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The uncomfortable truth about white masculinity

Africa Check has published an article intimating that white women are more likely to die at the hands of their husbands, boyfriends and partners. This, and other research, directly challenges the notion of a “white genocide” carried out by “unknown black men”. Lisa Vetten, the researcher behind the article, along with journalist Nechama Brodie, Professor Naeema Abrahams of the Medical Research Council and Africa Check have been reported to the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) for daring to engage in research and writing which undoes the political rightwing’s scaremongering.

The complaint states this kind of research and writing advocates hate speech against white men and was lodged by singers-turned-activists Sunette Bridges and Steve Hofmeyr, along with the Federal Women’s Committee of the Freedom Front Plus (the irony of a women’s interest group fighting against the supposed discrimination of men shouldn’t be ignored). Unfortunately, this complaint highlights the failure of white men – in particular – to engage with the negative aspects of their masculinity.

White masculinity is an uncomfortable truth that we don’t want to address. We don’t want to address the misogyny and violence at the core of our collective culture. It is an uncomfortable truth that exists in the actions of the Waterkloof Four, serves as the foundation for the state’s case against Oscar Pistorius and can be found in countless other examples of white masculinity gone wrong.

This uncomfortable truth is perpetuated by a culture of conservatism in the home, school, church and at university, delayed transformation and failed introspection. This complaint to the SAHRC is also predicated on this failed introspection; a failure to engage with what it means to be a man, and why men behave the way they do. This whole complaint is centred on the existence of an other (“unknown black men”). By turning our attention to an other, white men can excuse themselves from the problem of misogyny and sexism.

I do not mean to assert that we should ignore the violence against women committed by all types of South Africans. On the contrary, sexism, misogyny and violence are everywhere and must be tackled. But white men are conveniently pretending the problem doesn’t exist in their own communities and cultures, and where it does, they’re blaming it on the other. This kind of self-serving arrogance does nothing to assist in actually tackling gender equality. It only serves to make white men feel comfortable about the way they treat women and love their partners and children.

The complainants in the matter above seem to think that the research and publication of evidence about intimate femicide committed by men (including white men) is degrading to our country’s white men. This seems to suggest that not only must white men be made to feel comfortable about the negative aspects of their masculinity, but they should never be confronted with the uncomfortable truth about their behaviour and modes of thinking either.

It is problematic – and startlingly racist – that people are promoting the notion that white men are less likely to hate women or engage in acts of hatred against women. This is another example of self-serving arrogance that seeks to promote the interests of white men – who must not be challenged lest we hurt their feelings.

The truth is, white men hurt, rape and kill women too. White South African men are shaped and scarred by a history of violence and conformity; theirs is a history of the border war and the endless propaganda and conservatism of the apartheid regime. These stories and mind-sets are passed from father to son, compounded by a society affected by crime. South African men have all been touched by violence in one way or another, and we’ve all been party to the continued discrimination against difference – feminine or otherwise.

White masculinity is a part of the problem, not a solution to it. This masculinity is complicit in the disgusting violence women (and others, such as LGBTI individuals) are subjected to in this country. Systematic denial of sexism and misogyny in white communities is an insult to all women – especially the white women who are forced to love and live with it.


  • Thorne Godinho has been a struggling freelance writer, blogger and editor for years. He completed his law degree at the University of Pretoria, and is embarking on an LLM focusing on the intersection between law and democracy at the University of Cape Town where he is a Claude Leon Scholar in Constitutional Governance. Thorne is a committed social liberal. He writes in his personal capacity. Follow him on twitter: @ThorneGo.


  1. JvNk JvNk 20 April 2014

    “The truth is, white men hurt, rape and kill women too.” Dead right, but stating the obvious.

    So do white women, teachers for example, also commit rape against boys. Mariette Bosch, another South African white women, was executed in Botswana for murder.

    By dint of the so-called reasoning in the near-hysterical PC trash above, are we now to conclude that, say, Mariette Bosch’s femininity is also problematic?

    Why is the oh-so-PC author in denial about female aggression?

  2. White man White man 20 April 2014

    Well said, Thorne. I think there is a hegemonic white masculinity in South Africa which, as much as some of us reject it and try to construct alternative stories, is very powerful and is all the things you point out above.

  3. Cipher Cipher 20 April 2014

    Brave article. Now write an equally brave one about black men especially the political elite such as zuma being crude, sexist , chauvinist tribalists who view women as cattle. But it will take a bit more of that bravery.

