Gender / Masculinity / Men / Violence / Women

“Current Debates about South African Men” from Southern Masculinities

One of the first acts of violence that patriarchy persuades, seduces or forces men to inflict is against themselves.  Furthermore, the rule of the fathers demands that most of the acts of the gravest life-threatening acts of violence are against oneself and other men.

In this way patriarchy is not dissimilar to racial and capitalistic ideologies. All of them in the end mentally imprison and threaten the lives of the multitudes who work for it while enriching and keeping in power the few. This then is one reason I have come around to bell hook’s untidy idea of white, capitalist, patriarchy.

In South Africa, like other parts of the world where black people form the majority of the lower classes, the real or symbolic figure of rich white father sits at the head of the table. Sometimes he allows a few women and blacks to come eat with him. Some of the women and blacks might even start to believe they are like the rich white father.

I have no gotten over my surprise how for a most men buy into the structures created by white capitalist patriarchy ideology. Most surprising is that even men (as well as women) who are blatantly oppressed by the ideology, young men and women with neither jobs nor anybody to care for them, abandoned by the system and real fathers, their mortal lives and mental health under low-intensity danger or the real up-close kind, always suck up to the system, always believe that with hard work they will sit around the table with the rulers. No. Only radical African women’s liberation thought can liberates men, not just only women, from patriarchy.

That is something that should become clear to any African man who feels weighed down by patriarchal capitalist whiteness. African “feminism holds that men are capable of more.”

These thoughts were stimulated by this post from Southern Masculinities.

August 8 2013 - Feminism holds that men are capable of more

In an article in the Guardian entitled “Oscar Pistorius: the end of the rainbow”, Jonny Steinberg suggests that ‘Oscar Pistorius was more than a national hero. His success came to symbolise South Africa’s triumph over apartheid. Then he shot his girlfriend and left the nation’s self-image in tatters.’

Steinberg makes connections between the narratives constructed around Pistorius, and those around the gangster Mabegzo, of Redi Thlabi’s memoir. Both, he says, ‘were lost for being motherless’ and ‘both ploughed their sorrow into their bodies.’

In a carefully thought out response entitled “Oscar Pistorius: a symbol of South Africa’s shame”, Laurianne Claase takes issue with Steinberg to insist that ‘what they really had in common was an absent father’. South African men ‘across the cultural and economic spectrum’, she suggest, are ‘products of a society in which might is right, masculinity is about physical strength and women as the ‘weaker sex’, inherently inferior.’

She offers a range of statistics on gender based violence to make her point, and ends by suggesting that Pistorius’ trial will give South Africa

‘the opportunity to show the world that we acknowledge our entrenched culture of violence and that we are resolved to eradicate it without fear or favour.’

While both raise important issues and provide food for thought, I’d like to raise a couple of issues that could have been explored a little more.

The first of these is that for all the damage men do to women and children, they do even more to themselves and other men. Living life as a South African man is extremely dangerous – it is in fact life threatening. The National Injury Mortality Surveillance System (NIMSS) indicates that men are 6 times more likely to be victims of homicide than women (Donson 2008) while the rate of interpersonal violence among young South African men is 9 times the corresponding global average (Norman et al 2007).

It is policemen losing their lives in Cape Town over the last week or so, and young men who die in gangster-related violence in the Cape Flats. It is male political leaders who are the victims of ongoing political violence across the country, just as it was men who died at Marikana last year.

Survival doesn’t guarantee men’s health and well-being – how many of the men who survive the traffic accidents caused by their own aggressive driving are maimed for life?

I could go on and on about the harm men do themselves, how men don’t visit health care facilities because it’s ‘unmasculine’ to appear weak or ill, how young boys risk their lives by taking steroids to bulk out and make the first team…

It was bell hooks who said that the first act of violence patriarchy demands of men is against themselves and that patriarchy requires men to become and remain emotional cripples.

Secondly, and relatedly, we need to be wary of making men the enemy, when the problem is, as Claase notes, a particularly toxic version (or versions) of heteropatriarchal masculinity. There is nothing in male biology that predisposes men to violence on the kind of scale we see in South Africa. Men possess the full range of human capabilities and potentials, and human males are as capable of learning the language of nurturance and peace as they are of learning the language of brutality and violence.

I forget who it was who said that male violence was a conversation between men that took place on women’s bodies. If we can understand the dialogues between men that manifest in violence – and that locate the violence on the bodies of other men, women and children – perhaps we will be better positioned to find ways of changing the conversational subject.

For Jonny Steinberg’s article (click here); for Laurianne Claase’s response (click here).


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