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Men of the Global South
By Adam Jones
Zed Books LtdCopyright © 2006 Adam Jones
All rights reserved.
Family and Sexuality
This opening section seeks to convey something of the diversity and intensity of men's familial and sexual relations. Arguably, nothing is more central to human identity and social roles than the family unit. The family also serves as the major means by which sexualities, and the gender identities bound to them, are produced and reproduced; where conformity and dissidence are sanctioned, in both senses of the word.
From the eroticism of heterosexual longing and romantic courtship, vividly conveyed in Al-Ramli's opening contribution and Sean Pue's translation of N.M. Rashed's mesmerizing poetry, men move to confront new questions and quandaries. Masculine identity is shaped, perhaps above all, by concepts of (hetero)sexual potency and reproductive prowess. Masculine identity and "honor" are traditionally defined by the ability to achieve erection and impregnate women; discipline female sexuality; be a loving and attentive son, father, and grandfather; provide for and protect family members; maintain at least a monogamous "front" in marriage; and pursue diverse sexual liaisons.
These expectations are often burdensome and contradictory, giving rise to some of the tensions evident in these accounts. They also regularly lead to violence – against women, children, and oneself. Male perpetration of domestic abuse is explored here in essays by Metin Yüksel, Anandhi and Jeyaranjan, and Juan Carlos Ramírez. These essays also illuminate the theme of "Governance and Conflict," explored in Part 4. Feminist scholars and activists have effectively destabilized neat distinctions between public patterns of governance on the one hand, and those prevailing in the private sphere on the other. But in examining men's domestic violence, it is important to move beyond black-and-white portraits and Hollywood stereotypes. Anandhi and Jeyaranjan point to the role of class and caste variables in an Indian context, while Ramírez stresses the "need to capture relationships that are constantly in flux, and that are shaped by other linkages – to other men, to one's original family, to the workplace, to sons and daughters, and to institutionalized discourses, whether firmly established or only nascent."
Overt violence is accompanied by subtler forms of control over female (and male) sexualities and family roles. Marcia Inhorn shows how women bear the brunt of Egyptian men's reproductive "failures." Iklim Göksel's essay on masculinity and honor in Turkey describes how "men's lives were embedded in the female: women defined them"; women's "honor" is theirs as well. A similar intertwining of gendered experience is evident in the "decent/indecent dichotomy" examined by Thomas Michael Walle, who argues that "men need both decent and indecent women." Male constructions of the "indecent" lover/mistress/prostitute figure also pervade Leslie Lewis's study of Cairo lives and Matthew Gutmann's contribution on "Urges and Affairs." But as Gutmann shows, there may be more mutuality in these actions than is commonly perceived. Women, too, often seek to escape the strictures and contradictions of the traditional sexual unit. This trend can only grow as women's economic and social autonomy expands around the world.
Images of men as violent and controlling fit well with prevailing prejudices. But there is much in evolving family patterns, and men's place in them, that counters these expectations. Matthew Gutmann's classic account of Mexico City men, The Meanings of Macho (see the main Introduction), presents a vision of men as fathers and nurturers, which radically unsettles traditional notions of machismo. "Being a dependable and engaged father," he writes in the first excerpt from The Meanings of Macho reproduced here, "is as central to ser hombre, being a man, as any other component, including sexual potency." Ana Ruiz-Fodor's homage to her "Grandfather Ernesto" depicts a traditional masculinity founded not on abuse or exploitation, but on personal decency and dignity. For her part, Stella Nyanzi, examining the lives and attitudes of Ugandan men, also rejects "homogenizing and 'othering' stereotypes ... concerning the sexuality and reproductive health of African men." In her second contribution, Nyanzi explores changing attitudes to the Ugandan institution of levirate marriage, which requires a man to marry his dead brother's widow. She points out that standard depictions of levirate marriage, as a mechanism for controlling and disadvantaging women, overlook women's agency and the significant burden that the institution places on men.
Transformations in familial and sexual spheres often reflect more encompassing social change. Louise Williams profiles a man in the new South Africa who seeks to confront his abusive past by pondering "who he wants to be – what sort of husband, what sort of father." Emily Wentzell, researching male erectile dysfunction in Mexico, detects a cultural "shift away from defining the masculine self through erection and penetration," a change that may "facilitate new conceptions of masculinity." Javier Pineda's contribution explores men's frustrations in the face of a sudden and unwanted shift to domestic work – but also their grudging adjustment to the new role. As one respondent tells Pineda: "When it has to be done, it has to be done ... Today this is the situation."
The discussion so far has tended to present heterosexuality and the patriarchal/patrilineal family as normative. Of course, other social forms exist, such as the polyandrists of Himachal Pradesh, discussed by Rakesh Simha, or those – like orphan boys and street children – denied a "normal" family life by circumstances beyond their control. A wide range of alternative sexual identities is also found, though it can only be hinted at in these pages. David D. Gilmore explores the "sexual indeterminacy" of Tahitian society, in which both men and women "perform most of the same tasks," and "men show no discomfort at assuming a female identity." More darkly, Vinod Behl details the Indian practice of castrating young boys to serve as eunuchs, "trained to dance and sing ... and then put out on the streets to earn money begging at street corners and in marketplaces."
