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Obscenity, obscurity and masculinity

  • Published at 07:17 am August 30th, 2018

Comprehensive study on male teenage students in the rural areas reveals information about pornography viewing and sexual behaviour

The first time Arman, a 10th grader from Rangpur, came across pornography, he was 12 years old. One evening, he snuck out with his cousin’s unlocked smartphone to play games, and accidentally discovered a number of pornographic videos. “I have always heard about these videos from my friends,” he says, “but when I finally got to see them, I just couldn’t get enough.”

Then in seventh grade, he found a viable source to feed his newfound appetite for porn- the ‘computer shops’ in his neighbouring bazaar. Many of these ‘computer shops’, which were primarily intended to meet the modern-day demands of the rural people including Internet services and printing, at one point started selling pornography, owing to the growing demand of pornographic content among teenagers and adults alike, informed Arman.

“At the expense of Tk20, you can get as much as 4 gigabytes of porn.” The youngsters used to trade the videos around on memory cards at break time, he informed, adding that only a year before, they had been trading novels and movies. This is how many of the adolescents in Bangladesh get their first sex education lessons- through porn videos.

Findings from a new action research that intended to generate better insights in young people’s sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) in Bangladesh, carried out by Center for Men and Masculinities Studies (CMMS), documents school boys’ worrying exposure to pornography. From a pool of 900 school students, the study found that 61.65 percent of the school boys watch pornography regularly, while 50.75 percent search pornography on the internet. 63.45 percent of these students watch porn in mobile phones with friends.

The action research added new insights to the existing knowledge on attitudes, behaviors and practices of young men with regards to SRHR and violence against women and girls. The data collected shed light on the ways in which masculinities influence young men’s SRHR attitudes and practices.

The research found that watching pornography has influenced one in every two boys to contemplate molesting girls, as 70.55% of the research participants thought about touching girls without consent after watching porn videos. The videos initially serve as a source for sexual relief, excerpts from in-depth interviews with the participants reveal. They also act as a source for ideas about their sexuality and sex in general. Discussion on sexuality is predominantly a taboo, therefore majority of the boys rely on their friends, pornography and Internet to get information on SRHR issues.

According to the study, a large portion of the interviewed boys have no clear idea about using Internet safely and are uninformed of sexual harassments in cyberspace.

CMMS developed and tested an array of innovative tools and strategies to initiate social change in the target areas to prevent violence against women by involving young men and boys in critical reflection around what it means to be a man. 450 boys from 15 different schools worked as active participants in the project Campus Hero Café, with the objective of directly benefiting more than ten thousand adolescent boys and girls.

The Campus Hero Café research team, based on the findings of the needs assessment, developed BraveMen Diary, an innovative tool to facilitate self-reflexive learning on SRHR and gender issues addressing masculinities.

“After piloting the BraveMen Diary, the research team realized that it is still difficult to break the taboo and help the participating students to ask questions without fear or shame,” said Shifat Jahan Shifa, one of the team members of the Campus Hero Cafe. To overcome this they developed an android app titled ‘Challenger Mamu’ to help the adolescents ask any questions regarding SRHR in strict anonymity.

According to Dr Syed Saikh Imtiaz, the founder of the CMMS and UNYSAB (United Nations Youth and Students Association of Bangladesh), the ‘Challenger Mamu’ title was chosen because of the traditional friendly relations between the nephew and uncle in Bengali society, implying that it would help the boys to feel free to learning new things that challenge their conventional toxic masculine thoughts.

CMMS also designed a special 2D animation series titled ‘Challenger Mamur Pathsala’ (Challenger Uncle’s School) to address the major queries of the adolescent boys under the nine themes identified by the research team through a content analysis of the questions received through the Challenger Mamu Android app. “By doing so, the initiative explored strategies to engage young men and boys in critical reflection and search for gender equitable masculinities, challenging hegemonic constructions of attitudes and behavior related to SRHR,” says Dr Imtiaz, “ while realizing and claiming the participants’ rights to have healthy, gender equitable and violence-free emotional and sexual relationships.”

The analysis from the study results suggest, boys’ showed more gender equitable attitudes and perceptions denying toxic masculinities after the end of the year-long intervention. Teenage boys’ desire to access pornography decreased significantly due to their increased understanding of the SRHR issues. Parents’ awareness of positive parenting also increased significantly.

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