Sunday, 3 March 2013

A Case for Male Consciousness?

South African Minister of Women, Children, and People with Disabilities, Lulu Xingwana, got herself into deep trouble by fingering Afrikaans males as tending towards family violence because of their Calvinist upbringing that makes them see women and children as property.

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
Add to this the attitude of our shower-head president, and we have a broad picture of one of the biggest failures of post-apartheid South Africa: the failure of feminism. No one has failed in this field more shamefully than the ANC Women’s League, an organisation with a proud history. When Jacob Zuma was revealed in his rape trial to have attitudes that, while not sufficient to convict him, indicated anything but a modern attitude to women, the silence was deafening. Outrage at comments by another party’s leaders falls a bit flat against this backdrop.

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.


Ely Hydes said...

I was poking around your blog. One thing: some of your sentences are really long, awkward, and laborious. Just some constructive criticism.


"Male supporters of feminism need a positive philosophy to work with."

I really think you're missing the mark. You say we (I'm a man) need a new philosophy that redefines our role in society. I'm left scratching my head because:

1.) feminism does exactly that. You don't have to go back and readdress something that's already being changed by definition. It would be like Tycho Brahae going back and redoing his work to show that despite Copernicus's calulations on a the geocentric universe being completely assinine, the planets could revolve around the sun while the earth does not, and that still explains SOME of the star movement patterns we see. --to which the world would say, uhh, ok, Tycho. Thanks for that. Now shut up. Nick, what were you saying? Copernicus changed astronomy and Tyhcho Brahae along with it. They didn't have to respond.


2.) hinting at feminism being a negative philosophy for men is really backwards. Sure, we've lost power. We needed to. That's not necessarily a negative. People can hind behind phrases like "probably physically stronger," or "probably more emotional," but come on. I want a partner and an equal. That's not negative because I lost a slave.

And why are white people so quick to notice reverse racism? My impression of white south africans was very bad when I lived there for 2 years. This "outrage" doesn't help.

Ely Hydes said...

You monitor your comments?

Constructive criticism #2--that is lame.

Philip Machanick said...

Hi Ely

I am not talking about “reverse racism”. What I am talking about is making the problem specific to calvinists. Anti-feminist attitudes are rife across the whole of our society here.

One of the problems we have in South Africa is the leading feminist organizations have seriously given up on their mandate. What am I to do in this situation? The ANC Women’s League for example wouldn’t welcome me applying for membership and telling them they have to stand up to their party leader.

I’m not sure what your second comment is referring to.

Sometimes I take a while to get around to moderating because most of my articles only attract comments soon after posting.