn to communicate with respect. They must learn to express their emotions, learn to satisfy themselves through being who they are rather than what society dictates them to be. They must learn to love and they must learn that stereotypes hurt them too.

But that is a daunting task. You have centuries of a culture of male dominance to destroy. And men are not likely to give up their privilege and their casual power without a fight.

As of now the New Indian Man is as endangered as the tiger. The Indian Male struggles to ascertain his identity and often is torn between being the suave metrosexual as demanded by the new and empowered Indian Woman and indulging in the old patriarchal way as being little more than a thug in velvet constructed by a society that indulges in nearly every whim.

I wrote about this in response to the Delhi Rapes nearly a year and a half ago. People wanted to know about why such men exist in India. This didn’t really get read that much. People didn’t seem to like the point I raised. That Indian Men have privileges which they demonstrate through a casual violence.

And this applies to us too. It may not be as impressive as India’s differences.

I sat today with two young lads asking me about Hera. The topic was marriage. They all said the same thing. They wanted girls who were fair, attractive, skinny, rich and had good jobs or large wealth. They didn’t speak as if they knew these women, they spoke as if they were owed these women. I am the anomaly since I love Hera and she clearly loves me too.

But that reminded me of Elliot Rodger. He felt owed a woman. He was a catch (in his own mind) why were women not throwing themselves at him.

And then it made me realise? India isn’t so different. Maybe the USA has less of an issue with the Thug in Velvet (Velour perhaps?) but they still exist. Men who have lived lives where they were taught that the world revolves around them and that everything exists for them.

What Elliot Rodger was doing, in effect was a temper tantrum. The world refused to revolve around him so he had to throw his toys out of the pram. The world revolved around him because of a privileged life? Perhaps. Maybe it was due to a mental disturbance. Perhaps. But what is clear? The place it didn’t revolve around him was women who he didn’t consider to be free entities and people of colour who he considered inferior. I believe it was multi-factorial and that a perfect storm of blind privilege, narcissism to the point of pathology, a mental illness leading to social awkwardness and an echo chamber of hate that lead him to hate women and go on his killing spree and harm so many innocent people.

It leads me to think all men are on this part to a new civility and it is needed. I think the MRA and PUA movements are a symptom of men floundering around in a new role that they cannot understand desperate for guidance and rather than change, they seek to restore the old status quo where they knew how to function. Where women were expected to marry and do so for things such as wealth rather than personality.

Back when Tall, Dark and Handsome was all that you needed.

 

Comments

  1. Pen says

    And then there’s the female side to this little equation, which isn’t entirely ‘innocent’ – mothers buying their adult son’s underwear! – but is also structured by sexism. There’s the Indian mothers need to prove her love to her son by molly-coddling him. And perhaps he is her closest relationship with a male, considering the conditions of her marriage. Traditionally, that special relationship was even expected. And then there is the new wife’s need to prove herself by being superwoman. Often to an even greater extent than in Europe or America, where it also applies. She’s been educated to see that she pleases and impresses her in-laws quite as much as her husband.

    I’m not Indian, obviously, but I have Indian family members. I see women not letting men do basic tasks because they feel it reflects badly on them. And I’m not talking about demure, shrinking violets of women either. The more confident they are, the more they want to show what they can do. And in their wake, they run a strong risk of producing dependent, entitled, incompetent sons and husbands (and crashing and burning). But I can really understand their sense of obligation because we have a form of it ourselves. I get shit from my in-laws because my husband does his own ironing – and then they give him shit if they see him ‘letting me’ carry stuff or walk home at night. It’s an interactive thing full of many social pressures and it’s very difficult to get the balance right.

  2. angharad says

    These attitudes used to be a lot more prevalent in Western cultures and still are in some. I was having breakfast in a coffee shop a couple of years ago and there were some business type people having a group breakfast at the next table. Overhearing their conversation it became clear they were farewelling a young(ish) man who was going away to get married. He noted at one point that his mother brought him a cappuccino in bed every morning. Oh dude, I so would not be marrying you…

Trackbacks

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>