  4. Fred Kruger Fred Kruger 20 April 2014

    ‘We don’t want to address the misogyny and violence at the core of our collective culture’ ???? Where on earth is your evidence of this core, Thorne, and whose culture do you claim as ‘ours”?

  5. Cam Cameron Cam Cameron 21 April 2014

    Harden up.

  6. zoo keeper zoo keeper 21 April 2014

    Masculinity is not the problem. Masculinity is actually a normal part of being a man.

    Deal with it.

    What drives someone to murder another is complex. Intimate homicide – it goes both ways – happens. Some people are incredibly insecure and prone to violent jealousy – why? That is real question.

    Unfortunately the writer wants to pigeonhole men who are proud to be men as bad people who will hurt those close to them. Absolute rubbish.

    The causes are unique to each individual perpetrator, and defy this blanket and frankly incoherent babble about “masculinity”.

    Women are not forced to love and live with anything. Women can leave any relationship which is doing them harm.

  7. Rameus Rameus 21 April 2014

    Brilliant piece Thorne. I can verify that a number of white women who I have been I personal contact with have been raped and abused by their partners and boyfriends… We need to continue to try to understand these acts of violence and how we as a society react to the further complication of challenging the white male tyranny, and as you rightly put it, their insistence on not being questioned about it!

  8. nguni nguni 21 April 2014

    Until little geeks like you acknowledge WHO is doing the farm murders ( tip: it’s not white men, they are the first to be tortured and killed in these ‘cultural interactions’) and admit they are more brutal than any other form of killing in this country, no one is interested in your opinion of white masculinity contributing to the white genocide. Get off your high PC horse and get the basics right first.

  9. Cipher Cipher 21 April 2014

    I have to agree that white men seem to be aggro by nature. In general the most friendly people to strangers are black ladies -they seem to love to connect. White men often seem hostile and ‘get out of my way and my space’. Why I don’t really know.

  10. Peter Peter 21 April 2014

    “White masculinity is a part of the problem, not a solution to it. This masculinity is complicit in the disgusting violence women (and others, such as LGBTI individuals) are subjected to in this country. Systematic denial of sexism and misogyny in white communities is an insult to all women – especially the white women who are forced to love and live with it”.

    This must be the ultimate in generalized ‘nonsense’ writing. Thorne Godinho, do you do this for a living or is it just a PC fantasy that comes to mind from time to time? Please speak for yourself, not “our” collective culture.

  11. Sean Sean 21 April 2014

    Perhaps you should gay white (or black) males and the fact that they are legendary amongst police and ambulance services for domestic violence.Serial killers such as John Wayne Gacy and Dahmer,Dennis Nielson and many more were gay.

  12. bernpm bernpm 21 April 2014

    “White masculinity is an uncomfortable truth that we don’t want to address.” ..and then follows the Waterkloof 4 and mr Pistorius to underwrite the statement.
    I did a brief research in my neighbourhood.
    3 white women and 2 coloured. None of them had been murdered by a white man. Are they at risk??
    Mr Hofmeyer should concentrate on his singing whih needs a little brushing up. Professor Naeema Abrahams of the Medical Research Council could rather concentrate on the needs in the health sector in SA. Reporting “year 1999 as a sample year, when an estimated 1349 women were killed by an intimate partner.”

    Compare this number with the people who died in road accidents! All caused by white male??

    Please mr Thorne, condentrate on your function “serves as the DA Youth’s federal media and publicity chair”. The youth might need your advise more than this report needs your comment.

  13. Alois Alois 21 April 2014

    Well glory be! There’s hope for humankind after all. This type of cultural self criticism is good for any social order. What was beautiful about the 60s in the US is that even the socially comfortable were questioning inherited cultural values — the them v us syndrome — whose time is up. What causes optimism for humankind is that Thorne is young and on the ascendency rather than the reverse.

    Yet someone else raised an equally important concern. That women themselves can so self examine. I personally believe, based on judicial observance in which women are brought to account for their transgressions, that given time, space, and circumstance Adolph Hitler might well have been a woman. Short of that, I expect that Nazi women were just as driven as Nazi men. Certainly from North America, we wouldn’t expect portraits to be drawn of KKK women as nurturing, caring, and loving. Lizzie Borden would never win the Nobel Peace Prize!

    So the question of cultural self examination is indeed a welcome sign and a continuation of that forward reaching introspection of the 60s. One thing to be careful of and that is that finger pointing — the gotcha moment — which is counterproductive in that it tends to back the accused against the wall. And we all know the results of that, don’t we? Props to Thorne for an article that might not usher in an era of good tidings but certainly a move in that direction.

