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The vast footprint of toxic masculinity

“Violent masculinities create a public consciousness in which violence is not just acceptable and justified, but also natural and desirable.” Pumla Dineo Gxola

At a political rally in 2018/19, a local opposition politician, while campaigning in an area particularly gripped with high numbers of sexual gender based violence, rape and child molestation, when addressing his opponent’s dangerous relationships with Western and Eastern economies used a shocking analogy to which not many batted an eyelid.

He likened the president’s dangerous affiliations to a woman who goes out for a good time, without money, enjoys drinking on a man’s account (the man having willfully offered), and decides she does not want to sleep with him, as a reward or payment for the drinks, and when the man rapes her, she takes issue with it - suggesting that in that instance she shouldn’t because “she asked for it” by accepting the drinks.

This distasteful analogy, presented in this way, in a campaign, dangerously positions violence, aggression and male entitlement, as things which can, and should be understood under certain circumstances, and which, under said circumstances, are acceptable. It glorifies violences in much a similar manner to when a man has killed a woman, it is explained away as a crime of passion, dissected further and excused because “o mo diile” (she wasted his time) or “he invested in her”.

In our society, we’ve seen it at the station when a woman wears shorts or a mini-skirt, and is subjected to violence and harassment on the basis of what she is wearing, and the narrative moves from the problematic violence, shifting ever so cleverly to women being temptresses, assuming, in a pervasive way, that men are unable to control their “primitive” instincts and inclinations and therefore women should take care not to arouse them. It is also visible in our social commentary on social media, when a transgender person, at a club in Mogoditshane, is beaten to a pulp by all and sundry, for being drunk, a state by the way, that Batswana enjoy to be in. It also shows up in our opinions about a taxi driver lover who kills his girlfriend for being with another man, and the most prevalent commentary is that she asked for it, for autonomously opting out of monogamy.

Molepolole, which in recent months, has come out as a site for killings of women, this state inviting commentary which diminish the violences inflicted on women’s bodies, carelessly reducing them to jokes about Molepolole and its current state, is also a place where we see it.

It would seem that many have come to embrace masculinity or maleness as synonymous with aggression, misogyny and homophobia. This narrowly suggests that maleness or manhood is acquirable mainly, through the contingency of violence, and that in that context, where a man is “being a man”, he will be aggressive in

the negative connotation of the word. It is glamourized and  glorified through turning it into jokes, or celebrating it and styling it as satisfactory. Sometimes, we fail to even see or relate to violence as violence, but rather as a way of being. This is incorporated in how we communicate, how we engage and what we seek out. Perhaps there is something to be said here about the comfort we have, in collectively enjoying and celebrating the ‘godfathers’ of action, amongst them Schwarzenegger, Jackie Chan, Jean Claude Van Dame, Chuck Norris, Steven Seagal, massacring people, and it being acceptable because it is for a good cause, the good cause being vengeance, for one thing of the other.

There has to be something inherently problematic with our childhood (ans sometimes even in our adulthood) obsessions with pro-wrestling as a pseudo-sport. Of course this is not to say violence stems from watching action films and WWE.

However where we are unable to even be in the same room as your parents when a kissing scene comes on the screen, but we can all praise Will Smith for that glorious punch, it speaks volumes to how some of the masculinities in our society are toxic. This toxicity, as illustrated above, is often harmful to women, less masculine men, transgender persons or anybody who does not subscribe to it or is unlike it.

The two pillars on which toxic masculinity is premised are sexual conquest and violence.

These qualities are regaled as manly and morally righteous in men.

The fact that there will be no consequences for toxicity in many instances, and that anyone who speaks against it is the one perceived as problematic for standing at a juxtaposition with what society believes and accepts as normal is evidence that we are really sick. Through the creating of a culture which equates masculinity with the expression of physical power, its no wonder that those whose entitlement is questioned, feel the need to communicate it against those who question it. 

This is all to say, we have a responsibility, as a society to decide what masculinity looks like, and what makes it acceptable, or what components of it are acceptable. In forming ideas about gender, we have to stop encouraging the flawed idea that the one way of being a man, is by being toxic, and by dominating men or anyone who is not, in their maleness, aggressive. This heightens the stakes of this conversation. When a politician, in an effort to demean another politician, normalizes rape; when we accept the justification of killing women and ostracizing trans-persons; when we equate the attainment of masculinity to violent measures, we fail ourselves and each other in the most toxic ways.

There Are No Others

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Mr. Kennafela. What prompted you to be a politician?

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