South Africa

WEBINAR

Uyinene, one year later: Patriarchy and the ‘boy code’ that makes monsters of males

Uyinene, one year later: Patriarchy and the ‘boy code’ that makes monsters of males
Uyinene Mrwetyana. (Photo: Facebook / Zuki Lamani)

A year after 19-year-old Uyinene Mrwetyana was kidnapped, raped and brutally murdered while collecting a parcel at a post office in Cape Town, her mother, Nomangwane, wants to find a way to stop male violence and hate.

Monday 24 August marked a year since Luyanda Botha, an employee at the Clarenreich Post Office in Cape Town, kidnapped, raped and brutally murdered UCT student Uyinene Mrwetyana.

Throughout Monday, a mild winter’s day in Cape Town, a steady stream of people gathered at the scene of the crime to pay tribute to Uyinene and to mourn collectively the country’s “second” silent pandemic, gender-based violence (GBV), which claims the lives of thousands of women and children each year.

Flowers, handmade cards, notes and candles singled out the squat and characterless building on busy Imam Haron Road, where Botha beat the life out of the young woman. The post office is situated a few hundred metres from the Claremont police station.

At the prompting of the Uyinene Mrwetyaya Foundation, a webinar, titled Why Men’s Violence Against Women in South Africa is Not Changing Swiftly Enough, and What To Do About It, was co-hosted by the South African Medical Research Council’s University of South Africa Masculinity & Health Research Unit and the Psychological Society of South Africa.

The event was moderated by author and scholar Professor Kopano Ratele, director of the MRC’s Masculinity and Health Research Unit. Participants were Floretta Boonzaier, professor of psychology and co-director of the Hub for Decolonial Feminist Psychologies in Africa at the University of Cape Town; Peace Kiguwa, associate professor in psychology at the University of the Witwatersrand; Malose Langa, associate professor at Wits University, Department of Psychology; and Reverend Bafana Khumalo, Sonke Gender Justice co-executive director and co-founder.

It was Langa, author of the recently published Becoming Men – Black Masculinities in a South African Township, who set out the corrosive effects of patriarchy not only on women but men themselves and society as a whole.

Langa, who has conducted long-term research with a group of young men in Alexandra, Johannesburg, said violence in South Africa is “atmospheric” and pervasive.

“It is about men’s violence against women and children and against other men,” he said.

Langa began by quoting feminist Chimamanda Adichie’s dream of creating a different world, “a fairer world of happier men and happier women true to themselves”.

In order to achieve this, said Langa, “we need to debunk the boyhood code” which sets out that boys and men need to be tough, strong and emotionless.

“Boys get indoctrinated into this boyhood code and this indoctrination into the code, I have argued in my work, is characterised by shame and humiliation.”

A boy who fails to live up to these expectations will be so shamed and humiliated that by the time he reaches puberty or maturity “they are dead walking zombies,” said Langa.

“We are expected to be human and behave in a human manner despite our deadness.”

The abuse of women in South African society began at a “very young age when boys begin to call girls names and objectify them”.

“What becomes interesting is that girls with high self-esteem or self-confidence are targeted. They are regarded as a Miss-Know-it-All and have to be put in their place. This explains the violence against women, against those who are assertive and powerful and those who refuse to toe the line.”

Boys and men needed help to understand the “cost of the boy code, how it kills them, how it denies them to be free human beings who are men”.

In order to accomplish this, men and boys needed help processing the “hurt arising out of home spaces” which were, Langa added, often characterised by serious neglect and abandonment.

“There is a relationship between childhood trauma and violence. We need to help men talk about relationships and expectations that such relationships must be based on mutuality and equality.”

Men and boys, he added, had to be taught to accept that relationships ended and that women had the right to do so.

“Based on my work, what you see is that boys and men have so much anxiety about relationships which is well masked and we need to help boys and men deal with those feelings.”

Men needed help to deal with the psychic pain of being a male person in a deeply destructive patriarchal world. Boys, he added, needed ultimately to be rescued from the myths of manhood.

“Real boys need people to be with who allow them to show all their feelings including the most intense feelings of fear, disappointment and to learn that these are normal, good and masculine,” said Langa.

Working with boys and men was not anti-feminist, as some have charged, but an acknowledgement that men are perpetrators.

“Working with boys and men is acknowledging that boys and men perpetrate violence and the only way to stop the problem is to engage with boys and men. To find non-violent, egalitarian forms of masculinity,” said Langa.

“How is it possible to report on this without talking about the systemic nature of misogyny in SA society? How is it possible to report on the high levels of sexual violence without talking about male entitlement?”

Ratele, at the start of the webinar, said that earlier this year Nomangwane Mrwetyana had contacted him seeking to find a way for the family foundation to work with other institutions.

