Violence against women, and men, unacceptable
Nose out of joint. Feelings trampled upon. Ego bruised.
All because of being excluded from a worthy-cause event based on physical characteristics. What’s going on?
On Wednesday, womxn (yes, the “x” is deliberate) took to the streets across SA in support of #Totalshutdown to protest against gender-based violence.
Men were asked not to join the marchers.
Two reasons for this were given by the organisers.
First it was a march for womxn (which includes persons identifying as gender nonconforming and/or LGBTQIA+).
Second, the physical presence of men might have triggered trauma responses in participants who had been victims of gender-based violence.
Is male fragility so eggshell-sensitive that not being allowed to walk in solidarity requires a pity-party?
If men didn’t get the memo with #Metoo and #Menaretrash, excluding men from #Totalshutdown marches will surely drive home the message? Or will it?
A woman is murdered every three to four hours in SA – just more than half of whom will be killed by their intimate partners.
According to SAPS data for the 2016-17 year, 2,639 women were killed in that period.
According to a study done by the Medical Research Council (MRC) in 2009 (the latest such survey available), in that year 56% of women murdered were murdered by their intimate partners as compared to 51% in 1999.
In 1999, a total of 3,793 women were murdered as opposed to 2,363 in 2009.
MRC and SAPS data varies, based on how they collect their data, so caution is required in making the comparison, but it’s clear women are being killed in high numbers (although significantly less than two decades ago) and the majority by their intimate partners.
Add to this the 39,828 rapes reported to the police in the last year, and that it’s estimated that more than 40% of women will be raped in their lifetime, and that one in five women over the age of 18 will be physically assaulted.Gender-based violence is undoubtedly a crisis of humungous proportion in SA. Something needs doing. But there’s an obvious piece of the puzzle missing. Men – 15,538 of them murdered in the last year, to be exact.
Women and children account for 13% of murders in the last year, which means that the #Totalshutdown will not be about 87% of the murders in our country.
Most organised male-centric responses focus on men’s rights and about how men are getting the short end of the stick.
But very little conversation and activism taking place is about the elephant in the room – men killing men.
We know that in the main men are both perpetrators and (in the case of murder) victims.
Men are, in the main, the ones doing the raping and assault.
There is no doubt that by being born male, you’re able to access a network of power and consequent privilege not available by being born a womxn.
There is no doubt that this network has come under serious question as we hear and listen to the voices of womxn, who are killed and beaten and underpaid as a consequence of being considered the lesser being.
But that doesn’t explain why men kill men in far greater numbers.
Evolutionary psychologists may point to the high levels of testosterone matched by physical capacity as having provided an advantage in the role of warrior and protector.
Sociologists and others may point to the increasing irrelevance of those physical traits as machines and societal norms neuter the male’s physical advantages.
Others may point to the role of alcohol and the easy access to guns, about the lack of father figures in early childhood, and the exploitation of migrant labour and the social infrastructure that supports such.
Technological advances would suggest that physical capacity will become even more obsolete.
Do we turn to violence and the capacity to kill as a means to make ourselves relevant?
Do we kill other men because instinctively we realise that men are expendable?
A man can respond to the #Totalshutdown in a number of ways. Turn on the sports channel and crack another beer, go fishing, get grumpy, hurl insults and expletives, punch a wall, punch a …?
Those are the easy knee-jerk (or just plain jerk) responses.
The harder response is to listen without defending, to hear and then to take responsibility. We have to talk about what it is to be a man.
It starts with the acknowledgment that we are the violent half of the human specie, and those we are traditionally meant to protect, love and care for are now triggered by our physical presence, so threatening have we become.
But it isn’t just for men to resolve.
Are men born with a respect for life and then somehow it’s lost along the way?
Does our modern society set up a schizophrenic call on men: you must be strong/your strength is not needed?
Womxn’s liberation may have changed one half of the equation, but the other half seems to be stuck in a dark place, if not the dark ages.
The cynic may argue that #Totalshutdown is just another march competing among other worthy causes, and that the “breaking the silence” movements of the ‘80s and ‘90s have already identified what needs doing.
The sceptic may scoff at handing a government-in-crisis demands for changing a broken system.
Those of a religious persuasion may argue that womxn are challenging God-given norms, that the world will return to its previous axis when womxn respect men as the head of the household, provide sex on demand and dress in ways so that men are shielded from temptation.
The socio-political critic may point to colonisation, apartheid, neo-capitalism or, alternatively, to misogynists posing as presidents.
But what no one can dispute is that the level of male violence in our country is abnormal. Is it acceptable?
What do we, as men, as womxn do about it?