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

Cape Argus - - METRO - A spe­cial thank you to Lau­ren Oc­to­ber for pro­vid­ing the con­tent. Oc­to­ber is a re­searcher at the Safety and Vi­o­lence Ini­tia­tive. Edited by Giselle War­ton, re­searcher at the Safety and Vi­o­lence Ini­tia­tive (SaVI).

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.

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