Meghalaya men & their Hyper-masculine disorder

Hyper Masculinity is psychological term for the exaggeration of male stereotypical behaviour, such as an emphasis on physical strength, aggression, and sexuality. What this means is that hypermasculinity is behaviour which excessively favours the display of behaviour associated with masculinity like for example, the belief that violence is a sign of being masculine. Another term for hypermasculinity is machismo.

The term “hypermasculinity” first appeared in a 1984 study by Donald Mosher of the University of Connecticut. According to the study conducted revealed that the hyper masculinity has 3 important aspects [1]

  • callous sexual attitudes toward women
  • the belief that violence is manly
  • the experience of danger as exciting

It has been generally accepted by mainstream psychology and psychiatry that hyper masculinity results in detrimental effects on the individual and on society. Hyper Masculine men are more likely to engage in or condone violence, have unhealthy attitudes to women, engage in risky behaviour like drug abuse and alcoholism, be homophobic etc. Overall hyper masculine men even have more instances of depression. [2]

What does all this have to do with Meghalaya?
To illustrate what hypermasculinity has to do with Meghalaya, we must look at certain glaring facts about the state –

  1. Meghalaya has the highest rate of domestic abuse in North East India.[3]
  2. Meghalaya has the highest rate of substance abuse in India.[4]

The facts point only to one, thing that a “culture of hyper masculinity” among the men pervades in the state. The statistics support this conclusion and one only needs to look at the ground realities and talk to the people of the state to understand this.

An anecdote I can share is simply to travel to any of the rural and semi-urban areas of the state on a market day. Most of the shops and stalls will be manned by women, while most of the men will be passed out intoxicated. They have associated business as being feminine, unworthy of their effort and labour intensive work like tilling the land, harvesting, etc as masculine and thus more manly and requiring of their labour. Of course this is just generalization and does not hold true for every man and woman but overall the attitude is the same.

When talking about “culture of hyper masculinity”, we mean cultural attitudes that enable or encourage attitudes associated with the behaviours of hyper masculinity like callous attitudes to women and use of violence. To understand how such a culture came about, we must look at the history of matrilineal Khasi society.

The statistics concerning domestic abuse and drug abuse in the state can be explained by Hypermasculinity.

  • Hypermasculinity encourages men to repress their emotions. Mental health experts agree that this is disastrous for mental health of an individual. This creates men who are not able to maturely deal with their frustrations, anxieties, fears and failures. Since it’s simply is not possible to repress emotion turmoil, naturally substance abuse emerges as a way to deal with their emotional turmoil. Substance abuse is very detrimental to health and it will ultimately kill the individual. Thus, we can see that drugs and alcohol serve as a substitute to emotional maturity. Substance abuse impairs judgement which results in risky behaviour like drunk driving and violence or crime.
  • Hypermasculinity also encourages hatred and unhealthy attitudes towards women. Hypermasculinity posits that masculine behaviours are superior to feminine ones which is quite unhealthy and forces individuals into unnatural binaries of gender norms. Thus with when men cannot see women as their equals and deserving of respects, violence towards them is inevitable. Thus domestic abuse is related to hyper masculinity.

Meghalaya’s strangely unique tribe, the Khasis, follow a matrilineal system and trace their ancestry from their mothers which is very unique in India. Thus, this system gives women higher value and importance. This however, starkly contrasts against the previously mentioned statistics concerning domestic abuse in the state. How can a culture that value’s women so much have such a high crime rate against women? The answer is a very complex one with many causes but it mostly has to do with the culture of hyper masculinity.

Using the theories expounded from the book “Sex at Dawn” by Christopher Ryan and Calcida Jetha, if we follow the history of the Khasis, we can safely assume that women held a much higher position in older more primitive times. This changed however with the arrival of the British in the 19th Century. Previous to the British invasion, the tribes that occupied the hills that now called Meghalaya lived in relative isolation. That is not to say that it was some utopia or idyllic paradise or that there was no trade or inter marriages with the various people living in the plains but simply that these tribes lived in more or less homogenous societies. However with the British invasion who found the hills much more pleasant than the plains things began to change. The British brought with them their own ideologies and religious beliefs which were very patriarchal. One need only to pick up their religious texts to see that in the Abrahamic tradition, women are considered inferior to men and numerous analogies and parables supporting this point are present in numerous verses in various religious texts. Of course you cannot simply turn people into misogynists over-night maybe a few generations but one need only to look at the change in the religious demographic of the state and the corresponding rise in instances of domestic violence to see that there is a relationship present.

One simply can’t blame ideology and religious belief for the horrendous statistics associated with Meghalaya. Another reason that is responsible for such a toxic culture is the widespread emulation of western/Indian popular culture. When we talk of western pop culture what we mean of course are movies, TV shows, lifestyle magazines, etc. Western Popular Culture has been inherently hyper masculine. It lays emphasis on violence, excessive sexualisation of women, over emphasis on individuality, glamorizing dangerous behaviour like drug abuse and alcohol abuse, the list is simply too numerous to mention. With rapid modernization and increasing access to TV and the internet, the behemoth that is western pop culture will naturally influence the behaviours and culture of the people of the state.

Another cause for hypermasculinity is the fact that the Khasis of Meghalaya are marginalized minorities. Research on the topic, found that communities that have a culture of hypermasculinity tend to be marginalised minorities and have high rates of poverty. Logically, this makes sense, as communities that are small in number and impoverished have valid existential fears. Thus a belief emerges that the men of the community must be of strong mental and physical ability to be able to protect the community from perceived dangers. This encourages the males, who are usually regarded as guardians to adopt hyper masculine behaviours. Think of it like a peacock exaggerating his actual size and strength with his ungainly plumage.

These factors and many others combine together and give life to a culture of machismo or hypermasculinity, adversely affecting the health of men and women and the whole of the society. It explains so many of the social problems facing Meghalaya today.

Hypermasculinity is simply a primitive and ineffective reaction to the complexities and hardships of life. Being masculine is not a negative and is quite healthy but over emphasizing the importance masculine behaviour is simply ridiculous. There is simply no such thing as a binary of male and female behaviours. Instead there is a spectrum of behaviour and every human can exhibit behaviours that are both masculine and feminine.

What can be done?

The culture of hypermasculinity is perpetuated by all the individuals of a society both male and female. No one individual is responsible. Ways that can change the toxic culture that pervades in the state are –

  • Rejection of religious dogma will go a long way in improving the culture in the state. The less people adhere to religious dogma that propagates misogyny the better people will be.
  • Changing attitudes towards women. Women in he state should be encouraged to engage in behaviour that is generally considered masculine like sports, labour, farming, etc.
  • Men facing emotional turmoil and mental health issues should not be shamed but encouraged to take up psychiatric and psychological counselling to resolve their issues.
  • Awareness must be raised on the dangers and problems associated with hypermasculinity.
  • Comprehensive Sex education and explanation on the biology of humans and human sexuality should be made compulsory for all schools.

There are many steps that can be taken to improve that state. But unless the problem is acknowledged, there can be no change.

Sources:

[1]http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/0092656684900266?via%3Dihub

[2]http://www.healthline.com/health-news/mental-masculine-ads-distort-mens-perceptions-030313

[3] http://www.hindustantimes.com/india/meghalaya-tops-in-domestic-violence/story-QdEqB93OWGQexeQnHPpa0K.html

[4] http://www.thecitizen.in/index.php/NewsDetail/index/3/1090/Meghalaya-Has-The-Highest-Percentage-of-Substance

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Raiot

A student in Shillong – a strong believer in democracy, liberty, equality, rationality and secularism. He hopes to fix the world, or die trying.

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