Real men do rape

2013-02-10 10:00

By all accounts, there are a lot of unreal men out there. If the popularly mentioned rape statistics are correct, a South African man becomes unreal every four minutes.

Because we’re told real men don’t rape, right? Real men can restrain themselves around women in miniskirts. Real men know their role is to protect their families and provide for them. Real men aren’t animals.

It makes me wonder what else makes a real man? Does he cry? Cowboys don’t. Does he fancy other men? Many guys who don’t rape, do. Is he circumcised? In some cultures, he’d be considered a real boy if he weren’t. And do real men all get sexual urges at the sight of female flesh?

Human beings are wired for desire in different ways.

And then, what is a real woman? One who doesn’t get herself raped? Do we even want to attempt a definition?

In the past week many people, angry at the rape and murder of Anene Booysen, have used the slogan “real men don’t rape”.

The intentions are good. Activist Mbuyiselo Botha from Sonke Gender Justice, for instance, is a man who believes masculinity should be liberated from patriarchy.

When he talks about a real man, he talks about a liberated man. But I still think even attempting to talk about “real men” leads us astray.

It not only banishes rape to some kind of a no-man’s-land, where it becomes impossible to deal with, it also reinforces stereotypes about men and, by implication, women.

The problem is, stereotypes, together with a variety of other issues, underlie rape. Until we have broken down restrictive, preconceived ideas of what makes the woman or the man, gender-based violence will have something to feed off.

Maybe this explains why gruesome rape follows gruesome rape in this country, despite our outrage. We have awareness, but we don’t take action.

In fact, many women in their daily lives are mini ANC Women’s Leagues – we’re loud when it comes to campaigns and speaking out on disasters, but in between we turn a deaf ear to gender prejudices by those around us.

In personal relations, we meekly and mildly pander to the stereotypes, expecting men to be tough and monied providers, or accepting their say as the last. Or we’re told power lies in our pussies and we negotiate through our precious sex rather than our good sense, talking about our feelings and getting men to verbalise theirs.

We bear whatever bonds are imposed by our supposed femininity and, often as the primary caregiver, raise boys that become potential rapists.

There is also a purely psychological side to why this slogan of “real men not raping” complicates things. By saying real men don’t rape, we make the deed less human, because what is a man if he isn’t a real man? Is he a fake man? Half a man? An alien? Raping definitely doesn’t turn him into a woman.

It is like calling people who commit gruesome murders animals or monsters. The horror makes us recoil and denounce any trace of the evil within us, but all humans have the capability to hurt others cruelly. Once we’ve distanced ourselves so far from the deed, how do we begin to consider it close up and deal with it?

Do we want to imply that the number of horrible crimes committed in our society means we’ve reached the point of no return?

This would make any hope of reaching a tipping point impossible.

Fact is, people murder, they steal, they rape – and doing so does not make them less real. Real men, if there is such a thing, do rape.

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