Thorne Godinho
Thorne Godinho

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.

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