Respect is not a one-way street

2012-09-08 10:36

"I demand to be respected by women, but sadly this democracy has spoiled women in the world. We as men are suddenly emasculated by these notions of democracy and equality in our country. Why is it that the world has suddenly focused on us men oppressing women, as if we have not from time immemorial been loving fathers, husbands and uncles?"

These are the words of an angry, disappointed, disgruntled, disillusioned and despondent KayaFM listener.

Thabiso Sikwane, the host of Mentality, a weekly talk show on the radio station between 7pm and 8pm, tried to calm the listener by asking him in a ­well-measured tone what exactly he means by the word “respect”.

Does he want a subservient woman, a woman who will act as a doormat, who will not answer him back, will not argue and will agree with everything he says?

Or, does he want a woman who will treat him as an equal, arguing in an assertive, empowering tone?

It is this question that has suddenly arisen. These are the thoughts that have occupied my mind as we commemorate the heroic events of the struggles of those women in 1956 who marched onto the Union Buildings.

I am convinced that in some circles, their actions might have been construed or interpreted as being disrespectful towards
men because society has always, from time immemorial, believed that men have to take the lead.

Were the women being disrespectful or were they, in fact, patriotic by raising their voices and saying “so far and no further” with any form of oppression and its toxic consequences.

I ask myself what it is that respect represents to men in an age of women empowerment. Do we, as men, use respect as a euphemism for privilege, for maintaining the status quo which sadly sets women below men; or are we truthful about wanting an egalitarian society that values women for who they are and appreciates their talents and gifts?

Further still, is it just a nostalgic sense of wanting to go back to the dark ages where men and women knew their so-called roles?

The Oxford dictionary defines respect as “a feeling of deep admiration for someone or something elicited by their abilities, qualities
or achievements”.

However, the respect demanded by men like that listener sounds like it does not flow from admiration but from fear, domination, coercion and oppression.

He demands that he be respected not because of his abilities, qualities or achievements; but only because he is a man.

This form of respect confirms the position within which men have been placed by society and patriarchy, that place of domination and control of women.

That place which, if not criticised, will continue to enforce and support gender inequality.

Is this the kind of society that all of us men yearn for, even for the daughters we raise? Is this symptomatic of the fear of the unknown, or do we really feel threatened by equality with women? Do we want to raise boys who will demand to be respected by women?

Sonke Gender Justice Network’s “One Man Can” campaign offers men and boys an opportunity to challenge and interrogate
the type of respect and relationships we want to see in the world.

This is the respect that flows from a young man who will earn it and not force himself on to others. He will earn it by showing love and compassion for his partner; presence, guidance and love for his children; and respect and humanity for other members in society.

This man lives and encapsulates the values of what equality and respect for other human beings, women in particular, entails.
This man is what South Africa needs in order to fully become the democracy envisioned by the Constitution. It is our contention that respect is not a one-way street.

The campaign challenges us to look deeply at what is meant by “respect”.

» Botha is media and government relations manager at Sonke Gender Justice Network

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