Role that masculinity plays in violent societies
Toxic masculinity is where the notions of what it means to be a man leads to dire consequences
THIS article is an edited version of the one by the Safety and Violence Initiative and initially published on the website of SaferSpaces.
WHEN attempting to discover the reasons for violence in societies, it has been found that young males are predominantly the perpetrators, as well as the victims of violence. This has led to much research being done regarding men, masculinities and violence.
In many studies, young men have identified violence as a way to display power and to prove their masculinity.
Among youth in South Africa there is also a prevalent need for young men to control women in intimate relationships because this is considered essential in affirming their masculinity.
Therefore, it is important to gain a comprehensive understanding of the role that masculinity plays in creating violent societies.
Masculinity is not a natural occurrence, but is a collective gender identity that has been socially constructed.
Common notions of the ideal man include that he is physically strong, defends and sticks to his strong opinions; he takes part in masculine activities like sports and drinking; that he is sexually virulent; and he is successful in everything that he attempts.
Toxic masculinity is where the notions and ideals of what it means to be a man lead to dire consequences. Most masculinities are bound together by their domination of women (Morrell, 1998), and toxic masculinity is one of the major reasons for gender-based violence. Toxic masculinity is where all of the above norms of masculinity as violent, unemotional and sexually aggressive has a harmful impact.
Many factors contribute to the emergence of toxic masculinity, including the temperament and character of the individual in question. There are numerous possibilities for why toxic masculinity occurs, but the three that will be focused on in the case of South Africa are: family structure, socialisation and changing gender roles. Family structure
Apartheid left South Africa with an unusual pattern of family structure. Nearly half of all households are female headed.
By 2002, the proportion of children with absent (living) fathers had jumped to 46%. This had major implications for poverty, as the one-parent homes and those headed by women are the poorest families. Relatedly, South Africa has high levels of violence. This is likely due to the sense of powerlessness and aggression that comes with poverty, as well as the hyper-masculinity that emerged as a means to overcompensate for the lack of masculine training that boys are missing from their absent fathers (Morrell, Jewkes, & Lindegger, 2012).
Boys are often socialised into believing they should be the leaders. Even schools are implicitly subscribing to and endorsing hegemonic versions of masculinity, emphasising specific-gender roles where boys do not need to be emotionally healthy. Many schools avoid emotional responsibility and discourage empathetic, compassionate and nurturing behaviours in favour of heavy-handed discipline and control (Kenway & Fitzclarence, 1997).
Society does not encourage boys to talk. In the home, fathers are often emotionally absent, strict, less tolerant and less reasonable than mothers.
Fathers also find it difficult to talk about sex, HIV/Aids, condom usage and other risk-taking behaviours with their sons (Langa, 2010).
Boys therefore often have closed horizons when it comes to education about risky-behaviour, as well as self-reflection and reflection about society in general. From a young age, children are taught girls should “act like a lady” if they do something wrong; but if boys do something wrong it is shrugged off with the words “boys will be boys”.
However, it is not only in schools and at home where boys are socialised to believe in their own superiority: this message is being delivered through peer pressure, media, military influences, as well as political influences. Changing gender roles
There are, however, many social, economic and political changes that have occurred in the last fifty years, which challenge the notion of leadership that men have inherited.
These changes include the empowerment and liberty of women and men who are viewed as exhibiting non-hegemonic masculinities.
Young men are caught between what their parents, guardians and societal role models have taught them regarding their role as men, and the changes in gender relations prevailing in South Africa today (Kubeka, 2008). For many notions of masculinity, salaried employment and wealth may be used to perpetuate the subordination of women to men.
Therefore, excessive male violence and toxic masculinity is likely to be more common in countries with high unemployment and high levels of income inequality (Ratele, 2008).
Men who display toxic masculinity often avoid behaving in any manner that can be vaguely perceived as feminine, because they have a fear of femininity. Since being gay is stereotypically equated with being feminine, this fear is often expressed through homophobia. If men are afraid of being perceived as gay, they may overcompensate to prove they are straight.
They do not stand down if their dignity or manhood has been disrespected. They do not allow insults to their girlfriends or mothers to go unanswered. Adolescent boys who conform to traditional masculinity are less skilled at resolving conflict and their methods are generally characterised by high levels of aggression, withdrawal, denial-avoidance and low concern for the needs of others. They are also more likely to engage in conflicts related to status and dominance compared to girls. They tend to avoid conflict resolution strategies that are perceived as feminine. Masculinity is often internalised during adolescence, which causes boys to engage in more delinquent behaviour (Parsons, 1964).
