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.



Melanie Judge

Melanie is a feminist activist and scholar. She collaborates with NGOs and donors on strategy, communications and research to advance social justice. Melanie has been extensively involved in advocacy to...

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