Monday, April 17, 2006

On Sexual Advances

Harassing of women on the street, in public transport and at public places is a world-wide phenomenon. Many people debate as to whether the man is being an animal or is the woman attracting the wrong kind of attention. One comes to see outraged comments from women’s groups claiming their right to wear jeans and shorts in public etc. One notices the rules in effect in institutions and government offices for women to dress “conservatively”.

What is apparent, and what is being left unsaid?

Human evolution to its present state, in which humans have a large brain, capable of sophisticated thinking and planning, has left almost unchanged the genetic and brain structures responsible for instinctual behaviour. Fear, aggression, lust, greed, are endemic in the human condition. In the human species, men have traditionally been the predators (or defenders) in the mid to large scale arena. Women have been no less afflicted with aggression and greed, but their domain of aggression has remained more or less restricted (due to their relatively low physical strength and till recently, low excursive ability in the outside world) to their family and neighborhood.

Instinctually, men view women as objects to satisfy their sexual cravings; whereas women view men as objects to satisfy their emotional, financial and physical needs. The sexual act has long term implications for the woman, but little for the man. The possibility of pregnancy, childbirth and childbearing are of concern to the woman, whereas the man can choose not to get involved.

Men and women engage in preening gestures and attraction tactics in different ways. Men like to display their power and wealth, and women showcase their physical attractiveness and charm.

Now it is typical in most settings that it is men who tease women, try to harass them, make cat-calls, try to touch them, and so on, and not vice versa. Women’s teasing is more covert, by way of provocative dressing, by giving side glances, by a meaningful smile.

Why do men tease so distastefully, and so obtrusively? There are many reasons for that. Firstly, mostly those men engage in such acts who have no hope of attracting the woman by adhering to the rules of the game. Such men are not wealthy, are not high on the social ladder, have had many failures with women. Hence, their desperate aggression and their harassing tactics. Obviously, women are not attracted by such gestures. But how do such men go about civilly attracting the women (that they so tease)? I am not defending these men, but trying to show the reasons for their behaviour. The teasing and harassing begins when they don’t know how to make themselves look attractive, when they know they are inferior (psychologically or factually), when they know they stand no chance against a “worthy” contender.

Secondly, the more conservative a society, the more frustrated one’s sexual instincts. In absence of natural outlets for one’s sexual desires, criminal tendencies enter the picture. Surreptitious fondling, groping, making obscene phone calls, being an anonymous stalker, being a persistent jerk, are typical male gestures in face of sexual frustration. Women are more reticent about openly displaying their frustration because the cost of shedding their inhibitions is too high. They would not get a good (as in, one with a long term commitment, emotionally stable, financially successful) sexual partner, if they lower their bar, so to say. The rules of the game are that your worth is known by whom you are willing to accept. For men, acceptance is easy. They can have sex with a hundred women and forget about them. For women, it is not so easy. Their genetic make up makes each relationship an emotional experience. The feeling of being a slut who can sleep with anybody erodes their self-worth in a deep way. There are ways to cover up this erosion, but it takes its toll.

In neo-elite settings (e.g. a party of Bollywood stars) also, harassment, violation and rape happen. Why? Cultural habits die hard. Once a woman is seen to be dressed provocatively, is easy to talk to and to dance with, and to touch, the man in such settings assumes she is available and willing. Such assumptions are frequently incorrect, but are justified given the over-all cultural milieu from which the neo-elite come.

That is why, until recently, couples did not go beyond embracing in Indian movies. To do otherwise would attract public ridicule and voyeurism towards the actress. The vast majority of Indian populace has not seen intimacy in public, considers it prurient (but therefore, secretly enjoys watching others). Sex, intimacy, french kissing, dancing in the rain, being in love and singing lusty songs, are phenomena that we ourselves crave for, but condemn in others.

Men want to attract and have sex with as many women as possible, whereas women want to “hook” the right man. There is a difference in aims, in the area of focus, and in the repercussions of rejection and desertion.

The strategy of woman, in general, is to passively excite the man. Whereas, for the man, attracting the woman is explicit, he has to “make the move” (at least in most settings), he has to prove himself by overt acts.

But the strategy of women to provoke and excite the man, and the class division in men, means a lot of men would be excited whom the woman does not consider worthy. To ward off unwanted advances is the main chore of which women complain. If the advances become intrusive in nature, so much the worse.

However, the unfortunate thing is that even if the woman is acting non-provocatively, there will be frustrated men who will make advances upon her.

Now, in order to widen her reach, a woman has to be provocative all the time (after all, the right man may be found anywhere), if not by her gestures and such (which take constant effort), then by wearing charming clothes, perfumes, make-up and the like. Her dressing up is purportedly to look good in order to attract the man whom she would be willing to go to bed with, but what about the scores of other men who would be attracted and found wanting by her?

Rejection of one's advances is hurtful, it is a demonstration of one's inferiority. Hardly any man can take a woman's rejection stoically. And when it is known to the man that he would be rejected, what is to stop him from being vile about his advances, so that he can at least annoy, harass and tease the woman with whom he anyway stands no chances? Men like encounters in which they are anonymous (groping furtively in a public bus, for example) or when they are part of a group, so that their ego is secure against reprimand and rejection.

Women would like the legal authorities and police to protect their right to attract the man of their choosing and to be able to get away with rejecting a number of others. And of course, the law should protect them from criminal assault and harassment. But protecting, punishing or deterring men who break the rules does not take away the situation in which men are competing for women (and vice versa).

Laws and morals are meant to keep the animal instincts in check, but nobody would assert that they lead to demise of the instincts.