In a real sense, though, heterosexuality and the patriarchal family are normative. This is evident in the discriminatory and repressive measures taken against those who deviate from the norm. A particularly threatening form of sexual dissidence is male homosexuality. (Here, too, there are strong crossovers with the theme of "Governance and Conflict": we will witness the targeting of gay men for state and vigilante violence in Part 4.) Shuaib Rahim explores the evolving situation in South Africa, where gays "have achieved constitutional equality" but find that, in many ways, their daily lives are unchanged. Much the same is true of Mexico's democratization process. But Monica Campbell shows that activism and growing public awareness have led to a more tolerant attitude towards gay men, at least in larger cities.
Hasiba and Qasim
Despite Qasim's accustomed serenity, he married his sharp-tongued cousin, who could lay waste to a city with her swearwords. He married her because he could not resist the whiteness of her arm that he saw suddenly one sudden dawn when his bladder, bursting with urine, woke him up. He threw off his blanket and trotted outside to the outhouse dug near the baking oven in the corner of the courtyard. He gazed at the dawn around him as he pressed his hands between his thighs and then saw his cousin from behind the low fence as she too trotted to the outhouse pressing her hands between her thighs, gazing at the dawn around her. So they saw each other and she smiled.
That was the first time Qasim saw Hasiba's smile and the first time he saw the naked arm of a woman, and the whiteness of the flesh struck him. That morning Hasiba had gone out in her sleeveless nightgown. Qasim had only seen the faces and fingers of the village women because they were usually bundled up in layers of cloth like onions. He stood with his legs spread over the toilet's mouth, aiming the stream of the urine that gushed out with a mechanical pleasure, and gazed over the wall toward his uncle's outhouse into which Hasiba had disappeared. He thought of her urine and imagined the white flesh and the white arm and her feelings of pleasure and comfort, like his own, upon the release of the pent-up urine. He found himself singing, "Your love reminds me of the Euphrates and Tigris every day. Like the meeting of my soul and yours, pure of heart together they lay." Then and there he decided to unite the sources of their urine whatever the cost. And then and there Hasiba rushed out of the toilet toward the door of the house. Her hair fluttered in the wind, her breasts bounced, her white arm glistened, and she slammed the door behind her.
Was it possible that flesh could be this white, this tender? Qasim remained standing, holding his urine hose as the sun rose while he kept repeating the fatal question to himself: Could flesh be this white? Could what flows under her skin be milk or yogurt or poison and not blood? The questions took him to the riverbank alongside the village. He sat on the pebbles, soaking his feet in the water until night fell. He realized that he had not eaten breakfast or lunch. [...]
He was not aware of the passing of the morning, but it was a morning white like Hasiba's arm whose image he recalled thousands of times along with the flight of her long hair, flowing behind her head like the tail of a beautiful bird. He saw her bouncing breasts in the waves rippling on the strand. He extended his fingers to the bulges in the sand, feeling the tenderness of her breasts and the yielding softness of her white arm. His palm cupped a rounded stone the size of an orange, sensing in it the roundness of Hasiba's shoulder. "Oh, Hasiba, I didn't know that you hoarded this much womanliness behind your man-eater facade!"
He, like everyone else, feared and avoided her if not to dodge the sharpness of her tongue, then to escape the scratching of her wolfish nails or the lashing of the red tamarisk cane she always carried under her arm to take care of her donkey, cows, and those who accosted her. More than anything else, it was the hardness of her foot that led Qasim to stop playing with her in childhood, or so he imagined it to be when he saw it kick the garbage can from under her brother, who had climbed up to reach the sparrows' nest beneath the roof. Qasim knew they were not her sparrows but that she had claimed them nonetheless. He then asserted in his heart, "The sparrows ... The sparrows are the sparrows of space, the sparrows of Allah."
Her brother fell to the ground, his arm broken and his broken teeth lying in a puddle of blood beneath his face. Paying him no mind, she steadied the can and climbed upon it as Ali screamed, trying to raise himself, the blood spewing from his nostrils whenever he shrieked in pain. Hasiba reached into the nest, pulled out two eggs, and said, "My eggs!" Qasim said in his heart, "They are the eggs of the sparrows, who are the sparrows of space, which is the space of Allah." Then he withdrew in silence. And even though playing with her had been enjoyable, if scary, like playing with a knife or fire, he never played with her again.
Yet how intense grew his longing to play with her when, from the window of his house, he watched her inventing incredible games, lording it over the rest of the youngsters, and bossing them around with all the ferocity of a tigress! But after he saw her kick that can from under Ali with the explosive violence of a bomb, he resolved to play with her no more. He kept avoiding her as they were growing up, growing until his accumulated longing suddenly exploded on that dawn, that dawn white as the whiteness of her arm.