  14. @nateiv_sa @nateiv_sa 21 April 2014


    I’ve seen lotta articles, most of them one sided, talking about tribalism, us black folks (and our level of emotional intelligence). Way slanted versions occasion ‘braai’ sessions, too.

    This article, on the other hand, is a breath of fresh air. Such tend to pique my parlour prejudices as well as I can’t help but remark, “…and this was written by a White writer?!”

    The author confronts some of the unsavoury tendencies within his own culture, instead of adding a footnote to the article you sort of agree with the author (off-handedly) then eagerly remind him about the other. Wow.

    As a black man, I’m more in a good position to replicate what Thorne has done. He may actually do a better job than me, but cultural, er, ‘nuances’ decree otherwise.

  15. KMFDM99 KMFDM99 21 April 2014

    I wonder, how does one develop such contempt for their race and gender? Self-loathing males have become increasingly common. This guy might want to stay away from feminist blogs.

  16. Neil Vels Neil Vels 22 April 2014

    Spot on, Thorne! As a theologian and minister I have a particular concern with theologies that promote a culture of conservative white masculinity – that the South African white male must stand up again and take his place in society (which usually means that the women should know hers as well). Sadly this is often presently as “biblical” and “Truth” and has become immensely popular in recent years as the white South African male has found himself under pressure from a changing society.

  17. michael michael 22 April 2014

    A feeble attempt full of generalizations.

  18. Lindsay Lindsay 22 April 2014

    well said!

  19. Mike Jones Mike Jones 22 April 2014

    Who helps you with your articles? Gillian Schutte?

  20. Grant Grant 22 April 2014

    I read your link and it simply states that Steve Hofmeyer’s assertion that white women are MORE likely to be killed by black men than white men is STATISTICALLY flawed and can therefore not be used to make this claim. This is not surprising in the least since Hofmeyers is a musician and a fear mongering conservative.

    Nowhere, I repeat, NOWHERE in that article does it state that white men kill more white women than black men or white men kill more white women than black men kill black women. It simply states that the opposite can’t be claimed from a 2% selective sample by a right wing fringe. In short it states nothing conclusive.

    What it goes on to say is that since women are MOST likely to be killed by their lovers, husbands or intimate partners and because South Africa is still very much pairing up on racial lines, white women are therefore most likely to be killed by white men and black women are most likely to be killed by black men.

    No rate of killing per capita per race is quoted. It is unknown whether a higher percentage of black women are killed by black men or white women by white men as a racial demographic. Anyone who has been in a pub after rugby or in a township in the 1980’s knows white men can be violent. This is not news.

    So, in short, after reading 2 articles we know nothing that we didn’t already know – all races of men commit violence against women and it should stop.

    Perhaps we also know that Steve Hofmeyer knows nothing about stats.

  21. Gerard Smit Gerard Smit 22 April 2014

    I can accept the research findings, but what is the author’s aim with mentioning the “border war”? Do wars make men violent towards women?

  22. Conrad Conrad 22 April 2014

    “Unfortunately, this complaint highlights the failure of white men – in particular – to engage with the negative aspects of their masculinity.”

    Really, from what corner of your brain do you dig out crude generalisations like this? How did you end up in a position to judge all white males (especially Afrikaner males the subtext would seem to indicate)? Simply because you happen to be a white male? And on what basis are you able to compare all white males with all black males? The piece is filled with superficial generalisations and assumptions, something which you seek to disguise with clever structuralisms, learned concepts like ‘othering’, and the like.

    If your objective was to move people to talk past oneanother, then you are being rather successful. Otherwise you are just muddying the water of already complicated discussions, while setting the table for various denialisms and resistance. In short, these ‘provocative’ pieces of yours just add to the pollution of perceptions achieved by various right wingers and government spin doctors.

  23. Gerry Gerry 22 April 2014

    Wow, generalise much? I’m white male, and will not apologise for it. If you see “white masculinity” as part of the problem, you engage in the same narrow-minded group-think as “black skins are part of the problem”.

    You want to make a point, I see the point you want to make, but in doing so you swing so far to the other side as to become racist and sexist in your own right.

  24. jaimes jaimes 22 April 2014

    @Fred Kruger – the evidence is linked to in the first paragraph, the entire article is about the evidence these researchers have collected about ‘intimate femicide’ in SA.

    The author may be drawing on his own opinion (it’s an opinion column), but is entirely in relation to the evidence collected.