As long as the instincts are alive and kicking, rapes and murders and harassment and child abuse and flesh trade and trafficking of women and pornography and fantasizing and masturbation and provocative behaviour and eve teasing will continue.

Women rightfully demand that men abide by the laws. But if a man sees the dice loaded against him, he would abide by the rules unwillingly. And given a chance, he would break the rules. So what can women do? Should they dress “conservatively”, wear a veil, wear no make-up, allow their parents to choose their husband, never venture outside the home?

Of course not.

They should understand how provocation works, how almost all men are looking for another woman to fuck, how just touching a woman's body provides pleasure to a man, how remaining anonymous protects a man, the nature of outrage they themselves feel when violated, how their outrage and the male behaviour are both ingrained responses to stimuli.

There is no easy solution to prevent this nuisance. But it can be made unlikely by careful behaviour by women and by proper patrolling of public areas, elderly women and men acting as anonymous guardians of law in public places, workshops on dealing with the other gender in educational institutions etc. Women can shout loudly to attract attention when they feel a violation happening but they must try to tell the man individually first. Often, a random touch of someone's body against a woman's body (in a bus, for instance) has resulted in a public protest by her without first giving the man the opportunity of moving away from her. Sometimes over-zealous people close-by can resort to lynching of a (possibly innocent) man if he is pointed out by a woman. If nothing else, there is loss of face.

Regardless of whether a man is guilty or not, loss of face would mean further insecurity, further erosion of his self-image, and indulgence in further surreptitious criminal tendencies.

A remarkable facet of this issue is how courtship is shown in Indian movies. Uncouth, loud, childish, un-intelligent but smart and sassy heroes try to woo the heroine by unwanted gestures, seemingly unwelcome advances, forced kisses, by stalking, etc. The heroine finds all this annoying, but in a coy way. She secretly wants the hero to do all this and to woo her. Is it a wonder that such movies give ideas to the illiterate masses? The reticence and no-no of a woman is taken to be her coyness, rather than her rejection. And lo and behold, finally she does accept and fall for the guy who pursues her by hook or by crook. The villain in many Indian movies, is rejected for no other reason than that he has an evil face and tries to act too cocky with the heroine. Cockiness is permitted as an agreeable act, but only to the one towards whom the heroine looks favorably already. The hero, whatever he does, is found charming. The villain, whatever he does, is found vile. Such movies perpetuate the mind-set that all is permitted in love.


The problems of the real world cannot be solved. They can only be eliminated by moving to the actual.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

On Being a “Morning Person”

As I have passed through the urban landscape in the west as well as the east, I have come to note a curious statement that many people make when they are sleepy or lethargic in the morning. The statement is: “I am not a morning person.”

The birds and bees and animals and fish are not “morning” or “evening” creatures. They live by necessity and by an inner rhythm of wakefulness and sleep. The vast majority of humankind also has little choice in this matter. To earn their bread, people get up early, tend to their duties and start working by 8 or 9 o'clock.

Weekends and vacations are a relatively recent phenomenon in human societies. In agrarian settings, vacations are non-existent. If the crops need tending to, there is no weekend or Sunday
when you can choose to have a “day off”.

Urban life is a life of pressure. A synonym of urban life can be, “So much to do, so little time.” Frenetic activity, stresses to handle deadlines, obligations, commitments, engagements, meetings, shopping trips, parties, visits to places of “amusement”, calculated ways to spend one's weekend, all lend a rather non-leisurely tone to one's life. There is hardly any time to sit back, without anything to do, without phones ringing, without a thousand things on one's mind, and to reflect on nothing.

Of course such a life takes its toll on the physical organism. As mental stresses predominate the life of urbanites, physical activity becomes a way to take one's mind off the “usual stuff”. Going to gyms, yoga, doing weights, jogging, morning walks, after dinner strolls are predominantly urban phenomenons.

And one must not forget the over-indulgence involved in such a life. Overeating, binging, partying, staying up late, “playing hard” after “working hard”, take their toll on one's body.

The body, due to all this abuse, and the mind, due to all this stress, craves relief and escape. And if nothing else, the city offers plenty of escapes. Movies, bookstores, theaters, coffee shops, long drives, window shopping, pubbing, and of course, sleep.

The body, when stressed, needs proper rest to regain its balance. And in urban settings, it is usually short of sleep and rest. It is a rarity to find a modern, employed person who frequently gets up early in the morning (before five o'clock) in a city setting.

And this is to be expected.

However, the identity within, sees the damage being done to the body, and the lethargy the body feels every morning, the reluctance to go to work, the “Monday morning sickness”, the tendency to fall asleep at the workplace; but is loath to admit that the goals it is pursuing are harmful. For to admit that one is living wrongly means one has to get off's one back and actually do something about it.

Hence, it invents a justification of not being a “morning person”. There is, in actuality no such thing as being a “morning person” or an “evening person”. Otherwise, why do we find a predominance of people in the cities who claim they are “not morning people.” And why does one even hear this phrase, if not as a justification of being lethargic and sleepy in the morning? One almost never hears the phrase, “Oh, you know, I just can't stay in the bed once I am awake.” If the body has had proper rest, it is naturally relaxed, calm and ready for activity every morning. Having a cup of tea in the morning to shake off the lethargy, postponing the act of bathing, being constipated, all point to the abuse the body is being subjected to.

What is important is to live a stress free life, a leisurely life, a life free of cares. Living a life otherwise and then justifying it with false assertions about one's body's rhythms is detrimental in the short as well as the long term.