I met Dushyant at a party hosted by a mutual friend. Gracious and charming, he and I struck up a conversation, flirting and laughing while enjoying the music. Later my friend told me that she thought he was “brainless”. Over the next few months, I met Dushyant several times. Each time he had company. Each time, a different woman. One evening, as a few of us – me, Dushyant and our mutual friends – gathered around a table in a bar, a young woman approached us and introduced herself to us. “Hello, I am Dushyant’s girlfriend’s best friend,” she said. Dushyant smiled at us and told us his name. And then, for her, ‘We’re just hanging around.’
Dushyant isn’t the only man in his twenties who wants to be a king with a “harem” of concubines. He tells us that he is not yet ready to be monogamous. That he loves his girlfriend and wants to marry her someday, but for now he wants to “have fun and explore”. But he also wants to be the only man in these women’s lives. So much fun and exploration for him alone, not for women.
I wonder if this fantasy of having a “harem” is not a disastrous by-product of conditioning men to acquire things and social structures that treat women as “things”. Men are collectors. They buy gadgets they don’t really need, adorn watches that cost more than the monthly income of the majority of the country’s population, and treat their cars as status symbols. As we’ve seen, men of all ages tend to treat women (girlfriends, wives, escorts, or harems) as trophies that elevate their status in one way or another. For many men, women continue to be possessions, even though these men are not bossy, possessive, or abusive.
A man who is popular among women is generally admired by his male companions. The worst attack he receives is being labeled as a “ladies’ man”, “stallion” or “player”. wedding material ”. While for a young man it is almost a matter of pride in having had many lovers, for a young woman it is a matter of shame. Indeed, a woman’s character is shown by her loyalty to “one”, even though she may not have met him yet, while a man’s character is shown by the number of women. that he can influence.
So if charming, witty, well-spoken, well-dressed, and successful Dushyant isn’t a modern, urban version of that, then what is his harem fantasy about?
This attitude of treating women as objects of pleasure, exploration and experimentation is also reinforced by our culture. Consider how we view male and female virginity. While a woman’s virginity is an eligibility criterion for marriage, for a young man losing his virginity is a rite of passage into adulthood. The very fact that we have sex workers looking after virgin boys, and no equivalent for women, is another example of how our society encourages sexual propensity in men, not women. Male virginity is neither a symbol of character nor a badge of honor. Unlike young girls whose sexuality is systematically reduced, young boys openly flirt with girls and try to woo them. They are encouraged to have lots of girlfriends to show off their budding manhood. We don’t talk much about a teenager or a young adult man with multiple adventures or relationships.
None of us at the table knew that Dushyant had a girlfriend. We had always seen him bring a different date to every party, every night and we had assumed he was casually going out or going out. As soon as his girlfriend’s best friend was out of earshot, we jumped on him. “She’s in the UK,” he told us. We asked him about the women he brought to our parties. Were they in an open relationship? Did she know about his banter? After trying to deflect questions with jokes a few times, he finally said, “I want a harem. But I want to be the only guy in a woman’s life. He then laughed, trying to pass off the statement as another joke. Like his watches and leather shoes, Dushyant wanted a collection of women.
For some of the young people I spoke to, virginity is no longer a question of morality. Many men in urban India seem to have come out of this conditioning, just like the women. Today’s 20s and 30s do not see sex only as a post-marriage reproductive tool. We have broken with this paradigm and see sex as a necessary part of a relationship.
But a partner’s sexual and romantic past continues to be a source of discomfort and a trigger for insecurity. When we are jealous of a partner’s ex, we speak of “retroactive jealousy”. Research shows retroactive jealousy is exacerbated by social media – those photos that haven’t been deleted or the way social media makes it easy to keep tabs on a partner’s ex.
Chandra tells me that how a man reacts to his partner’s past depends a lot on how she talks about it. “If she draws comparisons between her ex and her current partner, he is sure to feel insecure. And that’s not just true for sex. This is also true for his appearance, his financial situation, etc.
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A woman’s virginity is a long-standing obsession in our country. But today India is at a critical point. Today’s youth are caught between patriarchal family structures and a sexual revolution. This conflict manifests itself in the values we attach to sex. 61% of young people in the country no longer disapprove of premarital sex, according to a survey published in the Hindustan Times. But the same survey also reveals that 63 percent want to marry a virgin! On the one hand, many of us reject old value systems and explore our sexualities, but when it comes to lifelong commitment, we still rely on the “wisdom” of generations before us who are orthodox in their views. on sexuality and love. Modern India is more progressive in thought, but above all it only seems at the level of thought. We have not yet reached that stage of this cultural transformation where these thoughts freely manifest.
A 2016 survey of more than 6,000 people between the ages of fifteen and thirty-four found that 50% of those surveyed would prefer an arranged marriage. Those who preferred a love marriage only represented 12% of those surveyed! 3
One of the criteria for a adarsh bahu (ideal daughter-in-law) is that she shouldn’t have had too many lovers and our preference for this system reflects that at some level we trust her. Virginity, then, is not just sexual. There is also what I call ‘the love of virginity’. A woman who has had only one partner her entire life is said to have a sense of stability and maturity. A woman who has had several lovers is quickly judged and her character criticized. On rare occasions, a man may be seen as unfit for marriage or a relationship, but he is rarely subjected to the kind of shame and scrutiny like a woman with a past.
Patriarchy places great importance on the sexual prowess of men. If so many men believe that women are “achievements” then it makes sense that she is not a workforce. Much like a used car, a woman who has been loved before seems to be of less value. Her honor, character and worth are linked to her love life and reserved for the man who marries her.
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Casual sex is no longer frowned upon. The advent of dating apps has given birth to a culture of “hookup” in which it becomes acceptable for a woman or a man to say that they are there for sex. Yet the ripple effects of the attachment of moral worth to both sexual virginity and “loving virginity” are visible in modern relationships. Often, young men who openly talk about their past feel uncomfortable when a woman talks about hers. They put on blinders.
Manav, 27, married the second woman he’s been involved with, except for a few drunken makeup sessions here and there. “My wife has had an interesting sex life. She had a threesome in college with her friend and her boyfriend. She told me when we were dating. It was weird for me to listen to that. So I told him I didn’t want to know. Otherwise, we have a good sex life. I sometimes wonder if she compares me to her exes. But I don’t want to know. It’s a common sentiment among many men today: They’re okay with a partner’s sex story as long as it’s not more colorful than theirs, and as long as they don’t know. the details. “
Ours may be the first generation in India to embrace casual dating, and while it shatters some of the social structures that have elevated virginity and excess baggage lifelong relationships to a higher status, it also brings a multitude of new problems.
With so many young men and women caught between the old philosophy of “one” and the new “anyone” that is available, we are learning to turn a blind eye to others. Men, when faced with a partner’s ex-boyfriend or ex-FWB or fling or whatever in between, just don’t want to know.
This excerpt from “Dear Men: Masculinity and Modern Love in #MeToo India” by Prachi Gangwai was published with the permission of Bloomsbury India
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