Humanising Masculinity to Combat Gender-Based Violence (GBV)

By: Liza Mfana

Judging from the escalating number of cases and deaths that are as a result of men’s violence against women, it is safe to assert that we’re a failing society. We’re failing to defend women in the society. We’re failing to secure the rightful place of a woman in society. We’re failing to remove the structural and hypersexualized violence that has become attached to the bodies of women in the society. We’re failing to have all the relevant conversations.

Our efforts to curb the scourge of gender based violence have largely been reactive and, as a result, ineffective. We have focused more on rightfully shunning and calling out men who behave violently, seeking ‘justice’ for victims through the incarceration of the perpetrators. These positions are all good and well, but they are the medical equivalent of a doctor treating a patient who was diagnosed with Covid-19 using flu medication. Sure the medication might have an effect in lessening the patient’s fever, but will leave the Covid-19 intact within them. It amounts to an age-old foolishness we have embraced, of treating the symptoms, and not the disease. In the case of the gender based violence and femicide pandemic, our efforts need to be directed towards prevention rather than reaction. We need to focus on asking ourselves a difficult question as a society, “why are men violent?” Perhaps in answering this question, will we begin to move towards overcoming the pandemic of GBVF.

This article focuses on the social, economic and psychological factors which, I believe, make men believe that they are allowed to be violent. These are rested on the principles of hyper-masculinity, which is a dehumanized masculinity. This is in no way compiled to rival the popular feminist narratives and discourse, but to reinforce it by pioneering a gender activist agenda to rehabilitate the black man. Noting that like any other criminal in need of rehabilitation, we are not absolved from our daily horrendous acts against women.

I find that the most fundamental reason for the unrepentant violence that men exercise against women is the willingness to be a brand ambassador of toxic masculinity which has come to define manhood. This masculinity is rooted in misogyny and is constantly reinforced through the systems of patriarchy throughout society. By the time a typical South African male reaches adulthood (21 years), he is more likely to be an overt or covert misogynist – have a hatred towards woman. Through his interactions with the social and economic institutions, he is likely to pick up a superiority complex which leads him to view women as lesser beings. He is most likely to be born into a family which is overtly patriarchal or has internalized patriarchal ideas. He will grow up in a community saturated in patriarchy. He will be exposed to religious beliefs, cultural norms and societal arrangements which constantly place him above women. Then, he will graduate into a working world which will tell him he deserves to be paid more than women for the same job.

This society is a misogynist psychology factory, and reversing the gains of this cycle should be our primary responsibility as men. We have to ensure that we first acknowledge this reality of being trained to disregard women. We need to deliberately organize against narratives and systems of popular masculinity through redefining what it means to be a man.

We must develop a masculinity which teaches us that it is okay for a man to feel weak. A masculinity which rejects violence as manhood. A masculinity which teaches us to feel and love. A masculinity which asserts that MEN DO CRY. We need to develop a humanizing masculinity.

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