Melanie Judge
Melanie Judge

We need to ‘man down’

On the eve of 16 days of activism for no violence against women, Percy Mabandu got his knickers — sorry, XXL boxers — in a knot. “Manhood is under attack”, was the gist of his protestations in his column (“Why give macho men such a hard time?”). He lamented that masculinity — well, the kind that doesn’t use hand lotion or wear pink — is no longer publicly celebrated.

It’s the all-brawn, fighter alpha-male that Mabandu seems to relish. But why should masculinity be the sole preserve of this form of “manliness”? After all, masculinity is expressed in diverse and multiple ways. We need more — not less — space for men who reject the constraints of Mabandu’s macho man. Often these alternative masculinities are bullied or bashed by those who claim the “real man” ideal. Gender non-conforming (ie masculine-identified) lesbians are frequently targeted for verbal and physical attack.

The social message to “man up” keeps gender power relations intact. Moreover, the entitlements of macho manhood thwart women’s capacity to exercise power in ways not limited by patriarchal pressures. Men sometimes violate and kill women and other “lesser” men to prop up sexual and gender hierarchies.

For as long as women and men’s lives are policed by the terms of masculinity that Mabandu defends, gender violence will be the order of the day.

To change the conditions that produce this violence, men need to seriously “man down”. If males let go of their gender status and the dividends it carries, they might just discover a bouquet of new possibilities of being in the world.

Undoing the legacies of apartheid means disrupting the powers and privileges that come with our race, gender, sexuality, class, or a combination of these. The comfort zone of machismo should be no exception.

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    • Y.O.

      Couldn’t agree more. Hegemonic ideals of masculinity invariably connote unfair power relations in favour of the male, which manifest through control of the purse strings, misogyny and violence in various forms. The very notion of “wearing the pants” must be abolished, as it reifies the idea of equating masculinity with dominance.

      And, yes. I’m male.

      The problem is: how to convince/force us privileged beings to jettison our unearned status? It is a source of so much capital.

    • Peter

      What on earth has the ‘legacy of apartheid’ got to do with this, or is it once again the requisite PC? Machismo is to be found in all races, classes and cultures, just look around.

    • Stephen Browne

      Preach it. I’ve never understood why the “all-brawn, fighter alpha-male” type you refer to feels the need to constantly be dominant, usually by virtue of slamming other people. Seems like the idea that one can be both ‘manly’ (in a general sort of tying knots and lifting heavy things way) and genuinely interested in gardening and babies comes as a massive shock to some.

      Am I giving in to this manly-man impulse if I get a kick out of quietly besting the macho-types at their own games? Especially after they’ve assumed I’m some sort of push-over because I don’t own a wife-beater.

    • Call for Honesty

      None of the voices that shout during the 16 days of activism calls for the simple solution: women have more than half the vote in South Africa and can easily vote out all the useless politicians. The activists do nothing to get women to reject those who simply make promises and then return to their main interest which is to enrich and empower themselves. Replace them with politicians that are honest, compassionate and principled!!!!!

      Every year I raise this same solution but these useless feminists keep babbling on about apartheid and totally ignore the solution that is in front of their very eyes.

    • Momma Cyndi

      The irony is that when men ‘manned up’, we didn’t have babies being raped, girls who had more chance of being raped than learning to read or the other horrors we have today.

      I had not read the piece before today but I find myself in agreement with Mabandu. Why is masculinity and being a decent human being exclusive?

      If you want to meet the sweetest, most gallant, non aggressive and respectful men, go to a fight gym. Chose a boxing gym or a full contact marshal arts gym. Then there are those scary tattoo’d bikers from BACA who are just the most marvelous people on earth.

      Why can’t we just accept each other for who we authentically are instead of always trying to cram people into a precast mold?

    • J.J.

      Ms Judge, you make a good point, but we also need to honestly look at the part that women play in this (albeit not necessarily consciously) and that is that women are often attracted to these macho types. This does affect the willingness of a man to become less macho… Quite the opposite. Just saying. Maybe women should adjust what they consider to be attractive and (also) start looking more at the intrinsic value of a man.

    • thapelo

      hahahaha…this is funny because a white older female told me to “man up”. I’m a young black male.

    • J.J.

      @ Peter #

      Machismo is also to be found amongst women nowadays. (A lot).

