By Raiyah Butt and C. Chandrawala
Perhaps 2020 is making me a bit nostalgic here, but 2013 - there was a lot of promise in that year. Obama was back for a second term. The “Fourth wave of feminism” had started. There was the first International Day of the Girl Child. Malala was just winning at life.
And somewhere in a far corner of the universe, Tinder had been born, and was taking its first feeble steps toward rearranging the male-female dynamic all around the world.
Met with all the trappings of the second sexual revolution in the late 2010s, desi girls found themselves in a curious space. Discourse and openness around sexuality had assuredly grown, awareness and liberation were mounting, but the swipe-right swipe-left culture quietly reeked of a certain sense of objectification. And perhaps that felt a little too much like one of our Aunties had figured out how to gamify biodata swapping. But we went about our business, happy with the progress we had made and counting our gains. Then we met him. Chiseled stubble-line, emotionally unavailable, and a t-shirt bearing the name of our favourite indie band. Surely, here was someone who understood the modern era of dating. Time went on, and a couple of no-show dates and 2am texts reading “wanna hang out?” paired with more references to “bros before hoes” than you’d like to admit, you realize what’s happened.
The thing about Indian F*ckboys is that they’re not new. They are simply the latest expression of misogyny in a culture that has, generation upon generation, found new ways to objectify, dehumanize, and shame their women. A generation before these guys were passing nudes around to their friends, their pre-historic counterparts were harassing women in the pind because her kurta had gotten wet in the rain. There are a number of ways in which South Asian boys and men knowingly and unknowingly take part and encourage the misogyny in all its shapes and forms, from rape culture and condoning abuse, to not realising their postions of privilege and the freedom they possess compared to brown girls, in all areas - most notably, within sex, relationships, marriage and divorce and the difference in treatment, rules and expectations.
New Notifications from ‘The Patriarchy’
The reason the Raja Beta pedestal feels so hard to knock down is because no matter what progressive changes we may see, traditional patriarchal customs continue to adapt into new avenues of life. Enter: the Tinder era. The online dating scene reinvents traditional misogyny, curtailing any progression that we may feel in women’s rights. Boys have always had the privilege of being coddled when they make mistakes, excused for wrong behaviour, and given a get out jail free card for any bad life choices. Because boys are afforded so much importance in traditional South Asian culture, they have the freedom to act without too much regard for consequences. This translates onto the internet, where misogynists and abusers are protected by a certain level of anonymity, empowering them to harass women without fear of real life consequences.
Dating apps, despite their facade of being all about love, connectivity and happy endings, are inherently misogynistic as their whole design is predicated on judging people based on their material factors, the commodification of relationships, valuing and ordering people by their swipe-right worthiness. They open the doors for misogyny to run wild, with men conversing in what I like to call f*ckboy speak - looking for sexual gratification and imposing sexual propositions on women from the get go. Asmita Ghosh, writing for the Indian Feminist, touches upon this. She writes that “hook-up culture, which these apps promote, come with the inherent notion that women are ‘easy’, and therefore deserving of overtly sexual, unsolicited language”. By simply looking to date and using an app, women are subject to a whole new array of judgements, the idea that woman who are not following traditional routes of an arranged marriage by her family must be looking for sex and therefore have no right to refuse a man’s advances.
New Digital Skin, Same Creepy Story
Thus, as time evolves, patriarchy evolves with it. When we think we’re changing the old culture, it rears its ugly head in new forms, from the small Indian town that hasn’t changed in thirty years to the liberal, outgoing, urban Indians. Why is this? When it comes to tackling the problem, it feels as though we take one step forward and two steps backward. That’s because the patriarchy has a power dynamic which is hard to get rid of. Even those who we champion as progressive play into this element of power. Take everyone’s favourite South Asian boy Hassan Minaj, whose se Netflix show Patriot Act was praised for its unfiltered discussion of contemporary political and cultural issues. One of the show's writers, and an editorial producer, voiced how it was a toxic workplace for women of colour. Two years earlier, Aziz Ansari was accused of sexual assault by a woman he took home one night after a dinner date. Whilst she said he pressured her for sexual acts, he said it he thought it was “completely consensual”.
