She made two serious errors: painting all Afrikaners with the same brush, and assuming that the error is specific to Afrikaans males.
Many Afrikaners have transcended this sort of pseudo-conservative upbringing and behave like modern humans. But it is also true that this sort of attitude persists, not only among those with an Afrikaans Calvinist upbringing. Extraordinary levels of violence against women and children in South Africa and many other parts of the world testify to a broadly sick society.
Here in the Eastern Cape, I’ve encountered the following attitudes:
- Xhosa culture requires that a woman satisfy her husband; if she cannot, he’s entitled to seek an additional wife (this from an AIDS counsellor delivering a workshop to public health department staff)
- a mother of a disabled child, concerned that she cannot look after that child adequately, decides not to have any more and is told she’s selfish
- a mother battling to cope with her children’s needs as well as look after the house has an unemployed husband, who sees no obligation to help out in the home
The worrying thing for me in all this is not only that we have dropped the ball on women’s rights, but that the role of males in society is demeaned by the notion that they have no obligation in the family, and they only make demands of women, and give nothing back.
Claiming this is all “traditional culture” and therefore not open to question is BS of the highest order. Western society also used to have attitudes we no longer accept in modern society, including racism, slavery and – yes – relegating women and children to a role little above chattels. I am also not convinced that the attitudes encountered today are really traditions, but rather evidence of the breakdown of traditions. But in any case, we have the option, with a world-class human rights-based constitution, to do better.
So what can we do better?
First, I would like to see a revitalised women’s movement. Whether the ANC Women’s League is up to the task I don’t know, but if they aren’t, someone else should pick up the baton.
Second, while it is possible for males to be feminists, I would like to see a movement to emphasise the positive role of males in society – a complement to feminism, with the obvious name of masculism. Unfortunately that term already exists as a label that carries some connotations that don’t quite fit the philosophy I advocate, including opposition to feminism, so I propose instead a movement called male consciousness. As with feminism, the emphasis would be on equal rights, with a focus on how to reform the male role in society and individual power relations. We should acknowledge the real differences between male and female roles that are physiologically defined – who carries the baby, who is likely to be physically stronger – while striving for political and social equality. By contrast with some interpretations of masculism, there is no requirement to oppose feminism: the idea is to arrive at a new social contract that accepts feminism, and redefines the male role in a way compatible with women’s rights. More positively, male consciousness defines a male role that includes full membership of and responsibility for family, and recognition that the male role in society should be the same as the female role wherever practically possible, and complementary where not.
Feminism is a reaction to male domination. Male supporters of feminism need a positive philosophy to work with, and we need a positive philosophy to replace “traditional” values that are out of place in a human rights-based society. What I have here is a starting point for defining such a philosophy – let us take it forward from here and fill in the details.