Blacks / Masculinity / Men / Sexuality

“We Know What Love Is Because the Media Tells Us What It Is”

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Mandisa Malinga attended the IX International Association for the Study of Sexuality, Culture and Society (IASSCS) Conference held in Buenos Aires, Argentia from 28 to 31 August 2013. The conference theme was “Sex and the Marketplace: What’s love got to do with it?”. She presented some of the work we have conducing on young black men and love.

 Here follows a shortened excerpt of the notes she used in her presentation.    

“As introduced, my name is Mandisa Malinga, a PhD Candidate at the University of South Africa, and a Research Intern at the South African Medical Research Council and the Institute or Social and Health Sciences University of South Africa and the South African Medical Research Council. In 2012 along with Professor Kopano Ratele we initiated a study on black men on their constructions of love and happiness. Of particular interest was how young black men understand the role of the positive emotions (in particular love and happiness) and constructions of masculinity. We conducted interviews with 10 young black men, and 5 focus group discussions.

Today I will be presenting the findings from the focus group discussions which consisted of questions and discussions which were aimed at exploring the role of media in informing discourses of love and happiness, and how these in turn inform constructions of masculinity among young black men.

The study arose from the largely unreflexive and poor acknowledgement and documentation of the emotional dilemmas of young black South African men. Many reasons exist for these. Some of the reasons we have identified include the fact that many studies on South African men approach young black men from a risk and deficit perspective. Thus they perpetuate negative stereotypes about black men who are constructed as deficient or lacking in one or other phenomenon of interest.

Another is that the models of masculinity uncritically applied in assessing young black men’s behaviour tend to be wholly, largely or to a significant extent imported from the West.

Third, in many studies black men are usually treated as a homogenous mass, even while rhetorical gestures are made to intragroup differences. This results in a lack of emic knowledge of black masculinity/ies and the context within which they are constructed. Additionally, it results in poor or insufficient understanding about how young black men define themselves in the context of a hegemonic, patriarchal, ageist, racialised, capitalist masculinity within South Africa. bell hooks (2004) states that the “power of patriarchy has been to make maleness feared and to make men feel it is better to be feared than to be love”. This suggests that opportunities for men to examine their views about love, happiness and other positive emotions are scarce and makes critical-empathetic studies of men’s emotions necessary.  

Let me say some about the methodology. We recruited 23 young black men between the ages of 18 and 29. The groups ranged from 3-7 participants [three (group 1), four (group 2 & 4), seven (group 3), and five (group 5)].

Participants were students at two Higher Education Institutions in the Western Cape. Participants were asked about:

their perceptions of the way love and happiness were portrayed in the media,

their judgement of these portrayals, and

whether these portrayals influenced their lives in any way.

I now turn to some the findings of the study:

Defining Love

Participants defined love as having to do with actions towards the other, feeling a certain way and making them feel a certain way. However, one participant also highlighted the association of love with sex. Almost as if sexual intercourse is a signifier of love.

Love is a feeling towards a person whereby you feel unconditional emotions; you will do anything for that person, to protect them, to give them that overwhelming feeling.

My problem is that most of the time people say one thing and they do something else. Like when you date a girl and she says she loves you, but when you want to do sexual intercourse she says she is not ready. I don’t understand that part. Love today is not the same as it was long ago before Romeo and Juliet.

Anxiety provoking images of love in the media

Being in Cape Town while my girlfriend is in Mpumalanga, I tend to think negatively about my partner, not knowing what’s happening I tend to worry that I might end up being a partner of InterSEXions.[1]

The media creates these feelings in people who did not even know about what love is, the way boyfriend and girlfriend are portrayed makes one also want to experience what it would be like.

Here the participants indicated that media essentialism, especially with regards to the reduction of HIV, has made it difficult to be happy in love and fully trusting. The media also defines and verifies what love and happiness is and should be.

Love portrayed as a meaningless cash transaction

I think the human aspect of it has also been removed in that it’s been commercialized, its cultivated and grown and packaged and sold with a price tag, we know what love is because the media tells us what it is, it plays a big role in distorting what love is, as opposed to what it’s supposed to be.

Truth is when you love someone, you don’t have to imitate someone, you just have to be yourself. For example when you meet a girl you want to take her out even when you do not have that cash because the media gives you that standard.

According to these young men, the media has removed the value of love and placed it on money, associating the love with spending money, buying gifts and spoiling your partner. The problem then occurs when young men cannot live up to the standards shown in the media, especially with the rising unemployment in South Africa (Poverty on its own devalues men).

Unrealistic expectations from romantic partners

Media has a way of showing love and what people should do when they say they love. For example in Generations[2] the way they show love there is completely different from the way we know love in real life.

In addition to making a strong connection between love and money, participants felt that the media creates distorted realities, thus resulting in unrealistic expectations. Participants were then asked about happiness, and the following were their responses.

 

Young Love, Human Right. Wednesday March 21, 2012 (c) Kopano Ratele

So what does this mean?

The results of this study have the following implications for society:

  • The idea about men and their inability to express themselves emotionally may be   widespread, but not always helpful. Perhaps, men have not been given the platforms and opportunities to express themselves due to beliefs that emotional expressivity is a foreign concept to them.
  • Love for men appears to be still largely instrumental. It is more about doing things for the other that makes their lives better and easier. Perhaps, we too often have expected men to love in a way that is more like women. It may be we sometimes need to let men practice love the way they do and not turn them into women in drag; we also need to show them that is it okay for them to love and be happy, as MEN would do it without compromising the other.
  • The media’s deliberate or unintended sensationalisation of HIV/AIDS and social and sexual problems can a negative impact on love, trust and security. Perhaps instead of simplistically and negatively showing how multiple relationships can cause HIV which results in the breakdown in trust and a deterioration of relationships, the media can also show how positive, loving, supportive and protective relationships may fight against the spread of HIV/AIDS.
  • The portrayal and association of happiness with money discriminates against the poor or low-income men especially in a country with high unemployment rates among young black men. What are the extremes that young men may go to fulfil their masculine roles, to be happy, and to be in a position that allows them to ‘do’ love as it is shown in media?
  • The media can be used to spread positive messages and information about love and happiness among men in society and how these emotions may contribute to the development of healthy social relationships.
  • A loving and happy man seems to be the candidate we most likely need to help us in the fight against abuse and violence against women, children and men. Especially now when there is an urgent call for men to get involved in anti-violence campaigns.”

 


[1] InterSEXions is a South African prime time drama series which documents the spread of HIV/AIDS through promiscuity and love triangles. Refers to as inter-sexing, hence written as InterSEXions.

[2] Generations is a South African prime time drama soap opera which shows the lives of the rich, relationships, and betrayal in different contexts.

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