Masculinity’s naked truth

2015-03-30 15:00

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There’s a new song by Wanda Baloyi called Indoda in which she melodically croons “indoda ayikhali”: no matter how hard it gets, a man doesn’t cry.

A Google search of these words reveals another song titled Indoda ayikhali by Afro-pop star Nhlanhla Nciza.

The former was casually announced on Metro FM on a Monday morning with no discussion about its content. The latter’s music video has 63?000 YouTube hits and again, the meaning of its content is taken as fact, with no room for any dimension to its implications in the real world.

Examining the sociological context within which South African boys grow up – whether it is through traditional initiation rituals, on sports fields or daily subliminal messaging on television, suggestive of how a “real man” behaves – there exists a culture that denies boys their human ability and need to cry, to express so-called soft and feminine emotions like fear and insecurity.

The performance that the patriarchal brand of masculinity requires from boys and men becomes clear. Teach boys that complex feelings are for women or effeminate men and the result will be men who genuinely think they are not able to express those feelings.

What this indoctrination fails to do is to make room for the fact that heterosexual boys’ bodies, like all human bodies, are vessels through which human emotions need to be expressed.

Girls are encouraged to express their emotions as it is in their “nature”, while boys are discouraged from expressing their emotions through speech, touch or crying, making it seem as if tools of emotional expression like violence are natural.

This is the context that creates conditions for sexism to not only thrive, but to be a commonplace feature of how things work. Men and women’s bodies are treated as differently as history has treated black and white skins.

Similarly to how racism adds social meanings to physical attributes, sexism – which is not a separate matter, but another layer of the larger paradigm of what writer bell hooks calls the “white supremacist capitalist patriarchy” – adds or takes away value to physical attributes based on gender.

The case of Pulane Lenkoe – the young woman who gained overnight attention because her ex-boyfriend leaked naked images of her on social media – is an interesting study of how a man’s liberation can be a woman’s oppression.

Pulane Lenkoe was humiliated by her
ex-boyfriend, who published naked pictures of her on social media. Picture: @pulane248/Twitter

A jilted ex-lover who did not have the emotional ability to reason with his partner in private eventually explodes in public using sexual violence as his means of communication, putting her in her place. This trope is becoming increasingly less newsworthy because of its frequency.

Lenkoe gained more than 30?000 new, mostly male, followers in 24 hours, a following led by local male celebrities who chose to retweet and place value on the sexually attractive shape of her naked body rather than on the contemporary form of sexual violence.

Instead of protecting her, black masculinity’s popular response was to lick its lips at the sight of her naked body and salivate at the sting to

her integrity.

When the colonial government broke unions between black men and black women by systematically separating families in the early 20th century, and when the apartheid government entrenched this separation by legislating it in its mid- century crescendo of domination, they did so to ensure there could be no formidable resistance from black communities against the migrant labour system and apartheid.

A breaking of the black familial structure that exists in other communities where mothers and fathers raised their families in the same physical space was necessary to ensure long-term dysfunction in black families where bonds between men and women were weakened or destroyed by separation and abandonment.

When leaders like Steve Biko, Nelson Mandela, Govan Mbeki and Andrew Mlangeni were separated from their wives and families, it began a long legacy of broken unions.

How has this separation manifested itself in modern society? Can we say that the bonds of trust, community and love exist between black men and black women? What happens when black masculinity mutates to become the lascivious oppressor of black femininity, a pastime of the former oppressors?

What happens when this brand of black masculinity is built on top of a narrative that has been divesting men of their ability to be compassionate, and to be empathetic to themselves and others?

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