Dashiki Dialogues: At the mercy of Oscar’s machismo

2014-04-04 10:00

A fascinating development emerged from the Oscar Pistorius trial this week.

It emerged from cross-examinations relating to cellphone data from both Reeva Steenkamp and Pistorius’ handsets.

It appears that the embattled Paralympian had a possessive streak, a tendency to be a bully. The court heard evidence that suggested Pistorius may have had insecurities that made him aggressive in the way he dealt with his relationship with Steenkamp – the girlfriend he is accused of murdering in what has become our most spectacular crime of passion yet.

Pistorius, of course, has argued it was all a horrible mistake. He says he mistook Steenkamp for an intruder.

The state divulged cellphone messages, including, “I’m scared of you sometimes and how you snap at me and how you will react to me” and “I do everything to make you happy and to not say anything to rock the boat”.

Other messages revealed how Pistorius had a habit of criticising her publicly for the way she spoke and for chewing gum. He also snapped at her when she stroked his neck.

By the time all these facts entered social media and radio talk show agendas, they had grown beyond the people they originally involved.

Now this is what I found interesting about the public chatter that followed.

Pistorius’ aggressive behaviour and propensity to snap at Steenkamp was described as something he did to feel manly. I listened as callers spoke about how Pistorius as a man was being normal when calling his girlfriend to order.

This language disturbed me a bit. Not just the fact that his machismo was being sold as normal male behaviour that should be lived with, but that his individual state of mind, or psychosis, is read as “being manly”. I found myself asking why all men must be implicated in this one individual’s offence.

My sense is that just as one black guy’s misbehaviour should not be used to stereotype the whole race group, Pistorius’ character shortcomings should not be seen as a reflection of all men. Not least all men with disabilities and money to spare.

Surely, even as we need to acknowledge group patterns of normative behaviour, we need to acknowledge every individual as an exception until otherwise implicated. Each dashiki is weaved with a unique dialogue.

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