Gcobani Qambela
Gcobani Qambela

The role of men during #16Days

*Trigger warning

I was shocked to see a tweet by controversial South African blogger Sentletse Diakanyo on the first day of 16 Days of Activism against gender-based violence in South Africa. In the tweet Diakanyo says that: “We must not ignore the slaughter of unborn babies during this 16 Days of Activism.” He went on to have more tirades about how “life begins at conception” and that even if women conceived children under “violent circumstances” it’s still unacceptable for women to “slaughter” “innocent life”. His main premise being that during 16 Days women should not look at gender-based violence but also at murder women commit to “unborn babies”. He further likens abortion to rape and says both should be “equally condemned” as they are “criminal”.

tweet

What triggered me as I read these tweets was not the inaccuracy of the statements made by Diakanyo but the extent to which he successfully managed to derail the conversation from 16 Days to a conversation where many people had to move from sharing about gender-based violence to correcting the misinformation he was sharing. Yes, scientific evidence indicates that life does begin at conception, but personhood/humanness only begins after birth. So, in fact, women are not slaughtering babies when they terminate pregnancy. Yet Diakanyo concludes “we will condemn criminal acts [of abortion] regardless of what feminists think”. This is despite the fact that abortion is legal in South Africa.

Many people have noted that Diakanyo gets pleasure from triggering and making others angry, especially if they respond to his ignorance. This is what has made writing this post difficult as I wondered: How do I respond to this bigotry without giving so much meaning to the patriarchal garbage spewed by Diakanyo? I further thought: What is my role as a man living in a violently patriarchal society like South Africa? And lastly I wondered: What is my role during this 16 Days campaign?

In the chapter “Is Paris Burning”, African-American feminist and cultural critic bell hooks notes that many heterosexual identifying black men living in white supremacist cultures like the United States (and South Africa I would argue) always behave as if the primary “evil” of racism is the “refusal of the dominant culture to allow them full access to patriarchal power” and hence they continue to exhibit “a phallic misogynist masculinity [that is] rooted in contempt for the female”. This is the way I choose to read Diakanyo. In many of his writings Diakanyo appears to challenge white supremacy and white capitalistic forces in South Africa and globally, and yet instances like these show us that he is not driven by an attachment to justice and overcoming global systems of oppression but a concern with having what white patriarchal men have in South Africa. This is not only in reference to economic power and material ownership but also the full patriarchal dividend that will allow him full ownership and control of the female body.

Diakanyo’s remarks in South Africa are part of a larger societal project of patriarchal men who want to demonstrate their phallic power by waging war on the bodies of women and all that is “feminine”, which as hooks notes includes also gay men (and the larger LGBTIQA community). It is not a coincidence that Diakanyo chose the 16 Days to express his misinformed opinion on abortion, rape and the bodies of women. It is his way of disrupting a conversation about patriarchal male violence into one that not only blames women for exercising their constitutionally given right to bodily integrity and reproductive choice but one that places women’s bodies at the centre of the patriarchal male blame.

In her article “How the ‘cult of femininity’ and violent masculinities support endemic gender-based violence in contemporary South Africa” Pumla Gqola has argued correctly that “discourses of gender in the South African public sphere are very conservative in the main” because “they exist very comfortably alongside overwhelming evidence that South African women are not empowered as is evidenced by the rape and other gender-based violence statistics, the rampant sexual harassment at work and public spaces and relentless circulation of misogynist imagery, metaphors and language”.

So what should be the role of men during the 16 Days campaign? There are many well-documented problems with the concept of 16 Days because many argue it should be throughout the year. I agree with this view. But this does not mean I do not recognise its importance. I live in a country where a woman has more chances of being raped than learning to read. So if women get 16 Days in a year where they can tell their stories and activism without the threat of violence, our responsibility as men should be to listen. When we talk it should be to help elevate the voices and agency of women and not silence them like Diakanyo has done.

I really think Diakanyo’s tweets are worth reporting to the South African Human Rights Commission. In South Africa while freedom of expression is a constitutional right, this right is limited in that it should not be exercised in a manner that unjustifiably limits the rights of others. Diakanyo is limiting the rights of women by intentionally spreading incomplete information to limit women’s right to bodily integrity during a time when women are meant to enjoy freedom from patriarchal male body policing. It’s unacceptable!

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    • Momma Cyndi

      Have you ever noticed that anti-abortion lobbyists (world wide) tend to be men? It puts me in mind of that SNL skit about how, if men were the ones who got pregnant, there would be more abortion clinics than Starbucks and there would be at least one in every airport.

      16 days of activism is a joke. It isn’t working. How about a year of activism against ANY form of violence? Women and children are the weaker prey so you really can’t expect us to NOT catch the flack from the general violence.

    • http://www.africafatherhood.co.,za Trevor Davies

      He had heard her say, so many times, that a society that approved of making abortion illegal was a society that approved of violence against women; that making abortion illegal was simply a sanctimonious, self-righteous form of violence against women- it was just another way of legalizing violence against women, Nurse Caroline would say.
      (John Irving, “The Cider House Rules”)

    • Joseph Coates

      Let’s skip away from the topic and concentrate on the latest victim a 6 week old
      baby recently raped that was admitted to Kimberley Hospital (27 November 2013). What I would like to know when is this heinous crime going to stop and how are the authorities going to prevent future crimes of this nature from happening.
      The emotional trauma the mother has to bear must be horrific. Strangely enough, when you read of similar cases, the mother at times , depending on the nature of the circumstances, is usually blamed for negligence. In this particular case, not so.
      Sincerely hope the perpetrator gets life and is castrated when caught and trailed.
      Enough is enough.

    • http://www.benedicklouw.blogspot.comw Benedick Louw

      !st @ GCOBANI QAMBELA. To insinuate “that life does begin at conception, but personhood/humanness only begins after birth” defies both the biological and psychological processes that already manifests with the initial conception and development of the fetus as the confirmation of countless studies to this fact can attest. I am not against abortion but undertaking the route of abortion, truth ought to be told to the expected abortionists. Manier a time we tend to dramatize the issue, sensationalize the vulnerability of women founding themselves in such a situation that we loose perspective and instead exacerbate the the situation to the extend of those such as the Diakanyo ilk.

      2nd @ Joseph Coates, to practice wishful thinking in that “when is this heinous crime going to stop and how are the authorities going to prevent future crimes of this nature from happening” tells of a citizen who is cloaked up to the “manna from heaven” dogma. Even with all the water tight security force, robust and responsive “authorities” this is bound to happen unless of course the social mores are repaired through multi-sectoral approaches instead of just the one dimensional often offered in the face of hopelessness to “authorities” to help. Without being dramatic, but pertinent questions such as why blacks, statistically, are more prone to abuse or be abused compared to their White counterparts?

    • Benru

      The Tremendous increase in sexual violence against children and woman might just be due to a over sexualized society that we have created through the world wide media.
      *Advertising companies have all jumped on the bandwagon of using the women’s body as a tool to promote their products.
      *Children at a young age are bombarded from “life skill” education to the internet with the need to be sexy in order to be accepted and loved.
      *Pornography is Progressively addictive with the need to go deeper and exploring many forms of sexual gratification.
      *We even went as far as allowing pornography to be broadcasted on national television.
      *We have made human sexuality cheap, that is why women feel like they are sexual objects.

      *

    • Baz

      @ Benedick Louw, personally ,think Joseph Coates is entitled to voice his opinion and no way is he being ‘cloaked up with manna from heaven dogma’ as you related in your comment !
      @ Benru….well said , you have a few valid pionts here.

    • Baz

      @ benru….points, typing error…pushed for time.