      @ thapelo #

      That’s why a woman has no problem to tell a man to “man-up!”.

      (She’s more of a man..).

    • J.J.

      thapelo #

      Let me just add, that it’s highly insulting to say that to a man.

    • B

      JJ, I don’t get why men feel the need to blame women for things they do. Men who are macho choose to be macho because they like the look, not because some woman made him do it.

      I agree being a man is more than just muscle or beating people down. Men should read the bible to get what being a men is all about. The bible says men must be to woman (and children) what Jesus is to the church, and I honestly think that says it all.

    • J.J.

      B #

      “Men who are macho choose to be macho because they like the look, not because some woman made him do it.”

      It get’s attention from the ladies (cm’on, just because of “the look”, riiight…). In light of that, who wouldn’t want to be “macho”? I

      Just not sure who exactly is supposed to be attracted to the macho ladies…(?)

    • J.J.

      @ B

      Mmmm, but women seem to have a particular attraction for the “bad boy” types. This is commonly known.

    • J.J.

      @ Y.O.

      “Hegemonic ideals of masculinity…”

      Men are BY NATURE masculine. They are BY NATURE physically stronger and more aggressively competitive – by nature – so they inevitably end up more often than women in positions of power. (This is only a “conspiracy” if we had to agree that nature itself conspired against women…) This will only stop happening if men tone down their masculinity purposefully and consciously – which would go against their own nature. Masculinity automatically ends up in forms of dominance – we might not be comfortable with this – or it may be inconvenient in this day and age (for some), BUT we have to deal with nature – someway, somehow. We have arrived at an age of major GENDER CONFUSION and GENDER ROLE CONFUSION – because we are trying to OVERRIDE NATURE….

      “…how to convince/force us privileged beings to jettison our unearned status?”

      The “status” is only “unearned” if nature never intended for men to have masculinity which naturally leads to forms of dominance. We are only “privileged” if we are indeed privileged – in other words if men don’t have to pay a price for this “privelage” – the price being much harder lives for men than for women – why do you think the life expectancy of men is lower than that for women in almost every country in the world?

      Spin it any way you like, but we cant ignore nature.

    • Momma Cyndi


      You are once again filing people like paper. Why does there have to be a “role” for each? The best chefs in the world are men. I can probably lay bricks better than you can. Where does that leave your little filing system now?

      Why can people not just be who they are? I know of girls who get into a fight ring and challenge themselves because they want to. I know men who wouldn’t know the bumper from the exhaust on a car because they are not interested. Is it really fair to file people by colour, sex, religion, language, career, etc? That is just so Verwoerd!

    • J.J.

      “I can probably lay bricks better than you can.”

      Probably, but will you – as a full-time job? I have worked extensively in building construction and related fields (internationally) amongst others.

      My generalisations (which I admit to) are generally true.

      “Why can people not just be who they are?”

      I’m not against people being who they are. Quite to the contrary. I’m pointing out that a lot of people are (potentially) being coerced by gender movements to be who they are not (through peer-pressure, etc)

      I am a traditionalist yes, but not at all as conservative as you might imagine – you need to read between the lines of some of what I’m saying – not only on this thread, but on others too.

      For example:

    • J.J.


      I just found a document exploring why men and women tend to choose different jobs according to gender – it looks very in-depth – I haven’t read all of it, but this is clearly a complex subject. From what I can see this study only deals with white collar jobs, so does not factor in physical differences (in physical endurance, for example) between men and women (we can come to logical conclusions about that). Nonetheless, should give some indications.


      “We find support for H3A, that women are less likely
      to identify with jobs that are stereotypically masculine.”

      “The results (Model 6) confirm that women are indeed more
      likely to apply to the kinds of jobs that already employ
      a higher proportion of women.”

      “Gender shapes how people see themselves,
      interact with others, and make sense of the world
      (Ridgeway and Correll 2000), often deterring them from
      engaging in situations that conflict with their gender
      identity (Niedenthal et al. 1985, Stangor et al. 1992).
      Jobs are often perceived as highly gendered, creating
      potential conflicts between those jobs and workers’ gen-
      dered identities”.

      “These findings suggest that
      anticipated work–life balance may have a stronger effect
      on job choices of women who either have children or
      anticipate having children.”

      Study Link (pdf)