In the previous article, Macho Kumar was confronted with the reality of the gender police and the fear, ostracisation and conditioning that has gone into framing our gender identities.
In this article, feminist scholar and activist Ashwin Mohan seeks to address his doubts and helps clarify them.
Macho Kumar was struggling with the idea that behaviour does not make him a man and that he didn't have to earn his gender identity in any way. I could see his neurons fire as his eyes darted struggling from one inconsistent thought to another until he summarised his learning, "I've been wasting so much time."
Me: How Macho?
Macho Kumar: I have a script. I believed: If I didn't live according to that script I wouldn't be a man and my world will collapse, and people would laugh at me. I was afraid that they would call me 'homo' and 'faggot' because they thought I wasn't brave; like a man.
Me: I want you to think of bravery Macho. Don't you think homosexuals are brave to come out as gay? When they know the gender police will never accept them? They have to be prepared to fight physically as well when they announce that they are gay. What's braver? Them or the people that follow gender roles imposed on them from the past?
Macho Kumar: Are you saying that homos are more of men than macho men?
Me: Macho, gender is not a choice, you either identify as a man or a woman or you can be a switch between the two depending on who you are with. It is never a choice. Secondly, bravery is a human quality; not an exclusive male quality. Now answer your own question.
Macho Kumar: Heh. I see the difficulty I have in accepting that gender is not determined by actions, it's time to tell me about the monkeys. Also, I'm glad to report that I'm not feeling frightened anymore about anyone questioning my masculinity... temporarily. I say temporarily because I'm certain I'll go back to the old way of thinking once you're gone... does your monkey story have something to do with why we're all so inconsistent?
Me: Well, not all of us are inconsistent. But most of us are and yes, the monkey story gives you a solid clue as to why. Then you can tell me what you learned from it. Cool?
Macho Kumar (enthusiastically): Cool!
Me: This actually happened. I might be wrong about some facts, but rest assured I haven't mangled any important parts of the story. So these researchers, who were studying primate behaviour, particularly social behavior, rules and how they are formed, got hold of a large set of monkeys. They put 4 monkeys into a cage. Right in the middle of the cage, a large bunch of bananas were suspended.
Macho Kumar: Bananas are very tempting for a monkey.
Me: Haha, really? I thought that was a stereotype. Anyway, in the story they were more than tempting, they were irresistible. The monkeys allowed their leader to go first. As soon as the leader touched the bunch of bananas, they sprayed all the 4 monkeys with a jet of water from a powerful hose. All of them got drenched and miserable. The leader tried once more, and the others let him because he was the leader. Consistently the monkeys were drenched when they reached for the bananas, and in an hour they had learned that the bananas in this cage were bad news: if you touched them you got drenched and thrown with force against the cage, dripping wet. The researchers had created a new social order by being consistent in drenching them. And the monkeys learned: don't touch bananas.
Macho Kumar: Why didn't they learn that touching bananas can get you drenched only in this cage and nowhere else?
Me: Because that's how mammal brains work. On heuristics, ‘heuristics’ are methods to make storing information least costly for the brain, using lesser brain cells and lesser energy. Heuristics make you forget everything except what is perceived to be of value. It's easier to remember, 'don't touch bananas' rather than the reason for not touching bananas.
Macho Kumar: 'Hew-rustiks'. You know many fancy words.
Me (smiling): Yeah, does it make me more of a man?
Macho Kumar: Stop mocking me man. What happened next?
Me (grinning): Ok. Moving on. The researchers replaced one monkey in the cage with a monkey that had never been drenched. Guess what the new monkey did?
Macho Kumar: Went straight for the bananas of course.
Me: Yup. And the other three...
Macho Kumar(interrupting): Beat him up?
Me: Yes indeed, they used their fists to hammer his head.
Macho Kumar: Did they hose them down again?
Me: No. The water spraying devices were sent home. Their use was over. And guess what, one by one all the monkeys were replaced until there were no more monkeys in the cage that had been hosed by water jets. Still, not one of them was allowed to eat the bananas by others in the cage.
Macho Kumar: Astounding
Me: Nothing astounding. That's how the gender police works. Imagine the cage was India and the monkeys were us. And the freedom to eat bananas was gender freedom.
Macho Kumar: So you're saying we have forgotten the reason women are not given freedom?
Me: Yes. That has happened. There is no reason offered to a girl why she can't do things that a boy is allowed to do other than, "you're a girl".
Macho Kumar: Yeah that's what I tell my daughter. I also tell her "you'll get raped".
Me: Interesting. Do you know why men rape?
Macho Kumar (upset): Why will I know, I've never raped anyone!
Me: I know Macho. I believe you. Other than a rapist, do you know who else should know why men rape?
Macho Kumar: Who? Who?
Me: People who want to stop rape in this country.
Macho Kumar (meekly): Oh... Ok. So, why do men rape?
To be continued in episode 3. Why men rape.
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