HUMANIZING MASCULINITY TO COMBAT GENDER-BASED VIOLENCE

By Liza A. 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 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 society. We’re failing to have all the relevant conversations in our society.

Photo: Google Images

In all honesty, our efforts to curb the scourge of gender-based violence have largely been reactive and hence, ineffective. We have focused more on rightfully shunning and calling out men who behave violently whilst seeking ‘justice’ for victims through the incarceration of the perpetrators and so on.

These positions are all good and well, but they are the medical equivalent of a doctor treating a patient with Covid-19 using flu medication. Sure the medication might have an effect in lessening the patient’s fever. However, it will leave Covid-19 intact within them. It amounts to age-old foolishness that we have embraced – of treating the symptoms and not the disease.

In the case of the gender-based violence (GBV) pandemic, our efforts need to be directed towards prevention rather than reaction. We need to focus on asking ourselves a difficult question in society which is, “why are men violent?” Perhaps in answering this question, will we begin to move towards overcoming the pandemic of GBV.

Photo: Sowetan

This article then focuses on the social, economic and psychological factors which I believe make men inherently violent and are rested on the principles of hyper-masculinity – which is a dehumanized masculinity. It is in no way compiled to rival the popular feminist narratives and discourse. Rather the explanation seeks 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.

Photo: Google Images

I find that the most fundamental reason for the unrepentant violence that we exercise as men particularly against women, to be the brand of toxic masculinity which has come to define manhood. This masculinity is rooted in misogyny and 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 than not to be an overt or covert misogynist – have a hatred towards women. 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 and 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. Thereafter, he graduates 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 an expression of manhood. A masculinity which teaches us to feel and love. A masculinity which asserts that MEN DO CRY. In a nutshell, we need to develop a humanizing masculinity.

Liza Mfana is an education student at Nelson Mandela University in Port Elizabeth, Eastern Cape. He has dedicated his life to the attainment of an egalitarian society, where everyone is equal and exists on the basis of common humanity. He is a students’ and human rights activist and an advocate for the centring of marginalized communities in the social order.

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