Do ‘real’ men really have to drink?

2010-03-27 11:39

ADVERTISEMENTS will tell you that men who drink

are cool, that they know how to socialise and have fun. Society will tell you

that it takes a real man to handle his drink. The reality, however, is ­often


An inebriated judge behind the wheel paints a sad picture of

alcohol overuse. Judge Nkola John Motata, found guilty of drunken driving last

year after he smashed into an outside wall of a house in 2007, is not the only

face of alcohol gone wrong.

Former Ekurhuleni police chief Robert ­McBride lost

his job because of allegations of being under the influence of alcohol while

driving and musicians Hugh Masekela and Kabelo ­Mabalane of TKZee both hit rock

bottom before managing to turn their lives around.

To hit rock bottom, however, you have to start somewhere. Addiction

counsellor Dana Tadmor says men in South Africa equate being able to drink

alcohol with manhood. In fact, she says, there is almost a stigma ­attached to

not drinking.

“There’ll be whispers about the man who does not drink. Perhaps he

is an alcoholic, they’ll whisper. There will be a sense of not allowing him into

the inner chambers where the “real men” play and he will be looked at with

apprehension. However, underlying the judgment and ­ostracising of the

non-drinking man is drinkers’ deep need to draw people into their world to

normalise their drinking,” says Tadmor.

Though South Africans drink a large amount of alcohol compared to

other countries less than 50% of the population drinks, says Dr Joanne

Corrigall, senior public health specialist in the Western Cape department of

health. So in fact, says Corrigall, it is more the norm not to drink.

Some of South Africa’s well known non-drinkers include long

distance runner Hendrick Ramaala, golfing champion Gary Player and coach of the

National Sevens Rugby team, Paul Treu.

Says Ramaala: “It’s a choice in life. I never liked alcohol. I have

better things to do with my life. I have a backbone so other men can’t

pressurise me into drinking. No one is going to tell me what to do with my body.

I’ll drink my tea and juice. But I see it (peer pressure) happening with other

men and I feel sorry for them.”

Mogomotsoi Mfalapitsa of Engender Health, which runs a Men As

Partners Programme in South Africa, says men see alcohol as a way of having fun,

of showing that they have come of age.

“Men use alcohol to socialise, to bond, to share with other men, to

start a friendship. If there is no alcohol many do not know how to socialise and

so become dependent on a few drinks to bond with other men.”

The belief that the more macho a man is the more he can consume

­alcohol and stay standing is false, says Corrigall.

It is one of the many false

beliefs about alcohol and its consumption that have been perpetuated and handed

down from father to son and from brother to brother.

In fact your size, how fast

you drink, whether you have eaten and your general health are some of the things

that determine how quickly one gets drunk.

Mfalapitsa says alcohol is also used by men to release stress and

enable them to do things that men “are supposed to do”.

However, the reality is often that alcohol makes them weak (a

person is not coming from a place of strength when they are drunk), dependant on

alcohol and on others and unable to provide – often money for family and oneself

is spent on alcohol.

The over-use of alcohol – that’s more than four tots of spirits,

four 340ml cans of beer or four 125ml glasses of wine for a man in a single

occasion – can lead to problems in the home such as spending family money or

income on alcohol, physical or ­verbal abuse, violence, unsafe sex and other

destructive behaviour.

Sport, intelligent conversation and being a good father are some of

the ways men can empower themselves.

Tadmor says there needs to be a change in mindset that allows men

to be more loving of themselves.

Mfalapitsa adds that mothers can teach men to love themselves from

a formative age.

“Girls are urged to look after themselves yet boys when they are 15

or thereabouts are not given the same protective advice. The pressure is on for

them to lose their virginity and engage in risky sexual behaviour.

“Boys shouldn’t have to carry the guilt or pick up the tab for

their ­fathers. Parents need to realise their roles in ensuring that they do not

­perpetuate stereotypical behaviour that is high risk to boys and men. And they

need to stop setting unrealistic and harmful male roles for their sons.”

Ultimately, say the experts, when men love themselves enough they

will stop doing harmful and destructive things to their bodies.


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