Balance the role of men

2018-06-10 11:44
(Getty Images)

(Getty Images)

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The statistic that one woman is killed every eighth hour in South Africa sends shivers down our spines. Our femicide rate is five times higher than the global average, and half the women who are murdered in our country die at the hands of an intimate partner.

The seriousness of the issue, while not new, influenced us to dedicate our Father’s Day contribution to trying to understand what lies behind most domestic violence cases perpetrated by men. We also hope to help agitate the country towards a deliberate national debate that would result in positive and tangible outcomes.

As a couple working with relationships for the past few years, we are often confronted by partners in abusive relationships; it’s rife. Despite legislation and policy focused on improving family life, reality reflects a society in crisis. The White Paper on Families greatly ignores men as part of a cohesive and conducive family structure critical to rebuilding the family unit.

Many black men are in prison, married to alcohol and drugs, illiterate and have little to no income, and they are killing each other and their women.

There has never been a notable national effort to educate, influence and empower black men to become positive role models, especially in communities riddled with crime, self-hate, poverty, unemployment and abuse. The same can be said of white men, but at least they have a strong economic and family culture that serves as a good support system.

Within the context of the breakdown of the family unit is the corrosion of men, many of whom have become a menace to society. As government places emphasis on the “triple challenge” of poverty, unemployment and inequality, we are concerned that no thought is given to healing the family. Also, there has been no deliberate effort to circumvent the humiliation, emotional abuse, and physical and psychological pain that black men have endured and continue to endure, before and after 1994.

As a country, we seem to forget that black men, particularly African and coloured men, are generally products of a dysfunctional political, social and economic system. They generally have a clouded view of a properly functioning and supportive nuclear family.

Our society continues to fail men in the belief that they are able to get by; that “men don’t cry”; and that they must “man up”.

Black men live in a society that has not allocated them a status as emotional beings, but rather as low wage earners and, to an extent, “blessers” who use this obscene status to abuse, commodify and objectify women. We have to deal with the painful history that has reduced the black man to a cheap labourer, second-class citizen and garden boy. Otherwise, we’ll have to deal with their toxic masculinity.

There is a silent view that seeks to devalue the reality and factors that affect mens’ situations and behaviour.

While history and patriarchy continue to favour men, this does not mean they control patriarchy. Society, through established systems and norms – which must be demolished – actually controls patriarchy.

For instance, in Xhosa culture, a young boy is being prepared to be a “man” through circumcision. Societal realities, however, can no longer accommodate his “manhood”. He leaves his rural village for a better life in urban areas so that he can fulfil his “manly” responsibilities. He is shocked to learn that he is at the bottom of the food chain and social class, ill-equipped to handle 21st century society. He learns that, in urban areas, no one really cares about his “manhood” status. He instead faces radical feminist thinking imposed by the new global order that doesn’t recognise his unique and dehumanising background.

He carries on his shoulders the social expectation that the man must play the role of being a provider, protector and leader. When he isn’t given space to perform that, his dignity and self-respect abate. And in his quest to command respect and dignity, he becomes conflicted, desperate, violent and a menace to society.

While he engages in self-sabotaging behaviour, women are becoming more independent, and correctly so. More women are graduating than men, more girls are passing matric than boys, while more men than women are illiterate and are school and university dropouts.

It is men who are committing violence against each other, violating their partners, abusing alcohol and drugs, and filling prisons. Like their white counterparts, black men are negatively affected by policies such as affirmative action and BEE, as these favour black women, albeit for good reason.

We believe that, as a society, we need to provide long-term and inclusive solutions to the domestic abuse challenge. That it’s criminalised in our country clearly doesn’t help as statistics are still alarming. Current reality also tells us that adopting radical postures that further perpetuate the dehumanisation of the black man in trying to eradicate toxic masculinity only achieves the opposite. As men and women, we are not enemies. We can’t afford to be.

Central to the solutions should be the man and his role in the family in the 21st century. There needs to be a balance between the subjective liberal views and traditional social expectations of men to locate and affirm the role of men and fathers in a society that opts to neutralise male dominance and encourage women empowerment.

Boys need to be guided, loved and allowed a smooth transition from boyhood to manhood. We have no other option but to consciously, systematically and deliberately support; understand the internal struggle of; and anchor the black man if we are to properly deal with the challenge of domestic violence.

- Mo and Phindi are a husband and wife team working together as relationship coaches, and are published authors.

Find them on Facebook at /mo&phindi

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Do you have a son? How are you raising him to play a respectful and respected role in society?

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Read more on:    gender  |  gender violence

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