In last week's Sunday Independent, Mbuyiselo Botha and Kopano Ratele published an op-ed titled Capitalism has emasculated black men in which they argue for a perspective of the platinum mines as follows:
Failure to see the demands of the miners as part of the long struggle for black men to be seen as worthy men does an injustice to their stand against an unjust system that seeks to make them feel inferior.
The article argues that black men have for decades tried to prove themselves worthy. The strike, they argue, is their way of standing up to be counted as worthy of the salary they are demanding, and their unwillingness to bow before the accepted wisdom that "all they do is sweat and work in uncomfortable conditions" and therefore are "more worthless than those of us who sit in meetings dealing with 'complexity.'”
The argument has set me to thinking about the wider context of these remarks. While the commentators have limited their concerns to the strike and the miners' fight against a capitalism that is emasculating men, I find myself wondering whether theirs is an argument that can be extended to the rest of how our society operates.
It is, or should be, a source of national pride that we are paying so much attention to empowering women and making a place for them in both the private and public sectors, even if only through legislation. The goals of a 50% representation in Parliament cannot be argued with when one considers the patriarchal nature of our past (and present) society.
What is missing for me, are steps to walk men through the changes that are being unleashed.
We must remember that most economically active men, and even a large number of "born free" men, carry fresh memories of the dominance of men. Faced with the enforced changes in the country to correctly create space for women, men can be expected to do one of two things: go along with the changes we must make; or rebel against them.
In both cases, men need help and leadership.
Whenever I have raised this issue in conversation with women, the response I get is either "men should just accept their diminished role and get on with it," or more helpfully, "its the role of father's, mother's and family's to help their sons make the adjustments - they should be taught about equality at home."
I find both answers unsatisfactory. As any change agent will tell you, change is made much easier when the subjects of change are consistently shown an alternate future reality because the future no longer holds any fears - it becomes an aspiration. The question therefore becomes: what future are men being shown? Secondly, how is social orientation in the home supposed to happen when, in very many cases, if not the majority, the family itself is grappling with the changes being brought to bear?
Over years, as I have listened to men talk around the braai, at sports events, at the water fountain, in smoking areas and wherever the tribe of men gather, I have been struck at the degree of disorientation that exists and how ill-prepared men are for the changes around them.
I find myself wondering whether this disorientation is finding expression in the devastating levels of violence against women and children that men are perpetrating? Is this frustration at feeling emasculated, without being helped to become socially aware, made to feel worthwhile and helpful, to be valuable, helping tilt men over the edge?
Worryingly, I detect at times a sort of vengefulness against past patriarchy and a general apathy to the need to help men regain their footing among some people (men and women) - there is almost a sense of, "no one helped women in the past, so why help men now."
If this is the mindset, I wonder whether we are setting ourselves up to repeat the gender wars we should be avoiding?