    Which is shocking and should make us look hard at ourselves, rather than be defensive. That kind of bravery might help us get somewhere better in South Africa.

  25. RollPlayer RollPlayer 22 April 2014

    As far as I can tell, the charge sheet and sentence reads something like this:
    1. White men get away with a whole lot. This is wrong and we must MAKE white men accept their badness and sign them up for re-education camps.
    2. They are just as violent, misogynistic and chauvinistic as black men. No research or evidence required.
    3. White women are more at risk of physical violence from white men than black men. Take the word of women researchers at the SAHRC.
    4.White men are a distinct and homogenous social group, or maybe even class, where their maleness and whiteness is hereby defined as being the common base which supersedes and infuses with white maleness the mere cosmetic differences of class, age, education, language and all other possible characteristics that might make white men LOOK like the individuals they’re not.
    5. Some nutcase complaint filed by rightwingers is all the proof we need that all white men are all the same as those complainers. Case closed. Leave to appeal denied.
    6. Evidence in aggravation of sentence: Oscar, Jacob, Steve. No more proof required?
    7. Penance: White men must write blog posts that testify to their “engagement with their negative traits” (FFS), post “Write on, Sister!” under one Jezebel article per day, and be nice to girls and black people.
    8. How white males can be re-accepted: learn to use in conversation words like “patriarchy”, “traditional notions of sexuality”, “just like that baby, do that again”.

    Okay, not…

  26. Paul Kearney Paul Kearney 22 April 2014

    Just when I thought Pierre de Vos was the epitome of race based generalisation against white males along comes this pitiful “Thought”. No facts or even statistics in sight, Just some really stretched “evidence” (the Waterkloof whatever) and some thin opinions. I really hope this isn’t official DA policy or they seriously do not want or need my vote. More racist and sexist law I don’t need.

    I think a query to my local DA office is in order.

  27. Brianb Brianb 22 April 2014

    You seem to be making the same mistake in all your writings of stereo typing groups according to the actions or beliefs of fringe minorities according to your own views..

    No hint of solutions, just an offbeat litany of pseudo intellectual waffling.

  28. alexxzarr8 alexxzarr8 22 April 2014

    Stupidity, callousness, cruelty, selfishness, denial…these are a function of humanity – not white male, not race, gender, or colour. It’s a bit like saying red coloured cars are more dangerous because they are involved in more than their fair share of accidents…(but why?)
    Men can be masculine without being bullies or brutes, it is a choice they all make. However, when we stereotype (male, white, black, female…) we deny the individual, and individual choices.
    If I said religious people / religions are conservative, anti-equality, paternalistic and the source of much gender inequality, would I be correct, would it be wise, would it imply that all such people have those attributes?

  29. Davyh Davyh 22 April 2014

    Question: at whose hands are murdered black women most likely to die? Femicide is most often committed by husband, boyfriend or significant other irrespective of race.

  30. Momma Cyndi Momma Cyndi 22 April 2014

    As all white people are the same and all white men have a ‘culture’ of violence – who are you looking to murder/rape/beat etc, this week, Thorne?

    This is nobody’s ‘culture’. World wide, a woman is more likely to be raped or murdered by someone she knows than by a stranger. It is not ‘culture’ or some kind of genetic programming, it is just the (very sad) norm. It has nothing to do with stories of border wars or apartheid either. If women were only attacked by men, who lived in apartheid South Africa and were conscripted into the army, no women would be killed by their partners in other countries.

    Why on earth people like Sunette and Sasol Steve get so much attention is beyond me. Nobody except the PC brigade (and those always looking for something to be outraged over) ever pays them an iota of attention. They certainly don’t represent the entire white population of the country.

  31. Curt Curt 22 April 2014

    Why are people denying that white men can be violent?

    @ Gerard Smit The Border Wars was mentioned because it was a contributing factor that made certain people more angry and violent and yes, wars do make men more violent towards women. Google rape and war.

    @ Gerry The writer did not say every single white South African is running around beating and killing white women. So don’t worry, no one was asking you to apologize.

    @ Brianb refer to paragraph 1. The writer is referring to a published article.

  32. Johan Pretorius Johan Pretorius 22 April 2014

    I suppose going after white masculinity in the world of PC journalistic blogs is like clubbing baby seals to death…

    You are such a big man Thorne.

  33. Jabu Jabu 23 April 2014

    It is so depressing to read such unsubstantiated nonsense and generalisation, especially posted on a site titled “Thought Leader”. Can anyone just come along here and post drivel? “Misogyny and violence at the core of our collective culture” – what utter tosh.