“I did not know what to do except say yes. We would like to embark on a lifelong and enduring campaign using the face and the life and the passing of Uyinene and also the multitudes of women who die at the hands of men.”

Ratele said South Africans “expected too much from government and we must, can and have to do something about this”.

Floretta Boonzaier recounted the story of a woman, Lee, who found herself seeking help at a women’s shelter in Cape Town.

“She began by narrating her husband’s abuse and violence as an embarrassment. This contributed to the shame she felt,” said Boonzaier.

While this woman’s story – and those of thousands of women in a similar position – would not make it to the media, the systemic failures of Lee’s life had accumulated over time. 

“She endured this for 15 years before making her way to the women’s shelter. Before that, one family member after the next abused her, including her stepfather and then her life with her husband. Why is it she carries the shame of that violence?” Boonzaier asked.

Lee’s story would not be told in the media unless she died at the hands of a man, she added. Like so many other women, Lee lived a life of quiet despair.

In order to shift and change the public perception of male violence it was important first to name it, said Boonzaier. However, the expression “gender-based violence” itself had been emptied of all meaning.

“We do not talk about patriarchy, we do not talk about misogyny, the contempt and hatred directed at women. How is it possible to report on a pregnant woman hanging from a tree, a naked woman on a rubbish dump, buried in a shallow grave without talking about misogyny?

“How is it possible to report on this without talking about the systemic nature of misogyny in SA society? How is it possible to report on the high levels of sexual violence without talking about male entitlement?”

She asked where the reports were showing how common sexual harassment was in this country. Where was the work that highlighted the entitlement to women’s bodies that “our men, our schoolboys, #allmen, at various levels” act out?

Peace Kiguwa said GBV was not an isolated form of violence and that it had intersecting factors, including a lack of access to social capital, disrupted community and family relationships as well as institutional and structural violence.

The spectacle of violence against women in South Africa, she added, was stripped of social contexts, patriarchy and misogyny.

“Every time a woman is brutally murdered in South Africa we act surprised as if misogyny, homophobia, transphobia and sexism are not everyday occurrences. It allows us to deflect responsibility and go back to the pretence of normality.”

The media, said Boonzaier, should embark on sustained campaigns against GBV and not wait for a tragedy.

“We need to steer clear of episodic reporting on violence. We need thematic reporting.”

People of influence too needed to speak out constantly in “ways that matter, not in the vacuous ways we currently see”.

“Are we making connections between the dehumanisation of women and other forms of dehumanisation?” she asked.

Bafana Khumalo said that GBV in South Africa was five times the global average and that every day three women in the country were killed by intimate partners.

“Women are not safe in streets, they are not safe in their own homes. For many women, violence is a daily lived reality.”

Many men in South Africa believed they had the right to control women’s behaviour and their bodies, and society often blamed the victim for the violence she suffered at the hands of an intimate male partner or member of the family.

Peace Kiguwa said GBV was not an isolated form of violence and that it had intersecting factors, including a lack of access to social capital, disrupted community and family relationships as well as institutional and structural violence.

“We must use this as a basis to start to think about what we know about what causes men’s violence against women and why it happens,” said Kiguwa.

Every sector of society needed to be engaged and every site where ideologies of masculine patriarchy continued to operate needed to be challenged.

Violence against women, she added, was about the regulation of social life.

“Violence towards women is material. The regulation of social life is also symbolic, every woman knows what it is like to live in fear. Violence incites fear and a culture of threat and we are always navigating our relationships in line with this symbolic violence.”

Patriarchy was more than just about attitudes, it is systemic, social and political and relied on violence to enforce these parameters on women’s lives.

“Patriarchy demands that there are stories we cannot talk about. Patriarchy demands our silences, secrets that have to be protected, private and public must be kept separate.”

Patriarchy, she added, established itself in various institutions including the family, places of worship and schools.

“Patriarchy demands of men to become and remain emotional cripples.”

Referencing the cultural critic bell hooks, Kiguwa said we knew what patriarchy did to women, but did we understand what it did to men?

Masculinity was not in crisis, she added, but patriarchal masculinity was. 

What was needed now is the nurturing of “non-violent masculinity”.

“But individual men changing their destructive attachments to patriarchy will not translate into it disappearing. Individual men can do the work, but that does not translate into the dismantling of the system.”

Every sector of society needed to be engaged and every site where ideologies of masculine patriarchy continued to operate needed to be challenged.

“Men must confront the denial of patriarchy in their lives. Part of that is that we need to confront the way in which there is an easy domination and abuse in terms of the privilege men attach to the power they have over women. We have to disrupt this thinking.”

History, she added, was always visible in the present. 

“We have people who are empty. Our capacity to love and to nurture and to choose has been eroded by a violent history. Engaging that source of violence is complex.” DM

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