It begins in utero. While making out the blurry image of an ultrasound scan, a father yells, "Look everybody, my son is well-endowed!" Adults surround this printout of the fetal form and giggle at the primordial penis, point at it and pass it around. Fathers and mothers beam with pride in a tone that will be consistent throughout this boy's life: You have a penis. You should be proud.
The boy is born. All eyes are drawn to the marker of manhood that changes everything, from prospects of an heir to the structure of a family, to visuals of shared sports interests, games of catch, and bicycle lessons.
In another bed, a girl is born and theirs is an atmosphere of doubt. "My child is a girl," they'll henceforth utter with sentiments of concern and liability, of wanting to protect her from a world that will take advantage of that fact. But for the boy — "I have a son — I won't lose anything.”
A boy grows up playing with guns, swinging swords and crashing toy cars. He is taught that dolls are for sissies, and that playing house is dumb. Worse, he is taught that housekeeping and childcare are a girl's job.
We make the pursuit of women a gauge of manhood and worth. How many girlfriends have you had, how many kisses have you stolen? How many skirts have you looked under and how many inappropriate touches have you claimed? We laugh when a boy says, “I was able to make a pass." We pay no mind to the girl who might have been had.
A conqueror's game
"Have you reached third base yet? Is it a home run?" we ask as if conquering a woman's body were a game of some kind. We point out the girls who have surrendered their flag. They are the refuse of boys' exploits, the easy ones, the ones "good men" will leave behind. But for the moment, they're the ones who will give him a good time.
Young boys are asked by their fathers, "Are you masturbating already?" They are told that jerking off makes them grow tall, that a boy spanks the monkey as a fact of life, that he is wired with uncontrollable urges that reduce him to an animal with no sense of reason when it comes to his desires.
But a girl, well, a girl must remain pure. She must remain in the dark about her body. She must not explore it until she is grown and married. She must not seek men (or human touch) until she is in a white dress and her father gives her away.
To do otherwise implies a woman was not raised properly. To follow one's own heart inevitably subjects her to judging eyes. Any male indiscretion is treated as the woman's fault, because she couldn't keep her legs closed. After all, an erection is considered an unstoppable act of God!
In his teens, a father or an uncle will take the boy to a brothel for his baptism, his baptism into manhood by way of his first sexual experience. The adult family member pays a woman to lie still as the boy humps cluelessly for a minute, ejaculates, and "becomes a man." In this encounter, the boy is taught that sex is bought, and that seeking meaningless sex without any regard for the woman is what makes one a man.
Boys will be boys
Going forward he will be part of a boys' club, episodes fueled by alcohol and testosterone and staged in strip clubs and massage parlors, with hands on GROs’ thighs. When questioned, these evenings are simply dismissed as "Just for fun."
"You have a girlfriend?" They will ask. "Devirginize her!" the men will taunt, transforming "virgin" into a verb to highlight the removal of that state by his might. As a consequence, the girl's resulting deflowering supposedly ties her to her man. How often have we heard, "Impregnate her so she's tied to you."
It's a boy thing, even women will say, as if their sons' values are predetermined by their gender and surrounding adults have no input as to what he could become.
Boys will hear their own mothers make excuses for their own philandering husbands. "Boys will be boys," they'll say. Instead of holding spouses accountable, wives attack the mistresses for seducing them. Their husband was simply being a man.
Why do we wonder then about the sexual compulsion and the emotional unavailability of men? When boys are valued by their number of sexual adventures (and not by the depth of their feelings for their partners), what does it teach them about sex and love?
When boys are taught to sleep with multiple women — and to only marry a pure, innocent virgin — is it even a surprise that they will seek their fun outside? When his manhood is tied to sex, the pursuit of women's bodies, the subjugation of his life partner — is it any wonder why he will refuse to respect his wife?
Would things be different if we defined manhood as the respect for all women (and not just their mothers, sisters, and wives)? What if we taught our boys that commitment, the control of one's urges, and honoring one's vows is what makes a man?
What if being a man meant being able to support one's family and build a home, even if this included housework and childcare? How great would it be if being a great and loving father was deemed more valuable than simply siring child after child?
What if our boys learned that the best and most fulfilling sexual experiences are those that are deeply rooted in love? What if we raised men who would be insulted instead of flattered when we insinuate that they are helpless to the calling of their loins?
The world is changing, so maybe tomorrow's men will be more progressive, more mindful of equality, and will place more value on a woman's consent and satisfaction. Maybe some outside force like a better role model or a TV show will teach our sons less about casual sex and more about sexual fulfillment in love. Maybe they'll even meet a woman who will teach them all of that.
But what if they're not so lucky, and they go along with what they've learned from their fathers, their uncles, their mothers, and yes, even what they've learned from us?
Would you be surprised if this is how our boys would also raise their sons?
Shakira Andrea Sison currently works in the financial industry while dabbling in several unrelated projects and interests. She is a veterinarian by education and was managing a retail corporation in Manila before relocating to New York in 2002. Follow her on Twitter: @shakirasison
This story was first published in Rappler.com, a Manila-based social news network where stories inspire community engagement and digitally fuelled actions for social change.