I was going through a particularly bruising #AmINext social media feed the other day that related to an exchange between a former couple who happen to be queer. The outed abuser was hitting back and I was duly hating on them. But, in the middle of their tweeted tirade, they wrote something that gave me pause.
I’m an abuser, the person wrote. I accept this and I apologise and I am working on it and I am exploring the abuse that happened to me that caused me to abuse others. Am I not allowed the space to change?
It’s a real question that needs real answers, once our anger has been fully vented.
What will we do with the sexual offenders who are being named and shamed daily? We can’t just throw them into the sea.
Whether we like it or not, they are our brothers and uncles and fathers and friends, straight and gay, and, somehow, we are going to have to find a way to live with them while we demand they accept culpability and do the very real work of changing in a way that is meaningful – and that the flawed and patriarchal South African justice system does the same.
Women are not raping themselves and this is a conversation that needs to include men, but that can only happen if men stop being defensive at the first hint of a hashtag.
Once a woman comes out about her abuse, things generally get even worse. The patriarchy will deny and lawyer up, threaten and band together to destroy the woman’s life, her reputation and her mental health in any way they can.
Those men offended by #MenAreTrash are just as bad. If you’re not trash, great, move along, it’s not about you, but don’t go pretending South African men are okay just because you’re not one of the problematic ones.
Gay men like myself must interrogate our masculinity as much as the next guy – it’s all part of the same mess that has very real roots in a violent past and in our apparent inability to acknowledge our flaws.
Increasingly, academic studies are showing that the only vaguely positive transformation of harmful norms that enable gender-based violence are the programmes that involve the whole community.
But are we able to change the conversation to include the work that men need to do to stop the cycle of violence? And if they do, are we willing to create the space to allow them to apologise and to change?