Opinionista Zanele Stuurman 21 May 2018

It should not require fathering a daughter to recognise gender atrocities

It is worrying that fathers invoke daughters to condemn gender-based violence. If your reason for wanting to end gross violence visited upon women’s bodies is that you are “a father to a daughter”, you need to reorient your moral compass.

According to our society, it is acceptable for a man to remain unable to empathise with women until he has sprung one from his loins. Still, would it be enough for every girl’s existence to make her father recognise – in his patriarchal make up of toxic masculinity – what women face?

Ours is a society with a collective mind-set predicated on the centrality of a men. This foments a lack of empathy more broadly speaking, but specifically a view of women as human based in blood relations to men, be it as daughters, sisters and mothers.

Even in his deepest agony after Judge Peet Johnson sentenced Sandile Mantsoe to 32 years in prison for assaulting‚ killing and disposing of the body of ex-girlfriend Karabo Mokoena, it was difficult for Thabang Mokoena – Karabo’s father – to bring down the patriarch Mantsoe is without revealing self-contradictory status as another patriarch.

Having been asked to reflect on violence inflicted against women within our society, he stumbled upon a patriarchal norm and failed to review gender-based violence sensitively.

Earlier this month outside of the High Court, following the handing down of a sentence, Thabang Mokoena reportedly said: “All the young men out there who abuse women, wait until you have your own daughter. Wait until your daughter is abused, it’s going to be very, very painful.”

This tone suggests that a man will remain unbothered by the gross femicide and other forms of violence visited upon women’s bodies in this country until he has acquired his mini-woman (a daughter). Only then he will empathize.

Despite his grief, this language should not be left unattended for what it signals about gender inequality and men’s reluctance in dealing with their toxic masculinity, especially when they remain perpetrators of gross violence upon women.

As I have suggested before, this also speaks volumes about the recognition of women in this society which is only reduced to biology, blood ties and the associated demands for effective labour – to being a daughter, a source of love for someone else. It should not require fathering a daughter to recognise the atrocities of gender-based violence.

The “daughter” revelation in Mokoena’s statement is not the only incident that leaves a desire for articulation from a feminist perspective. Having a daughter has inspired profound revelations in the hashtag #MeToo, following a series of accusations against United States film producer Harvey Weinstein who faced sexual harassment and sexual assault allegations from women.

When actor Matt Damon reflected upon the shameful complicity in sexually predatory behaviour inflicted by film producer Weinstein, he said: “Look, even before I was famous, I didn’t abide this kind of behaviour. But now, as the father of four daughters, this is the kind of sexual predation that keeps me up at night. This is the great fear for all of us. You have a daughter; you know.”

Ours is a society that will be selective especially in addressing sexual harassment and abuse of women at large. This expression alone says a lot about the argument drawn within this piece.

Following his remarks on Weinstein’s sexual harassment, it is the same Damon who later lamented that there is a “difference between patting someone on the butt and rape or child molestation…” which further defeats his earlier deaf comment on Weinstein, a father of four continuing to exhibit his failure to understand consent and the cumulative effect of harassment.

And there is one big problem with referencing daughters too: At the centre of assaulting‚ killing and disposing of Karabo Mokoena’s body is Sandile Mantsoe, a murderer with a two-year-old daughter.

It is worrying that fathers invoke daughters to condemn gender-based violence. If your reason for wanting to end gross violence visited upon women’s bodies is that you are “a father to a daughter,” you need to reorient your moral compass. DM

Zanele Stuurman is from the Free State and is currently based in Cape Town. She tweets at @ZaneleQStuurman.

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