Call to feminism

2010-08-12 00:00

ALL was well on our front. The judge-cum-television-talk- show host was engaged in interesting discussions with some prominent women on matters concerning Women’s Day. Then Lindiwe Mazibuko, the Democratic Alliance spokesperson, undid it for me. She called for more men to be feminists.

Mazibuko’s call is not unique. It is a common theme in this country around August to call for men to be feminist. I can imagine what would have happened if instead of Mazibuko, a man had suggested that women try a little bit of masculinity. There would have been outrage, and rightly so.

I summoned up some courage to declare to my friends, male and female, that I was not and did not have any intention of being a feminist. Some got their knickers in a knot, wrongly thinking I was dissing feminism.

I was not. Some of my best (male) friends are feminists. I also happen to think that it is a progressive and necessary movement against the corrosive and invidious influences of patriarchy.

But to require men to be feminist to prove their commitment to gender justice smacks of wanting whites to commit to Black Consciousness or Africanism if they want their commitment to non-racism taken seriously.

There is a lot of wrong that men have done and continue to do in their relationships with women from the beginning of time. But in the same way that it would be absurd to ask whites to shun their whiteness because of the history of white racism and colonialism, asking men to try to be something else can only cause new problems.

Men, at least many of those I hang out with, still have a long way to go in dealing with the pressures and expectations of masculinity now to want to excel at being feminists. A lot of the abuse, exploitation and oppression of women by men is perpetrated by individuals who suffer from extremely low levels of self-esteem.

Not until men are able fully to understand and are comfortable with their masculinity will they realise that they do not have to oppress women in any way for them to feel like “real” men. Bigotry is the ultimate outward expression of a small mind.

A movement based on trying to harness a feeling of guilt rather than one of empowerment is unsustainable. Instead, it would be better to tap into the positive qualities of masculinity instead of subtly sending a message that one is scum by virtue of certain hormones and body parts.

To confuse masculinity with patriarchy is to throw the baby out with the bath water.

An emasculated male is a greater danger to gender justice than one who, through custom, religion and sometimes law, has acquired a false sense that he is superior to women.

Sexism is but one of the many ideologies based on the absurd logic that assumes that an accident of history means some human beings are more evolved than others. It must be dealt with along with other evils based on arbitrary assumptions.

It does not help that we have the confused holiday we had on Monday. While the intention might have been to foster an understanding of and a call for gender justice, Women’s Day is for all intents and purposes Mother’s Day in political attire. It is indeed Mother’s Day for all women regardless of whether they have children.

That is why many of us are still uncertain if we are allowed to wish men a “happy Women’s Day”. It remains unclear who or what is meant to be celebrated or commemorated.

The government itself seems unsure what it wants to do with the day or with the substantive issues affecting women in society. The choice of an inept and inexperienced minister to oversee this ministry sums up the view that women’s issues are being dealt with more as politically correct issues than out of belief that they are real issues that have to be dealt with.

Very few messages emanating from how this holiday is packaged seem tailored to tell the history of the women’s movement against patriarchal tendencies at home and abroad. One has to wonder how sending women off to a spa or giving them vouchers enhances the understanding that gender justice is not a women-only project.

If anything, these messages simply reaffirm the view that women are content to have something to powder their noses with. Instead of showing commitment to addressing the institutional marginalisation of women, we collectively play the role of the guy in an advert who takes his woman partner flowers to show her that he is sorry for his behaviour.

So instead of requiring that men Google some label to call themselves or which nail and beauty spa to send women to to have their nails done, let’s just get on with the main task of eradicating all forms of oppression and exclusion without having to sacrifice what most humans essentially are — good people.

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