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Where Are The (Pro)Feminist Black Men?

Are there (pro)feminist black men? Why in heaven’s name would black men want to be involved with feminism? What does (pro)feminism entails anyway?

Here is a paper that responds to these questions. The paper is co-authored by Kopano Ratele and Mbuyiselo Botha. If you are in South Africa, you may call this a precursor to a non-election related manifesto as we are heading for the national elections, and political parties are in the process of launching their election manifestos. Is masculinity not a political issue? And, still on the issue of elections, why aren’t there political organisations which speak clearly and directly to the question of men’s domination in society – with the necessary qualifications of that domination, such as the fact that white women do have more privilege and power than black men in places like South Africa because of the economic dominance of whites?

Much more can be said about men’s relationship to women’s demand for gender freedoms, justice, choice, no violence, no harassment, mobility and all the other things privileged men take for granted – in sum all what feminism essentially fights for. Much more should to be said. But the article is a start, yet another start, in calling for men to respond to the feminist demand that men must change.

Why another article on profeminist African masculinities  – when there are many books and films and plays and television dramas courses and articles on the subject? Because the claim by sisters, daughters, mothers, lovers, wives, friends, co-workers, and all women and girls for independence, equality, dignity, and bodily integrity often goes unheard by men. Because, actually, books, films, plays, tv shows, university courses, articles on black men who are (pro)feminist or support women’s struggles are very scarce.

Titled ‘Profeminist Black Men – Engaging Women Liberationists, Undermining Patriarchy’, the paper is published in the new issue of Buwa: A Journal of African Women’s Experience on feminism and culture.

The rest of the articles in the issue will be of interest too. Many of the articles indirectly or directly speak to the same issue of men’s relationship to feminism or feminists. However, two that I found immediately relevant, for a number of reasons, are ‘Mixed Messages: The Ideological Schizophrenia of Men’s Organizing Around Fathering’ by Stephanie Leitch, a social activist and conceptual artist. The piece talks about a number of men’s groups in the Caribbean. And this fact, that men in different parts of the world are troubled by feminism as it troubles masculinity, though they see the problem of men from different perspectives, is indicative of the global nature of the problem. 

Leitch’s article is specifically of interest as it references the work of Caribbean feminist scholar Rhoda Reddock. Reddock has done sterling work on masculinity studies in the Caribbean. Her work includes books like ‘Interrogating Caribbean Masculinities’ and articles like ‘Men as gendered beings: the emergence of masculinity studies in the Anglophone Caribbean’, which I recommend. 

In Leitch’s words, Reddock categorises the work on men as taking 

one of three forms: men’s rights that seek to ‘regain’ rights that have been taken; conservative men’s groups that advocate for a reversion to the ‘ways things were’ based on a divine or religious basis; and pro-feminist men’s groups, which are committed to rethinking masculinity and acknowledging how traditional gender roles have been detrimental to women and men.

In Reddock’s words:

Philosophically these groups and initiatives (on men), range from …’pro-feminist’ to a ‘men’s rights’ position with varying degrees of antagonism and ambivalence towards the women’s movement.

The other article, by Mike Zulu, has the evocative title, I am Married to a Feminist. The title conjures all kinds of things like ‘I am Married to a Serial Killer’; ‘Married to the Mob’; Married to a Narcissist’; ‘Married to a Psychopath’. You can have endless fun with this: ‘Married to Tree’, ‘Married to a Fool’; ‘Married to a Dead/White/Black/Gay/Alcoholic Man’. The possibilities are, well, endless.  

A seriously intriguing thing about Mike Zulu is that he does not describe himself as having anything to do with gender change in his work life, although he mentions that he supports civil society organisations that work for societal betterment. Here is a description of the author: 

Mike Zulu is an Information Technology Specialist. He has served in various corporations such as Usutu Pulp, Barclays Bank and Standard Bank. He is currently running a family business establishment focusing on real estate and retail. Mike is a staunch supporter of civil society organisations that seek to make society a better place for all. A golf and squash player, Mike is married with two children.

What do you know! You can be a businessman and support feminism. Of course. Like that.

Zulu’s piece, in which he speaks about his marriage of 26 years to ‘Doo Aphane, a feminist and a human rights activist’, will be made into a television series. Just messing with you. But it should. It should be written as a script and made for tv.

Or, perhaps, he should just lengthen it into a book. Or he should perform it, or have others do it, get it taught in churches, take it on tour of schools and sisha nyamas. Whatsoever you think of feminist men and women, you deserve to do yourselves a favour and give it a very close reading.  

Here is a kind of trailer of the not-tv drama:

Time and again, I would get indirect questions about my wife and her thinking and views. A prominent professional once warned me that Doo was ‘waking up sleeping dogs’. Occasionally, people hold their breath when I am introduced to them and they learn that I am the husband of Doo Aphane. Indeed, there was one instance that still makes me laugh to this day. We were out eating shisa nyama and some guys were chatting about everything and the conversation got round to relationships. Doo stated airing her feminist views on relationships and one of them asked her if feminists can have relationships with men. At which point my friend said “Here is Doo’s husband” pointing at me. I cannot explain the man’s reaction and the laughter that followed his reaction. Sadly, the talk changed and shisa nyama was devoured in hushed tones.

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