Africa / African / Culture / Feminist / Gender / Masculinity / Men / Women

Mbuyiselo Botha: I May Be A Proud Feminist, But I Am No Sissy

Somebody who doesn’t have the new reservations I expressed in the previous blog post (Feminist men have more sexual fun) about males calling themselves feminist is the activist Mbuyiselo Botha.

A friend and comrade, Mbuyiselo and I agree about many things in this project of trying to make salient the effects of men’s social power over women and of some men over other men. We are of the same view about the need to undo the effects of colonial and apartheid violence on African men. And I think both of us agree that, concerning the question of masculinity, the ultimate goal for anti-sexist men is to help cultivate new forms of healthy, non-violent, proud, beautiful, and caring Africa manhood.

A recent point of difference is, it seems, that I now think we need to reconsider the use of feminism to name men opposed to sexual and gender-based violence and hetero-patriarchal power. Mbuyiselo, who works as the government and media relations manager at Sonke Gender Justice Network, believes otherwise. African men can, and indeed need, to be feminists, he has argued in the article below which was first published in the City Press of Sunday, 7 October 2012.

There are several interesting parts to the article. But it is his connection of feminist and ubuntu/botho that I find noteworthy. This point, which receives all of three very short sentences, is crying out for elaboration from him, or others who have thought on the matter. Is feminism not a contradiction of ubuntu/botho as widely understood in African cultures? Perhaps others may want to contest this happy relationship Mbuyiselo wants us to accept. Such contestation is, to be sure, quite welcome as it may enrich our understanding of botho/ubuntu, feminism, and masculinity.

I may be a proud feminist, but I am no sissy

by Mbuyiselo Botha

Mbuyiselo Botha & Kopano Ratele. Picture by Victor Dlamini

I have always been asked the question: can a man be a feminist?

Is it feasible to be a beneficiary of patriarchy and be a feminist at the same time?

Is it not contradictory for men to claim a space that has always been considered women’s territory?

The Oxford Dictionary describes feminism as “the advocacy of women’s rights on the ground of the equality of the sexes”. It does not mention who should do the advocacy.

There seems to be no contradiction for men to be automatically beneficiaries of a system that feminism seeks to destroy – patriarchy – yet align themselves with feminism.

I cannot just go with the flow and continue to enjoy the benefits that all of us as men accrue as a result of a patriarchal society.

Patriarchy is defined as “a system of society or government in which men hold the power and women are largely excluded from it”.

To be conscious of this and to continue to see nothing wrong, and remain unquestioning of the system of patriarchy is clearly cowardly, immoral and unethical.

I am convinced it is not only possible for men to be feminist, it is also brave and ethically desirable. At the most simple level, to be a feminist male means to embrace values that seek gender justice for all.

There are no contradictions because I strongly believe patriarchy is not only injurious and unfair to women, it is also toxic to men.

It denies them the opportunity to enjoy equitable relationships among one another as males; as well as between men and women, and boys and girls.

Contrary to the puzzling and misplaced critique of feminism – that it seeks to place women in domination of men and to subjugate men to their whims – the feminist expectation and call for equality among the sexes is good for both females and males.

Feminism began as a response to the prevalence of structural and interpersonal violence against women in society.

Rates of physical, sexual and other forms of violence, in the home and on the streets, remain high across the world. And often, men are the perpetrators.

Male feminists have a role to play by seeking to turn men away from violence. The alternative, that men are naturally violent and this ought to be accepted, is obviously so outlandish it verges on being anti-human.

Sonke Gender Justice Network’s “One Man Can” Campaign speaks to the importance of male involvement in the fight for gender equality.

Although they are often seen as foreign influences, anti-sexism and feminism can blend well with African culture.

The concept of ubuntu affirms the pivotal role that embracing feminism plays in creating an egalitarian society.

Anyone who criticises feminism for being “Eurocentric” thus misunderstands it.

Feminism goes hand in hand with African values of ubuntu because both vehemently oppose any form of human degradation.

I am constantly learning and have come to understand more clearly how affirming my manhood has nothing to do with putting others in bondage.

I seek to demonstrate that to call oneself an African without embracing gender equality is to soil what it means to be African, and indeed a continuation of apartheid.

Feminism is a liberation tool, like liberation theology was in the apartheid era. There is joy, peace and tranquillity in enhancing equality and I do not feel unmanly about it.

Feminism is a tradition all of us men should be passing onto our boys when they navigate the path of figuring out what it means to be a man in a world that makes violence or domination a badge of honour.

This article, which first appeared in the City Press of October 7, and comments to it, can be accessed at http://www.citypress.co.za/Columnists/I-may-be-a-proud-feminist-but-I-am-no-sissy-20121006

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