Cape Town - As 16 Days of Activism for No Violence against Women and Children draws to a close, one expert is calling for a change in messaging to men to better combat gender-based violence.
The message that all men are violent is not a productive way of addressing the issue, and doesn’t help to build a more harmonious and safe society, said Dr Robert Morrell, a gender scholar and professor at UCT.
“The couplet of men and violence is very readily used because it’s easy to say,” Morrell said. “But you don’t want all men considered as dangerous, violent, antisocial people. Most men are not like that.”
From his research into masculinity in South Africa, he said it is clear to see that men have both a destructive and constructive role in society.
“We know a lot about the destructive role of men; male violence against women is unfortunately widespread, but so is the violence of men against other men,” Morrell said in an interview with UCT News.
“Men need to be understood as both victims and perpetrators of violence, but we have an opportunity to move beyond these roles.
“We’re not going to encourage men to participate in the (16 Days) campaign by describing masculinity as essentially bad and that all men need reformation.”
Morrell began his journey into gender studies in 1989, as a lecturer at the University of Natal (now UKZN). He pioneered the brand new research field of critical masculinity studies in South Africa, and hosted the first-ever masculinities conference in Africa.
He said that while the concept of masculinity is fluid and differs between people and cultures, it has changed as a whole in our country over the past 20 years because of a constitution which fights homophobia and policies which empower women, particularly in the workplace.
In the context of the gender-based violence scourge in South Africa, he said the finger-pointing rhetoric towards men is not necessarily the best way forward.
“There’s a lot of messaging that makes men feel defensive,” Morrell said.
“For the last 20 years, there’s been a lot of messaging directed at men and it assumes their guilt and then asks them to be better. I’m trying to find a middle path between that important message, and the fact that we all have to live together.”
He said the Covid-19 pandemic had exacerbated an already serious GBV situation in South Africa, and that the possible reasons are intertwined with economic and social pressures.
“When there’s a lot of frustration and resources are limited, it’s always a recipe for social upheaval. I’m looking for a new way of calling on men to try get beyond the frustration of Covid lockdown, no employment, disappointment in their own lives, abandonment by fathers.
“That’s a personal journey that will have a positive impact.
“People respond better to calls to be positive, loving and constructive, than they do to repressive mechanisms that are finger wagging and punitive.
“There needs to be a balance struck between these two inquiries. Are men violent or are they community builders? Of course they are both.”