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Oversexualized romantic bubble? Why boys have perverse, distorted ideas about girls

By Yanis Iqbal*

As someone who is about to complete his final year in high school, I can’t help but reflect on the kind of social experience that I accumulated there. A school is never just an isolated institution of learning. It is inextricably embedded in the structural webs of hierarchies and inequalities that are prevalent in the society.
As such, my schooling period was also shaped by the influence exercised by dominant ideologies. The presence of ruling class frameworks of understanding and interacting was centrally prominent in gender relations within my co-ed school. A rigid gender separation was enacted through the silently enforced marginalization of opposite sex friendship. Many people harbored the view that all different-gender friends are inherently either “girlfriends” or “boyfriends”.
This perspective – which is prevalent in almost all Indian schools – is implicitly based upon the supposedly insurmountable differences that exist between males and females – a proposition that prevents us from moving beyond sexualized depictions and seeing the common human core that lies beneath both genders.
Tanika Godbole notes: “Young boys, as viewed by those in power, are nothing but hormonal sexual beings, incapable of having personal relationships. Girls are not people, but pure objects who need to be protected from this wild beast of male sexuality, mainly by confining their own movement”.
The domination of human relationships by romantic love has been explicitly popularized by Bollywood. “Maine Pyaar Kiya” pompously declared that “Ek ladka aur ladki kabhi dost nahi ho sakte”. “Kuch Kuch Hota Hai” spent “about a quarter of the runtime establishing the two leads’ strong friendship (i.e. ‘no shaadi yaar, we’re bffs’) and then inexplicably…[led] them to find romantic feelings for each other.” In “Ae Dil Hai Mushkil”, “mutual platonic love turned into a bizarre and unrequited form of uncomfortable obsession and chase.” In Spatika Jayaram’s succinct words:
“We’re entering our second decade of the millennium, but most TV series, and commercials playing in between continue to have a jarring emphasis on outdated notions of happy endings. They nudge their characters towards romantic sidelines, often discarding friendship possibilities as satisfying, as enough. Adam and Eve have long left us and so have Romeo and Juliet. Maybe it’s time we address the friends in creaking swings that befriend evening winds, instead of constantly varnishing lovemaking bedsteads.”
The sidelining of platonic friendship and the repetitive emphasis on romantic love has led to toxic masculinity. Many of the boys today have perverse and distorted ideas about their relations with girls, being invariably confined to an oversexualized romantic bubble. This has given birth to the absence of any non-sexual affection within males, eroding sentiments of collective mental support and aiding the rise of physically violent orientations.
Separating boys and girls makes them curious about each other. They stop looking upon each other as humans
These realities are underpinned by the economic system of capitalism, which relies on the construction and deepening of gender divisions. “If boys and girls became friends,” Godbole writes, “they would see each other as equals. As people, with strengths and flaws. They will share their feelings and opinions with each other. They will stand up for each other…Boys will not see girls as household laborers to bear their children. Girls will not see boys as a breadwinning authority.”
In other words, the heteropatriarchal culture of capitalism – with its associated idea of a male-dominated nuclear family – requires the suppression of platonic friendship. Under this conservative system, the romantic unit of a heterosexual family must always take precedence over everyone and everything else.
For patriarchal capitalism, reproduction of the labor-force is an economic priority. That is why we are told to grow up, fall in love, get married, and make a “family.” This “family formation” worldview translates into an ideological perspective where men and women are just “love interests”. 
In opposition to this sexualized and romantic conception of love, we need friendships, which, as Gobdole comments, “are the most equal relationships in the world.There is no superior, no lower. It is a relationship that two people have as human beings, based on their mutual liking of each other and want of company.” 
Platonic friendships have the potential to promote interdependent support systems of genuinely communal care – forms of interaction borne out of love, trust, and vulnerability.
Separating boys and girls makes them curious about each other. They stop looking upon each other as humans. Instead, they start viewing each other as a source of some kind of prohibited pleasure. The best antidote to this is to allow them to freely interact with each other and form bonds of platonic intimacy.
As Harish Iyer remarks, “Ek ladka aur ek ladki bahut achchhey dost hotey hain. Raising boys and girls together and letting them sit next to each other and talk to each other freely will help them understand the difference between friendship and romantic love. This way your son will not grow up and turn into the creep who sends girls social media request saying, 'I want to fraaaandship you'.”
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*Student and writer based in Aligarh

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