South Africa

South Africa

Letter to the editor: Good men can be violent too

Letter to the editor: Good men can be violent too

I never thought I would say this, but it has come to a point where we do not know what to do with good men. We thank the good Lord for their existence, but in the face of the tribulations and downright war we are facing as women, what women mostly hear from these glorified, respectable men is not a unified front that echoes our sentiments and experiences, but a whole choir of voices bent on justifying why we must “not throw the baby out with the bathwater’. There’s a strong myth that good men cannot participate in violent masculinity. By ANGELA CHUMA.

Each time we say good men cannot be violent, we erase the violent acts we have seen and heard being done by “good men”. I should believe those men that undressed the woman at the bus rank are somewhat good men in their families. I should think the man who killed two women recently for rejecting him was a good son in the eyes of his parents. The very notion that good men should not be part of the conversation wherever violence is concerned, is one of the major ways to perpetuate violence. Real men, contrary to your fluff campaigns, do abuse women.

It is only through uncomfortable conversations that men can face themselves, that is, their questionable language and thoughts, their privilege and their collective view towards masculinity. It is only through poking at the wound of fragile masculinity that they may confront their friends’ inappropriate actions, and other men they deem respectable as well as immune from being perpetrators of abuse, even in the face of it. All of this, may happen, if we make men uncomfortable. It is well known that when two elephants fight, it is the grass that suffers, and equally, in the battle of patriarchy and violent masculinity, it is women’s bodies that become the battlefield. So, bear with me as I highlight why we don’t know what to do with “good men” who are often silent and spread their goodness everywhere but in their homes and communities.

There are a lot of great men who do great things. Honestly, we see them in newspapers and television now and then, we see and hail them as patrons of goodness. Then one day you sit and have a conversation with one of them, beaming and optimistic to hear them share their insights on various issues. It’s all great and good, until the issue of violence against women comes up, then all of a sudden, sexism doesn’t exist, or men are not that abusive but are usually provoked, or good men aren’t possibly capable of violence, or women need to stop luring us with clothing and asking for blessers.

We can no longer have conversations that coddle men’s egos and opinions when our lives are on the line. We dare not simmer our anger when the likelihood of being violated anywhere is a great possibility. This is why. It is no secret that our experiences as women are seen as secondary to men’s integrity and the positions they hold in society. There is no unique class of “barbaric men” out of the scope of our daily interactions that abuse women, it is in fact men we know as lovers, fathers, brothers and uncles that are behind the violations. Until we understand this truth, there can never be a legitimate solution to this problem. We are more outraged at the existence of violence against women and children than we are intrigued with its source. We fear this insight, because that would possible mean ousting the men we hold very dear to our hearts, regardless of their violent actions.

Every time there’s a debate about how some men aren’t violent and oppressive, a woman is violated, raped or abused somewhere around the world. According to UN Women, about 120-million girls worldwide (slightly more than one in 10) have experienced forced intercourse or other forced sexual acts at some point in their lives. By far the most common perpetrators of sexual violence against girls are current or former husbands, partners or boyfriends.

Each time you tell a woman to wear respectable clothing, ask yourself how many women have been raped fully clothed. Every time you ask one of our female friends to take care of themselves, ask yourself how many times have you called out a man for his violent heckles or inappropriateness without any fear of being labelled a “pussy”. That is the mirror we have no choice but to hold up before the eyes of all men, good or not.

The popularised #menaretrash hashtag has achieved more than neutral campaigns have in terms of honest discourse, as it provoked and surfaced the very problematic mentality women have become victims of. The hashtag was not a means of negotiating whether good men exist, it was a cry from women who suffer from violent men. The conversations that erupted were raw, and women opened the valve of traumatic stories that society is quick to silence and dismiss by insinuating they played a part in their abuse. We ask “what did she do to provoke that man?” even in the face of a woman’s death. We get undressed, get hackled, but to many, we lure abuse to ourselves.

Some of these transgressions are driven by culture, and fuelled by women themselves. We know the silence that comes with knowing one of our favourite uncles or brothers has abused a relative. We know that some women still choose to be with men that abuse their own children. I acknowledge that both men and women play a part in the advancement of patriarchy, and each must play their part in dismantling it. This is quite clear. However, the interjection from good men comes about mostly when they are called out to do their part as men, yet, in this call they still expect us to hold their hands in finding solutions. I fail to understand how we must then be the balm to our own wounds, when the weapon knows itself.

We, as women, have our own issues among ourselves, and hurdles of internalised misogyny to jump. Human beings generally do not lack flaws and problematic behaviour. But men, in being the sculptors of what defines masculinity and how that frames the behaviour of men within society, must have spaces where they have an honest conversation about violence without glancing our way to nod or shake their heads in disagreement. They, in their own circles, must call out other men, not because we are watching but because it is the right thing to do.

The age of “respectability politics” has lapsed. We have seen that no matter how respectable we are, we are still potential victims of violence. We have romanticised violence for too long, we have dressed it in cute clothing so that it doesn’t offend, we have allowed it to sit in the same closet with the love we have for our men and other male figures, but it is time to be honest with ourselves.

This is a plea for men to set aside their emotions and prioritise women’s lives and protection. It will take a collective effort for us to dismantle violence against women because it takes a village to raise a well-functioning human; however, we must firstly admit to the problem. Do not expect women to solve the violation that befalls us when we are victims of it. For us to respond to this crisis, we must name the problem. Only then can we begin, honestly, to heal our collective trauma. Only then, can we join hands, knowing what each other’s wound looks like and that we can confront our conditioning. DM

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