The words astounded him as he heard the Hajji his father asking, on Qasim's behalf, the Hajji his uncle for her hand. For the hand stood for the arm, and how did his father know that he wanted Hasiba's arm and not Hasiba herself? Or that what was important was the arm, and after that came the shoulder, the hair, and only then came Hasiba? This matter boggled his mind. Could his father read his mind so precisely? Did his father possess such perspicacity? Or did he, too, see her arm one dawn? Or did his father perhaps hear him raving about the whiteness of her arm to the river or in his sleep? The bewilderment that inspired such questions continued to roil inside Qasim until after they had been married for some time he divulged it to Hasiba herself and made her burst out laughing. She commented sardonically, "All people say that sort of thing when asking for a girl's engagement, you wise man, you Hasiba's idiot, you silly ass."
It was only when they were alone that she slandered him. When they were with others, she feigned submission and addressed him only as "Abu Shaima," father of Shaima, or "Abu Ibrahim," father of Ibrahim. Qasim himself told me all this after nearly twenty-five years of marriage, so I asked him, "And what is it that kept you stuck on her all these years?" He said, "She's gorgeous, cousin. She's always fiery, always fervent, always fighting, always green, and I am an artist. I love adventures and can't relish life except in those regions dangerous because of their beauty – just as a mountaineer or a bullfighter or a circus acrobat does. The joy of the tightrope walker is the keenest of all, because if his concentration is not present in all his senses and his very being, he falls and dies. Like unto him is the tamer of lions and tigers, for he may be devoured at any moment. Herein lies the true worth of his life, consecrated in an instant. And Hasiba is a restless tigress who makes me live all my years like that one instant, in perpetual flame, on the cusp of continuity and separation, permanence and evanescence. Just like that, forever at a bubbling and boiling moment of truth." He revealed something to me that I and every other village son already knew, that Hasiba feared neither him nor any other person or thing in this world at all – save for her father.
"He's the only one I fear in this world," she would say. "I fear him even more than I fear Allah." For her father, when punishing her, would torture her in ways that became notorious among the clans, and not even their delegations could talk him out of such violence. On the contrary, he would threaten to kill her should the mediators persist. One time he turned her face to Mecca and twisted her arms down behind her, and he stomped on them with his boot. Then he put a knife to her neck and would have slaughtered her like a chicken had not the mediators begged him and fallen on his hand, kissing it, and refusing to leave until he promised not to kill her. Only then did he relent, and then he gave the girl a brutal kick in the head. She rolled over, losing consciousness, while he ordered his terrified, tear-soaked wife to make him strong tea and sat down in the shade on a tin can and smoked a cigarette.
Hasiba was the only sister to seven brothers, all of whom had the nervousness, timidity, terror, and trembling of their mother. Hasiba alone inherited the mad ferocity of their father. When she would scream furiously at her brothers, they could, they swore, see fire blazing from her eyes. Then they would wet their underpants.
Poems of Desire
Translated and introduced by A. Sean Pue
The poems which follow were written by N.M. Rashed (1910–1975), one of the forerunners of modern poetry in Urdu, the national language of Pakistan and a minority language of India.
These three poems outline Rashed's contribution to a larger debate within the Third World about the relationship between colonial oppression, sexuality and personal emancipation. As a young poet, Rashed followed psychoanalytical models to critique the sexual complications caused by colonialism. He argued that a new relationship with sexuality was necessary for political and psychological emancipation. Drawing upon his experiences as a soldier in Iran during World War II, Rashed expanded his critique of British colonialism to encompass newer imperialisms, both European and Soviet. He likewise expanded his focus from desire to the creation of a new subjectivity – a new man – among the nations of the South. His most mature work, represented here by the last two poems, explores existential humanism as a method for (re)gaining a wholeness of being for men of the global South.
Rashed was born in Gujranwala, a town located in Pakistan after the partition of British India in 1947. He was educated at Government College in Lahore. He later worked for All India Radio in Delhi. During World War II, he served as a non-combat officer in the British Indian Army in Iraq, Iran, Egypt, Palestine, and Ceylon (Sri Lanka). After the partition of India, Rashed moved to Pakistan, where he worked for Radio Pakistan before joining the United Nations in 1952. There he worked as an information officer until 1974 in New York, Karachi, Jakarta, and Tehran. He died in England, where he had retired. Following his instructions, his body was cremated – a controversial act for a Muslim man.
Widely regarded as one of the most important Urdu poets of the twentieth century, Hashed remains a contentious but alluring literary figure for the Urdu-speaking world in India, Pakistan, and the diaspora.
Excerpted from Men of the Global South by Adam Jones. Copyright © 2006 Adam Jones. Excerpted by permission of Zed Books Ltd.
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