As a single, hetereosexual woman, its only natural that I spend some time observing the opposite sex as I go through my travels. Whilst I am not looking for a long-term relationship per se, I do enjoy the company of men (platonic and romantic) and it would be nice to make some friends in my new homeland.
As I am traveling, I most often come across the average man on the street, like the stall owner or rickshaw driver. I must admit that after a few weeks of observing him I found myself almost completely repulsed by men. Whilst he was hardworking and I believe his intentions are good, some of the personal habits I observed left a lot to be desired.
The constant spitting (apparently due to chewing tobacco), public urination (and by this I mean pulling it out anywhere there is space and going), nose picking and staring at me (usually whilst also fiddling with their nether regions) are a few of the distasteful activities I observed. Even if I try and rationalise the behaviour, after all there is a dire lack of sanitation facilities in India hence the need for public urination, looking through my western eyes I found my attraction to men waning.
These behaviours appear to be generally accepted in Indian culture, no one bats an eyelid going about their day. My simplistic explanation on why this behaviour is tolerated comes down to the arranged marriage. The men I have observed undertaking this behaviour tend to be of lesser socio-economic means, and in my rudimentary understanding of the intricacies of Indian culture, I believe they are more likely to have an arranged marriage. In my opinion, if they had to go out and attract a woman entirely on their own (and assuming she had unfettered free will and choice in the matter), they would be less likely to indulge in these behaviours.
Of course this is not all men in India.
In years past I have come to India for work, and in my current stay in Delhi I am living with family and am privy to another side of India. Whilst the professional men that I have met don’t have the more distasteful personal habits, I do still find them very difficult to understand.
Several years ago I tried my hand at internet dating through the website Shaadi.com. Here I found hundreds of men all with photos where they looked like their mother had dressed them. I don’t understand what the attraction is to shiny pants, thick striped shirts and hair that is carefully patted down to one side and glistening with coconut oil. Don’t get me wrong, I am far less interested in a person’s looks, but a sense of personal style is part of what makes someone attractive in my opinion, and what someone’s mother finds attractive is not usually what a potential mate may find appealing.
After chatting to a few men online, it seemed that most were far more interested in my citizenship than who I was, which is an immediate fail. However I did meet one man through Shaadi.com, Prem and I dated for a few months. We got along well and I enjoyed his company, until is philandering ways became apparent. Even at that point, he cowered and seemed incapable of admitting and facing the truth of his own behaviour. It was almost like he was scared to face a woman.
I remember finding the way he retreated odd. It felt like he was a little boy hiding from his mother, not the strapping man that I had thought he was.
I recently arranged to catch up with an intelligent man I had come across, but on our first meeting he brought along a female friend. Whilst she was lovely and friendly, her presence changed our plans and the dynamic of our meeting. I have never encountered this before when meeting Western men or women for that matter. After having arranged to meet someone (platonic or romantic) I generally turn up alone, or if I have reservations I may have a friend politely bid their farewells when they are comfortable the person I am meeting is not a criminal.
Was he scared to meet me? Did he need someone to approve of me? It all seemed strange, and quite honestly a little disappointing. He had a quick wit and a gorgeous smile, I would have liked to have spent some time getting to know him without a chaperone. We may meet up again and I sincerely hope we do (unless of course he reads this and becomes terrified of me).
Reflecting on these experience I felt a bit perplexed, so I typed “Indian Men” into Google.
Up popped a couple of sites linking me to “Hot Men” lists, and of course the obligatory dating site where I could find Indian men. The first serious site that showed up was number 7 on the list and it disturbed me. This article in The Times of India discusses a survey conducted on Gender Equality around the world, a survey that placed India last on the list. According to the article more than 65% of Indian men believed that women should tolerate violence to keep the family together and that women sometimes deserved to be beaten, furthermore 24% admitted to having committed sexual violence in their lives.
Whilst I have fortunately not come across anyone who has demonstrated these behaviours, it does seem to indicate that there are some deep seated issues in Indian culture where many men are treating women with little respect. One commentator in the article argues that the separation of males and females contributes to sexual violence, as women are viewed only as sexual objects. I am not sure about this as in western societies, where there is no such delineation, women are also viewed as sexual objects and sexual violence still occurs. Also it is unclear to me if the separation of men and women (for example in the trains) is a reaction to the violence or the cause.
Feeling a little uneasy, I continue on with my internet research and find this blog on Reasons to Marry an Indian Man. This denigrates the Indian man into something only marginally short of a sloth and depresses me even further. Surely this is not true!
Then this one in Tehelka that essentially blames parenting styles, and mothers in particular, for molly-coddling their sons. I have to say, I have seen many examples of this and it really does exist however it is not limited to Indian men, with many western men also relying on their mothers to look after them into adulthood.
I think it is easy to blame the mother for men’s shortcomings, but there seems to be a contradiction between this argument and the first article on the level of violence towards women. I am not a psychologist, and perhaps there is a link here but I can’t see it. So which one is true, or are they the two faces of the same person.
It continued on for pages and pages, lists of sites denigrating the Indian male and trying to explain reasons for his various “behaviours”.
To be fair, I also googled “Indian Women”. Up popped a range of sites of beautiful women, dating sites, some women’s rights organisations and beauty websites. There were no sites that discussed unsavoury or unattractive characteristics.
I know many Indian men, family and friends and have always felt like I understood them, but I now realise that all of them were raised outside of India. As I settle in India, I suspect it will be narrowing my opportunities considerably to discount men born and raised in India as friends and prospective partners, and to be honest I don’t want to do this.
I want to be able to have male friends from India, learn from them and appreciate them for who they are.
I like to believe in the positive, and I am hoping that the Indian man is not all that is written about him or that I have experienced. I hope he is strong, independent, polite and charming.
Someone please stick up for the Indian man and if you know of a good one who breaks the stereotype, please tell me about him.