On November 25th saw the beginning of tenth annual 16 Days of Activism against Women and Child abuse campaign. The purpose of these designated 16 days is to accentuate the plight that many women, children and in some instances men find themselves. Circumstances were abuse whether in physical, emotional or financial abuse is meted against, and it times the abuse expresses itself to such an extent that death is eventually realized.
I would like to focus particularly on the men is this particular instance because more often than not is it, sadly, the males in positions of power, financially and physically, and trust in relationships that maim their family members, partners and possibly the worst one- their children. We will in societies, country and indeed world where brutal patriarchy remains as rigid as ever and the definition and vindication of manhood is structured in such a manner that makes it ‘okay’ for violence and masculine aggression to be seen as pivotal features of manhood. South Africa comes from a rather violent past and it seems that this violence has been able to find a new victim to coerce and dehumanize but it must be made abundantly clear that the fact that we have had a violent past does not, at all, justify the abusing of those whose trust you have been given.
The majority of young men in this country come from households where the parents and particularly the their fathers are or were products of strict traditional upbring. What the fathers were taught, it would seem, is that a woman must know ‘her place’. Should she fail to do so, then, there will be consequences to match and discipline such recalcitrance. Manhood has been defined in very narrow and perhaps sexist ways and the said defines are what most young men are expected to make manifest in their daily interfacing with females in their lives. Failure to do so will render them being ostracized and not found to be ‘men enough’ by their fathers. Another tragic expectation is that one that says ‘boys don’t cry’ or ‘men should not show emotion’. What we should ask is, where does the frustrations and anger go to when they are not expressed, whether through confiding or crying and more importantly who becomes the outlets when the anger and frustrations eventually reach boiling point? In many cases it’s the females in the men’s lives that have to bear the burden of being cathartics of abusive partners. All because the structures of defining a man are so distorted and do not allow the males to be anything that strays way from the set norm because such dissidence may require the structures of societal hierarchy to be dismantled and more progressive ones to be erected and that may very well mean that the privileges of such hierarchy have to be shared.
The media also plays an influential role in the shaping of many young men’s perspectives on what makes a man and how one ought to behave in order to be ordained with the ‘glorious’ title of being ‘the man’. Have you noticed how advertisement, particularly alcohol ads prey on the politics of masculinity? The ads are usually constructed in such a way that at the end of ad, the male will ask himself whether or not he is ‘the man’ that Black Label, Hansa, Castle Lager, Chivas, Amstel, Viceroy and many others are talking of. And should it transpire that he isn’t that ‘man’ there are promulgating it is he going to do about? Such ploys at masculine affirmation are dangerous on those males who aren’t to assured of themselves and require the breaking of alcohol seals in order to feel acceptable and affirmed. The casual link between heavy drinking and abuse has been documented and it is undeniable that alcohol contributes immensely to some of the violence that occurs in households. Simply because a lot of men feel invincible when they have consumed alcoholic drinks.
Women also play a role in how men treat them. It is not unusual to hear women say that a man who does not ‘shake you’ a bit is a ‘softy’. It is that kind of talk that leaves some men wanting to exhibit that they are not ‘soft’ and that they can also put a woman in her ‘place’ and that may be a grave in some cases. Mothers also have a role to play in how they bring up their male children. Mothers must be careful not to send a message that the female siblings are servants to the male ones. The sons must be encouraged to serve their sisters as well because in most cases we find the females siblings cleaning up after the males and should the daughter complain to the mother, then, we hear mothers say, “You are a girl, you are supposed to clean.” That kind of thinking has to be altered in order for the male siblings to realize that females aren’t on earth to be servants to them but equals.
We must interrogate thoroughly what we regard as being ‘man enough’. The macho ‘definition’ must not be the be all and end all of manhood. Violence must be totally disregarded when measuring what makes a man. When a son says to a father, “I want to be a dancer and not a boxer or wrestler”. That child must know that he will receive unconditional support from his father. Fatherly affirmations play an important role in sons’ lives. We can’t want to be progressive and not question ourselves honestly. We have to refrain from measuring manhood by the number of girls one guy can string along without getting caught. Besides the fact that there are diseases wrecking havoc in our societies, it is also unethical.
The labyrinth of distortion about who qualifies to be a man requires meticulous dedication to its unraveling because it has been constructed over generations. It can be unraveled but it needs the grandfathers, fathers, uncles and brothers to change their perspectives of themselves and their roles in the households and in society. Once they begin to conduct themselves in exemplary it is only then that the sons will realize that violence is not, and ought not to be, the vindication nor brother’s keeper to measure of manhood.