So, the same Aziz Ansari who attended award shows with a Time’s Up badge on his suit, “misread the moment” and in the meantime, we’re all sitting here wondering when exactly it is that South Asian men are going to step up and provide a narrative that actually resembles something that belongs in the 21st century.
Let me be clear that I’m not trying to open a debate here about whether or not we should damn Aziz and Hasan to hell, or play court to determine whether or not these allegations hold water. The point is simply this - if even the ones who we hold up as the picture of progressive, fem-friendly, he-for-shes seem to be incapable of avoiding significant expressions of misogyny, how deeply entrenched does this issue go?
The problem stretches right from f*ckboys on Tinder all the way up to the South Asians who have become our mainstream representatives, because the culture we are raised within allows men in both those camps to retain the same patriarchal power. There’s this special brand of misogynistic magic masala that seems to get sprinkled on male-female dynamics for South Asians, and the supply doesn’t seem to be running out anytime soon.
Zoya Akhtar and Reema Kagti’s drama Made In Heaven illustrates this point quite succinctly. In one episode, the groom’s parents shame his fiance for not being a virgin. “Neither am I,” says the son, to which his mother replies: “so? That’s different”. And that’s exactly it - the culture holds men to entirely different standards, shaming women for their sexual choices, basing their worth on dowry, not listening to them simply because they are women.
Because when it comes to our daughters, everything must be arranged just so, because of course “Log kya kahenge?” But what of the sons? What of Log kya kahenge then?
Add that potent home-brewed cold-pressed patriarchy to tinder-ized world, and voila - you have all the ingredients for the perfect Indian f*ckboy. Was this the only possible trajectory for the male narrative in South Asia?
Seeking: A Modern Male Narrative
Asmita Ghosh's investigation of the issue saw her collect stories from Indian women about their experiences on dating apps. The misogyny they received ranged from incessant messaging and pestering, name calling and slut-shaming when they’d reject a man, to full on stalking and threats. One woman had to uproot her entire life, quit her job, move cities and erase herself on the internet just to get away from a man. The problem is it doesn’t just stop with dating apps, as many of the women said that men found other social media, where they work, what area they live in, just from seeing their dating app profile.
The unfortunate modern fairytale non-romance seems to read kind of like this: a man who worked in my building found my LinkedIn profile and used this to add my Facebook. Sexually-overt suggestions followed within 24hrs, along with name calling and gaslighting when I politely declined his invitations, and then approaching me at my place of work. As Asmita points out, it’s a story of male entitlement. It’s the same male entitlement which is taught in tradition, just repackaged under the guise of 21st century internet culture. It’s unregulated conduct that, despite most women being able to press unmatch and not see someone in person, still takes no account for a woman’s consent. It’s the same disregard for a women’s consent that is the foundation of rape culture, forced marriages, and abusive relationships.
Men need to start accounting for the role they play in perpetuating the patriarchy, dragging archaic traditions, and gender-abusive cultural structures into every new generation that passes. If the patriarchy is well and alive in the deepest parts of South Asian culture, toiling away even in the Diaspora, it is up to us to question, challenge, and form the path of modernization our culture choses to adopt.
The great tale of Indian culture cannot be handed to this generation only in the form of Indian F*ckboys, half-baked progressives, and the larger Raja Beta narrative the culture continues to glorify and protect. As girls (and boys), as makers of a new modern narrative, as allies, we have to work together to change this. Genuine progress cannot take place while shouldering the heavy burden of patriarchy.
It’s time that we, as a culture, put that burden down. Stand up to family members, tell that irritating uncle what’s what, campaign for equal rights, do what you can to help sisters around the world live unapologetically. And when the patriarchy slides into your DMs, don’t forget to swipe left.