The problem with men

2010-04-29 00:00

AS unfashionable and chauvinistic as it may sound to some, I still believe that a man is the head of the house. However, whether men are exercising this leadership role effectively and responsibly in their households and in society at large, is another matter altogether.

In this very publication a few months ago, I wrote extolling the good deeds by some men of virtue among us. I was writing responding to the HIV/Aids Brother for Life campaign that talks about the new man. I wrote that there is nothing new about good men in our society: it’s just that the good deeds by good men are not recognised, especially by our media.

However, I cannot help imagining what type of society we would have if men in general played their roles as fathers, as uncles, as lovers and as protectors of the weak. I thought about this as it dawned on me that there are very few young men who mention their fathers as their role models. Why? Why is it that you find most men singing the praises of their mothers as the ones who played a significant role in their upbringing? Some men even say that “my mum has been a pillar of strength for my entire family”.

In instances like these ones (and they are many), the question that arises is where is the man of the house?

There is something very wrong with us men and unfortunately we have to admit it. Why can’t we be good enough fathers and parents to inspire our sons and daughters to want to follow in our footsteps? I’m asking this question guardedly, mindful of the fact that there are good men out there.

I was listening to an interview on SAFM when the interviewee, a very illustrious businessman who was talking about what inspired and motivated him as a young man, said that he wanted to be every­thing his father was not. This means his father was such a failure and disappointment that he inspired his son to be a successful businessman and a successful husband — everything that his father failed to be. Very sad, yet very common in our society.

I heard that recently there was a seminar in South America, in a country called Guyana, which looked at the problem of men in general. These were men who were reflecting on their roles in society and admitted that men are major contributors to many maladies plaguing the universe, and they looked at ways and means of correcting the situation. Recently, here in Greytown in KwaZulu-Natal, there was a gathering of men only (more that 300 000 of them). The organiser of the Mighty Men Conference, evangelist Angus Buchan, said through this gathering that he “hopes to see men assume the roles God intended for them, both in home and in society”. Indeed we have a problem, brothers. Let us swallow our pride and agree.

Without generalising, every time I hear of a rape that has taken place, a murder that has been committed, a terrible fight that has ensued at a taxi rank or physical abuse within a family, I expect men to be the offenders and in most cases (obviously not all) it turns out to be true.

Is it not time, perhaps, that as men we begin to look inwardly and be introspective, that we begin to acknowledge our folly as the male species and make amends? I think that is a no-brainer. In the same way that South Africa’s race relations would be very different from what they are, if white people acknowledged and confessed that they benefited from apartheid leading to unspeakable social injustice, as men of all races and cultures we need to acknowledge and confess that had it not been for us and our misguided masculinity, this would be a much better world. Period.

It is also true that many changes that were introduced by democracy and the new Constitution in our country left some men feeling emasculated and robbed of their authority and masculinity. As true as that may be for some men, based on their own interpretation of the Constitution and the society that we are trying to build, as men, we have a problem and we had better fix it now.

Am I the best man since St Paul? No, I am as fallible as they come. I am just a man who knows that as men, we are punching below our weight.

• Sihle Mlotshwa is an independent social commentator.

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