This internalisation often carries over into adulthood where men are expected to be sturdy, independent, controlled, and unemotional, as well as to reveal no vulnerabilities. Internalised masculinity ensures that men see themselves as the caretakers of their wives and families, but that no one is supposed to take care of them and they are not supposed to rely on others. Domestic violence and control Because of the perceived mantle of leadership that men have been socialised into believing should be theirs alone, women are often seen as too empowered and not to be trusted.
The empowerment and liberation of women has made many men feel alienated and that they lack control in sexual relationships.
This perceived disempowerment of men along with societal changes, unemployment, poverty and low self-esteem has led to dominant masculinities characterised by large sexual networks, and in extreme cases, the need to gain more power over women (Ragnarsson, Townsend, Ekstrom, Chopra, & Thorson, 2010).
Research has shown it is invariably men who decide when, where and how to have sexual intercourse, as well as whether or not a woman should try to conceive, and whether or not condoms will be used. This need for control has resulted in many women being unable to protect themselves against STDs, pregnancy and unwelcome sexual acts (Wood & Jewkes, 1997). That men control condom usage means they are the ones who determine safer sexual behaviour and who significantly influence the HIV risk to both partners (Shai, Jewkes, Nduna, & Dunkle, 2012). Men
Femininity is seen as belonging to the private realm, and masculinity to the public realm. When those arrangements are threatened, it justifies restricting the movement/freedom of women and violence used against them.
A patriarchal cultural system of indoctrination in South Africa has also created socialised gendered notions of male power and control, where violence is used to affirm masculinity. In this system, women are taught to be submissive to victimisation and men are taught to be dominant and abusive. Sexual violence
Assault and rape are regular features of relationships in townships. This is due to the unequal power relations between women and men.
The links between toxic masculinity and rape have been discussed by many as being caused by the male need for power, control, dominance, and misogyny by punishing women for emasculating them.
However, something often overlooked and disregarded in society as a consequence of toxic masculinity is male rape. It is severely under reported because vulnerability is constructed within gendered notions of femininity. Many male victims are too embarrassed to report their rapes because being victimised is perceived as a sign of femininity, and thus demolishes their claim to manhood. By negating the victim’s masculinity, the violence affirms the masculinity of the perpetrator. The sense of demolished masculinity and imposed “womanhood” is central to the immense stigma and shame that keeps most victims suffering in silence (Gear, 2007).
Towards a framework of positive masculinity
Too often the focus on intervention programmes has been focused on women and how they can protect themselves from violence and take control of their sex lives.
However, it has been found that men are usually the ones who dictate the timing of sex and the movements of women. Therefore, interventions to end gender-based violence need to involve men and boys, to help them change their attitudes and behaviours, and even renegotiate their social position and identity (Morrell et al, 2012).
There is a danger of NGOs neglecting work with men. However, focusing on interventions involving boys could significantly decrease many other forms of violence as well.
Some campaigns aimed at boys and men have been effective in terms of creating a new discourse regarding masculinities among men, while others have not been intricate enough to make a meaningful contribution towards a positive masculinity.
One example of a successful intervention was the Men Against Violence study by Hong (2000), where participants experienced meaningful changes in attitudes, beliefs and behaviours relative to normative gender expectations. In South Africa, interventions such as One Man Can, Men as Partners and Stepping Stones have demonstrated positive behaviour change among men and boys, but the determination to roll these programmes out at national level seems to be lacking (Shai et al, 2012).
The City of Cape Town has recently launched a Men and Masculinity initiative in Delft to help tackle gender-based violence. The need is to work with pre-adolescent children in developing alternative patterns of interpersonal interaction and reducing levels of violence.
Interventions should be conducted with a framework that includes addressing the vast inequalities and injustices in the lives of females. They must promote a culture of human rights. Multi-sectoral approaches that connect with the reality of rural people, the home, media, school and church is advocated (Sathiparsad, 2008).
Interventions should also be aimed at teaching boys and men different methods of resolving conflict that do not resort to notions of masculinity, violence, and pride.
THE empowerment and liberation of women has made many men feel alienated and that they lack control in sexual relationships. This perceived disempowerment, with societal changes, has led to dominant masculinities, says the writer.