CityPress - - Voices - Mbuyiselo Botha voices@ city­press. co. za

I’ve of­ten won­dered about the ef­fect of men not openly show­ing emo­tional vul­ner­a­bil­ity. What does that do to us, and to those we love? The re­cent case of Pres­i­dent Barack Obama show­ing his emo­tion in pub­lic when he spoke about the de­struc­tive ef­fect of guns on US so­ci­ety brought this is­sue into sharp fo­cus for me. Here was the pres­i­dent of a lead­ing na­tion, a man ex­pected to be stoic, strong and not emo­tional, openly shed­ding tears about the loss of life as a re­sult of guns as he ex­pressed his frus­tra­tion with why Amer­ica can’t come to grips with the chal­lenge of gun con­trol.

I’ve of­ten felt this same frus­tra­tion with re­gard to the preva­lence of guns in South African so­ci­ety and their use by men to kill women. When Obama showed how he felt about guns, it made me re­flect on how we, as men in South Africa, also use guns to re­solve our dif­fer­ences, and threaten and prey on other mem­bers of so­ci­ety. The hor­ror of this of­ten brings me to tears. See­ing Obama cry al­lowed me to cry.

A na­tional study has found that more than 57% of all women mur­dered in South Africa were killed by their hus­bands or boyfriends, not by strangers. This is called in­ti­mate part­ner vi­o­lence, some­times also re­ferred to as femi­cide. In many cases, the women are killed by men with guns.

If such men had been taught that vi­o­lence is not an op­tion, what would have hap­pened? How many vul­ner­a­ble peo­ple, in­clud­ing women and chil­dren, could have been saved from un­nec­es­sary and vi­o­lent deaths?

Pres­i­dent Obama’s frank­ness about how he felt emo­tion­ally led me to won­der why it is that we, as a so­ci­ety, have not found in our­selves the will­ing­ness to val­i­date and af­firm men who openly cry, or men who can say: “I don’t have the an­swers; I am over­whelmed; I am vul­ner­a­ble; I am emo­tion­ally strained.” We la­bel such men “sissies”, “un­manly”, “weak” and “pa­thetic”. What would hap­pen if we al­lowed men to share their sad­ness, fears, an­guish, in­se­cu­ri­ties and frus­tra­tions with­out be­ing la­belled in this way?

From early child­hood, we al­low so­cial script­ing to de­fine how we raise boys and girls. Boys are forced to sup­press their emo­tions and make a false show of strength – they are not al­lowed to cry or show their feel­ings or af­fec­tions. Boys are taught to be in com­mand; in con­trol; to be the providers; the pro­tec­tors. Then we say to the girls: be fol­low­ers; be obe­di­ent; speak in mea­sured tones; show re­spect; sub­mit.

We have forged a cul­ture through which those who com­ply with the script are re­warded and those who go off script are pun­ished. For boys, com­ply­ing means be­ing vi­o­lent, con­trol­ling and in­tol­er­ant. For girls, com­ply­ing means ac­cept­ing vi­o­lence, in­jus­tice and a lesser value in so­ci­ety.

What is the pun­ish­ment for men who live their lives out­side the so­cial script? They are os­tracised, marginalised, called names, and phys­i­cally and sex­u­ally vi­o­lated. What is the pun­ish­ment for a woman who re­jects the so­cial script? She is con­sid­ered less of a woman, dis­re­spect­ful, ar­ro­gant and in need of phys­i­cal pun­ish­ment, in­clud­ing sex­ual as­sault to “put her in her place”. For les­bian, gay, bi­sex­ual, trans­gen­der and in­ter­sex peo­ple, the pun­ish­ments are more ex­treme.

The script en­cour­ages and al­lows men to be­have ag­gres­sively and vi­o­lently, and they use the script as an ex­cuse to en­gage in do­mes­tic vi­o­lence, and al­co­hol and drug abuse, as an out­let for their un­re­solved emo­tional wounds and pain.

Is this re­ally what we want to teach our chil­dren and have as the ba­sis of our so­ci­ety? Do we re­ally want to stick to this script and keep re­peat­ing the hor­ror?

We need a rad­i­cal change be­cause the script de­nies us our full po­ten­tial to show love, com­pas­sion, kind­ness and sol­i­dar­ity with one an­other and our so­ci­ety.

What if we, as a so­ci­ety, when rais­ing boys, taught them to ex­press them­selves emo­tion­ally with­out fear? What if we en­cour­aged them to talk about their feel­ings with­out la­belling them less than men? Would this not only change ev­ery man’s fu­ture be­hav­iour, but also our will­ing­ness as a so­ci­ety to ac­cept such out­ra­geous lev­els of vi­o­lence in our homes and lives?

What if we, as a so­ci­ety, when rais­ing girls, taught them self-es­teem, con­fi­dence, as­sertive­ness, in­de­pen­dence and their true value to so­ci­ety? Would this not cre­ate a so­ci­ety that val­ues girls and women, and af­fords them equal op­por­tu­ni­ties and qual­ity of life? Would it not make for hap­pier homes and a more eq­ui­table so­ci­ety in which ev­ery­one is al­lowed to ex­press opin­ions and be val­ued as in­di­vid­u­als?

It is the shar­ing of our feel­ings and our emo­tions, which may be neg­a­tive, that helps those around us, be­cause we our­selves found help. As men, we are col­lec­tively vic­tims of toxic forms of mas­culin­ity that have stopped us from com­mu­ni­cat­ing within our fam­i­lies, which cause us to aban­don those we pro­fess to love and to in­stead en­gage in vi­o­lent and self­de­struc­tive be­hav­iours. I am more than con­vinced that when we be­gin to be truth­ful about how we feel as men, to ac­knowl­edge our feel­ings and seek help, we will re­duce the high lev­els of vi­o­lence to­wards women and chil­dren, and among our­selves. We should seek help as men to deal with our frus­tra­tions and an­guish, our sad­ness and anger, with­out re­sort­ing to vi­o­lence.

In­vest­ing in our emo­tional de­vel­op­ment is some­thing we should all do. It does not need to cost us money, just ef­fort and com­mit­ment. I ac­knowl­edge that it won’t be easy, and I’m also not so naive as to think that I can’t ap­pre­ci­ate the dam­age that years of so­cial con­struc­tion have done to the ma­jor­ity of us. We must, how­ever, have a start­ing point, where we draw the line and say: “Enough. I will not par­tic­i­pate in this any longer. I com­mit to tak­ing re­spon­si­bil­ity for my­self and my ac­tions. I will not close my eyes and look the other way any longer. Enough.”

We are all agents of change and our ac­tions are pow­er­ful. Have you had enough too? Botha is govern­ment and me­dia

li­ai­son spe­cial­ist at Sonke Gen­der Jus­tice and a

com­mis­sioner at the Com­mis­sion for Gen­der Equal­ity

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