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South Africa has a problem and its name is men. It seems as though we can't go a day without seeing some new piece of news that a man has assaulted or murdered a womxn and yet, despite the celebration of Womxn's Day, Womxn's Month, the commitment of government to fight abuse, nothing seems to be changing. And we have to ask why.

Column by Conor Engelbrecht

The views expressed herein are those of the columnist and do not necessarily reflect the views of Portal Publishing.

South Africa has a problem and its name is men

I'm gonna come right out and say it: #MenAreTrash.

Disclaimer: no, not all men. Not every man is trash. But enough men are trash, to the point that merely walking by a womxn on her own is enough to inspire fear and discomfort. And, just as reverse racism is not a thing, crying 'sexism' just isn't a good enough response. We, as men, make womxn uncomfortable simply by being there and that is based on their learned experiences. My point here is not to point a finger at you through your monitor or phone and call you trash. My point is to have us stop and think about where we went wrong as a society. If you're offended by the hashtag #MenAreTrash, chances are you're part of the problem. Disclaimer over.

1 in 5 South African womxn over the age of 18 have experienced some form of physical violence, and the official average of womxn who experience sexual violence from a partner sits at 6%, a statistic that goes up as womxn get older. That doesn't even get close to measuring the number of womxn who experience sexual violence from someone who isn't their partner, a number that is difficult to ascertain.

Abusive relationships, clearly, are widespread. And yet we seldom talk about them. When we do, it's usually in the wake of news of a murder or assault going viral and, even then, much of the dialogue surrounding the issue is likely to blame the victim, asking "why didn't they leave?" or even insinuating (or flatout stating) that the victim deserved it somehow.

1 in 5 South African womxn over the age of 18 have experienced some form of physical violence

The fact is it is very difficult, if not impossible, to remove yourself from an abusive relationship and blaming the victim for "allowing" the abuse to occur is a dangerous road to follow. We don't tell victims of hijackings that they were asking for it or allowing it to happen, so why, then, do we ask what rape victims were wearing? Why do we question claims of abuse? Why is the onus on abuse victims to leave rather than on abusers not to abuse?

I'll tell you why. Men. Are. Trash. The patriarchy. Society is, in every way, designed to favour men over womxn, especially high-profile men.

Look at the recent case of Deputy Minister of Higher Education and Training Mduduzi Manana being caught on film assaulting Mandisa Duma at a Cubana. 6 days into Women's Month, Manana was filmed beating a womxn in Cubana as a response to her calling him "gay". His apology, reproduced below, leaves much to be desired.

What "extreme provocation" are you referring to, Deputy Minister? Being called gay? Is your masculinity so fragile that you deem assault an appropriate response? What, I want to know, are you smoking? Oh right, nothing, that's just how you are.

Minister Susan Shabangu, in her statement, said: "Our role, as leaders – young and old, men and women – is to lead by example." Even with Manana in court today as a result of his actions, the fact that a high-ranking member of government thinks it is okay to assault womxn speaks to exactly the type of example that society is setting for men.

Just today a video has surfaced on social media showing a male school pupil violently beating a girl, both of them in school uniform. It's hard not to think of this as a result of that same way of thinking that Deputy Minister Manana subscribes to.

Zooming out a bit, taking a more international view, this kind of thinking is prevalent around the world. Look no further than Donald Trump's repeated comments that objectify womxn:

  • “I moved on her like a b*tch, but I couldn’t get there. And she was married.”
  • “I did try and f*ck her. She was married.”
  • “Just kiss. I don’t even wait. And when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything.”
  • “Grab them by the p*ssy. You can do anything.”

Look, yes, Donald Trump is an evil man, no two ways about it, so it might be tempting to merely chalk his comments up to that and leave it there. But if we look to his defence, where he called this "locker room banter", it is clear that this is viewed by many as being okay, acceptable, just a part of life, boys will be boys, you know?

"Boys will be boys"

The ideas of "locker room banter" and "boys will be boys" are at the root of the problem. How often do we see little girls being told that boys are only bullying them because "oh, he just likes you"? Womxn are taught from a young age that they can expect violence and abuse from men because that's just how it is, how we show our love. I don't know about you but I don't, and never have, shown affection with my fists. But, you know, boys will be boys.

We cannot, cannot put it on womxn to avoid and prevent gender based violence. Men are the problem and society the cause. We need to look at society, look at how it so often makes excuses for rapists, abusers, men, and how communities can tackle this issue.

Earlier this week I had the opportunity to visit a small school in Cape Town, where each and every student has signed a "diversity pledge" and committed themselves to respecting others. What we need as a society is to look to our own diversity pledge, our Constitution, and commit to following the tenets set out therein. We need to break down gender stereotypes, the idea that a womxn is only worth something because of her relationship to a man (think of the standard response to gender based violence: "how would you feel if it were your mother/sister/wife/etc?"), the toxic masculinity that, in short, is tearing our society apart.

So yes, men are trash. But we don't have to be. We can be better. It's time we started.

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Column by Conor Engelbrecht

The views expressed herein are those of the columnist and do not necessarily reflect the views of Portal Publishing.

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