The Empty Clamour Betrays Us

2013-06-18 07:16

It is far too easy to think that the proverbial douchebag among us is the other.  Disgust and outrage are both easier to dispense when the imprudent thing is said or done by this faceless character called the other. But every now and again, the other gets a name and a face.

Last week, John Jeffrey and fellow ANC MP, Buti Manamela assumed the despised character of the other.  No ounce of spin will ever justify the statements made by these two men. Sexist, misogynous and shameful. We all agree.

As if this was not enough, the South African Communist Party weighed in and called Lindiwe Mazibuko ‘nothing else but a disrespectful kid’. After the news channel eNCA and the Mail & Guardian had come out objecting to these shameful remarks, the SACP added a new canon to South Africa’s ever growing discourse chest.

For the SACP, the Mail and Guardian and eNCA’s coverage of the saga was ‘an attempt to play a gender card.’  No shot at engaging the real issue, just a classic straw man from the SACP.

But before I fall into the trap of cheap moralizing, let me voice to you a fear I have. This fear is no new discovery. We know it too well.

I am fearful at how we men - you and me – are quickly left unblemished when the other brutally rapes, makes sexist comments or makes unsavoury jokes about women. I am troubled at the comfortable innocence we assume. It could only be the other douche, not us.

There are explanations for why this is the case. Misogynous men who rape and denigrate women are rightfully depicted as the wrongful human beings they are.  So, as men we are somehow taught that trick is to vilify this monster because no ‘right thinking and self-respecting man’ would do any of this.  This statement in itself mildly proves of the pervasiveness of patriarchy. Men, always right thinking and self-respecting?

This monster becomes removed from us.  A mechanism to make sense of the mess our patriarchal society finds itself in.

Even when we object to the countless acts of sexism and gender based violence, we – men remain unaware of the bigger monster that exists beyond the other.

We somehow forget that we’re all crude beneficiaries of the bigger monster called patriarchy. More importantly, we forget that we are complicit in ways more than one.

Yes, men who rape and denigrate women (even through vile rape metaphors and sexist remarks) should be called out. But men who aren’t the Other – you and I should also be called out. We should be called out for our empty clamour.

We are all old enough to realize that sexism in it’s different forms is all around us. But the pervasiveness of sexism is not a mere air filler. We happen to be part of this space in which it is found. We operate and co-exist with it if you like.  It needs not be broadcasted on the news or lived out in parliament for it to be real. In our tiny little corners we perpetuate it in ways more than one.

It finds expression in the ways in which children are brought up – boys and girls alike. Quickly they learn that one is stronger than the other. Quickly they learn that one must cry and the other cannot. In the end, they both grow up and both share a mutual spaces – a school, a workplace or even a home. Here power is not to be shared or even challenged.  One has it and the other must submit.

If we were forced to reflect carefully, we would soon learn that we’re actually as guilty and blemished as the man whom we ceremonially loath. While he may grab the newspaper headlines occasionally. We would understand that misogyny and sexism are only two pillars on which the brute force of patriarchy lies on. And even when we clamour, we remain on the sides of these two pillars unaware of our own complicity.

I am less interested in Buti Manamela or John Jeffrey’s bigotry. My own prejudice concerns me because I realize how pervasive it is. I realize how I entrench it daily.  And as sanctimonious we would like to think we are, it is time we owned up to our individual and collective culpability.

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