  34. Shaman sans frontieres Shaman sans frontieres 23 April 2014

    Hmph. A sad essay. Yes, there is anger – I have no doubt. Anger amongst people who are hugely frustrated. Who are hugely frustrated, and don’t know how to address their frustration? Many South Africans, across the board. This racialising is insane. White males are repeatedly demonised at present, as being conservative, patriarchal, reactionary. When a professional white male is refused the chance to be interviewed for a professional position, and not hired, he inevitably becomes depressed, and in many instances angry. There are some who don’t know how to manage their anger. SA is the problem, at large – not this or that demographic grouping. When social engineering and job reservation redefine our nation, it inevitably brings depression and anger.

  35. Chris Allsobrook Chris Allsobrook 23 April 2014

    I’m a white male and I’m frankly offended by this article, just as I’d anticipated before reading it. In fact, that is why I read it.

    White males are often blamed for oppression because they benefit most from it.

    This is unfair and I wish to assert my masculinity by doubting yours and mentioning that there are good white men too.

  36. BillyC BillyC 24 April 2014

    @Thorne Godhino: Seems like you’ve been hoodwinked by a bevy of, either poor scientists, or “white men haters”

    Today’s Politicsweb carries a blog that shows Lisa Vetten et al to have co-authored a earlier paper that shows Hoffmeyer to have been quite right in his main assertion that:; “WHITE WOMEN WERE TWICE AS LIKELY TO BE MURDERED BY AN UNKNOWN ASSAILANT THAN INTIMATE PARTNER”

    An apology is due to white men unfairly demonised in the above debate. One wonders what better things Lisa Vetten, Nechama Brodie, Professor Naeema Abrahams of the Medical Research Council and Africa Check have to do with their time than engage in hate politics towards white men.

    Oscar Pistorius is not a representitive of his skin colour or sex.

  37. Paul Kearney Paul Kearney 25 April 2014

    @BillyC; absolutely but I very much doubt whether you will see any retractions or even action.

    Also relevant is sample sizes are so small and inaccurate that the generalisations this “author” has made are even more inaccurate than the original “study” he based it on, if that is possible.

    Crazy racist SA!

  38. hippiegoth hippiegoth 27 April 2014

    Wow. The vitriolic responses to this article could provide material for a study in itself…

    Perhaps the article touches on too many sensitive points? I respect people disagreeing and sharing their opinions, but the tone of some of the responses seems to affirm that there is, indeed, a big issue that still needs a lot of work.

  39. Riaan Riaan 27 April 2014


    Have a look at this politicsweb article that put things in perspective:

    It concludes based on the same research undertaken by Lisa Vetten and Nechama Brodie, that white women were much less likely to be murdered by their partners than black African and Coloured women and somewhat less likely to be murdered by others.

    Having said that any one muder of any person irrespective of that persons race or gender, is one muder too many and as society we all have to become more caring.

  40. Welcheren Welcheren 30 April 2014

    “Dead right, but stating the obvious”?

    Not quite:
    The problem this piece illustrates is the way white masculinity draws from democratic principles (human rights complains) to avoid critical introspection and to avoid facing critique from others, while at the same time showing an inability to contemplate how the rights of others (along fault lines such as race and sexuality) are contravened by the stereotypes that persist through the mouths of (among others) white men.

    What this article calls for, is an effort to develop critical self-reflexivity and an ability to deal with the vulnerability entailed by listening to critique from others before determining the merits of said critique.

    Trying to de-legitimise the article’s point right off the bat, illustrates one’s inability to face the uncomfortable truths (or at least possibilities) that it puts forward for consideration.

  41. Lourenza Foghill Lourenza Foghill 12 June 2014

    At last, one of the many truths about gender-based violence in South Africa is highlighted. Well done!

  42. Jane Jane 13 June 2014

    Good article and spot on. I am saddened to learn that the next generation of RSA men are still afflicted by the disease their fathers and grandfathers perpetuated and were afflicted by,misogyny and sexism.

    Only by talking about this issue often in the media can we hope to remove the barriers and educate the next generation of male South Africans about this issue.

  43. Elaine S. Hansen Elaine S. Hansen 14 August 2016

    Of course there are good white men. They are harmed by this white supremacist narrow definition of what it means to be a man, too. And yet, it continues.

    In fact, I invite you to reflect on the statement you made and ask why would “white males” benefit the most?

    “White males are often blamed for oppression because they benefit most from it.”

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