Hello World, I am back from the beach. Here in Cape Town, and I suspect other places in the world where December means summer holidays, we are only now waking up from the nap at the beach. Hello again. Trust you had a rejuvenating rest away from work, if you took time off, and raring to back to making the world a better place. If you are in the colder climes, are Muslim and don’t observe the holiday, or were working throughout Christmas, I trust you are still in good health, you got flow, and work and relationship continue to be rewarding.
Towards the end of 2013 I wrote a quick, short piece for PsyTalk, the Newsletter of the Psychological Society of South Africa. The piece, which was on what I see as the most urgent question facing psychologists in South Africa today went under the title ‘the most urgent question facing South African psychologists today’. Impressive, huh?
The article was addressed at psychologist and psychology students, of course. But its gist pretty much sums up the issue I would like to dedicate the rest of my life to: ‘contribute in changing the lives of boys and men away from harmful constructions of masculinities implicated in different forms of violence and social injustice.’ As stated below, I am now more than ever before convinced that
‘many a man around the world, but more so in those societies characterized by high levels of poverty, inequality, dark globalization, and carnage, are looking for help in re-knitting his masculinity. While the affluent might be cushioned by superior class travel, pornography in hotel rooms and their iPads, consumer goods, computer games, and time off work, everywhere men are dying for self-knowledge, authentic relations, hope and new meaning.’
I am posting the piece below – with some changes.
The most urgent question facing South African psychologists today
The most important issue confronting psychologists in South Africa today is to contribute in changing the lives of boys and men away from harmful constructions of masculinities implicated in different forms of violence and social injustice.
I say this not because this is what I work on. I wish I worked on design and toys.
I am even more convinced today than I was when I started talking to men that globally hegemonic capitalist white patriarchies, severally and jointly, pose the most significant threat to the well-being of boys, men, society and the environment.
Whereas the most important question facing South African psychologists in the 1970s and 80s was therefore the transformation of a racist society into a multiracial democracy, today’s imperative is to transform the lives of boys and men toward healthier, happier, fulfilling and generative lives and relations with themselves, other males, girls, women and the world in which they live.
Psychologists need no convincing of the fact that when material needs are taken care of, there can be no health, happiness, fulfillment, or generativity without emotional and mental health. Boys and men without spaces to emote and reflect on their lives can neither connect nor grow.
When men feel superfluous and outside of cultural can be dangerous to others and themselves. South African men need help in reattachment and finding their aims.
Gratuitous violence, it seems, which tends to be a male adventure against other males as well as females, is usually a response not to any immediate threat but an empty gesture against disconnection and purposelessness.
To be sure, the barrenness of dominant forms of masculinity and the private and public misery they produce are not a local problem. Neither are they not an Indian, Chinese, American, Russian, white, or black thing; nor are they confined to poor, unemployed or working -class men does not affect middle class and rich men.
Although possibly unintended, forms of masculinity without genuine purpose are evident in the movie of Soldiers of Fortune, an American adventure comedy film released in 2012. The film is about a group of rich men who pay to experience the thrills of war first hand without quite risking their lives.
Directed by Maxim Korostyshevsky, the movie stars Christian Slater as Captain Craig McKenzie, a special forces veteran of the US invasion of Afghanistan who is down on his luck. McKenzie is persuaded to get back his purpose and get paid for protecting this motley group of bored millionaires (played by Ving Rhames, Sean Bean, Dominic Monaghan, James Cromwell, and Charlie Brewley). Brewley is sly banker; Cromwell is chief executive of a cellphone company running away from his wife; Monaghan plays a video game designer who has made it rich; Bean is just a rich businessman; and the crew is completed by an African arms dealer (Ving Rhames) who tags himself the Grim Reaper.
Things do not go as planned. The mission to find their manhood while playing soldiers gets serious.
Reviews have said the film is ‘execrable’; ‘an excruciating sentence of hard labour’; ‘a ludicrously silly movie and not really in a good way’; that ‘while it has a good cast, and most of them try their best, you have to wonder why any of them actually signed on for this lopsided movie’; and that ‘a talented cast is wasted in this sub-par, umpteenth variation on The Dirty Dozen’.
I have to agree. It’s terrible. Nothing Slater, Cromwell, Rhames and Bean do rescues it. Also, I failed to get which part is meant to be comedy and which satire.
Even then, the parody of masculinity without real meaning appears to be central to the film. Men will pay, with money or life, to prove their manhood. Money does not make men immune from the feelings of being unneeded, of disconnectedness which alcohol and drugs are often abused to counter, and of anomie.
From the US and Uruguay to the United Kingdom and Uganda, Kingston to Kinshasa, men are experiencing hitherto hegemonic but now infertile, unsustainable, and empty models manhood to be unworkable in the face of demands of recognition and equality from women and queer subjects.
Many a man around the world, but more so in those societies characterized by high levels of poverty, inequality, dark globalization, and carnage, are looking for help in re-knitting his masculinity.
What is to be done?
Organise, organise, organise. Network. Wake each other up. Mobilise. Mobilise. Do something positive, something that touches the lives of others and nourish you soul.
More practically, start a group, body, network, association, or any forum where men and women interested in men and boys’ issues can get together and exchange ideas, work out solutions to the problems men and boys face, help each other, and mentor others. I say men and women because I am talking about a professional group, and all expertise regardless of gender is certainly welcome.
But if it is self-directed group, of course the group can have men only. Or even more specific, older men only or younger men only. Or it can comprise only men with HIV or other disease. Or new fathers. Or men experiencing problems in their marriages. Or divorced men. Just reach out and organise.
There is also a need for groups where boys can be together and learn to talk about their feelings and aspirations. Generally, when compared to girls, boys are not good at talking about their emotions. They are not good because they have no one to teach them to talk about their emotion. We need to make space to educate boys to express themselves clearly.
This is the part I have added for readers who are not in psychology.
For the psychologists and psychology students, as a start toward addressing the issues facing boy and men in South African society, the Psychological Society of South Africa (PsySSA) has agreed to the establishment of Interest Group on the Psychology of Boys, Men and Masculinities. The Interest Group held its first consultative meeting on September 25, 2013, at the 19th Congress of South African Psychology held in Johannesburg.
The Interest Group on the Psychology of Boys, Men and Masculinities is intended to be a structure of Psychological Society of South Africa
Membership of the Interest Group on the Psychology of Boys, Men and Masculinities is open to Psychology students, researchers, teachers, therapists and other parties from cognate and other fields interested in the psychology of boys, men and masculinities.
Although not all aspects of normative dominant gender ideas are constraining of living a full healthy life, the Interest Group on the Psychology of Boys, Men and Masculinities believes some lead to negative consequences for many boys and girls, men and women.
The Interest Group on the Psychology of Boys, Men and Masculinities is created to study and contribute towards:
- changing harmful constructions of masculinities implicated in the reproduction of social injustice
- transforming the lives of boys and men as a sex and gender towards healthier, happier, fulfilling and generative lives.
- enhancing the reduced capacities of individual boys and men to form meaningful relationships with girls and women, other males, and themselves as individuals
The Interest Group on the Psychology of Boys, Men and Masculinities will seek to:
- Develop and maintain a platform with the objective of sharing and disseminating news on work on boys, men and masculinities
- Encourage collaboration on projects on boys, men and masculinities
- Host an annual gathering (workshop, conference, seminar, symposium, panel or similar event) at the South African Congress of Psychology
- Establish an annual award for the best Master’s and/or Doctoral thesis/dissertation focussing on boys, men or masculinities
- Establish an annual award for the best published contribution (peer-reviewed article, book chapter or book) on boys, men or masculinities.