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OPINION: Hegemonic masculinity: A deterrent of the human race

This article was first published by World Merit South Africa.

It would not be wise to wholly afford the San credit of an egalitarian society, but it must be recognised that it ended with them after the emergence of the Khoekhoe and the Xhosa. It all boils down to social strata on the basis of wealth. This imbalance of power has been feeding the power-hungry appetites of men. In her book Southern Theory, Australian sociologist Raewyn Connell described this as hegemonic masculinity. In Hegemonic Masculinity: Rethinking the Concept, she and Messerschmidt contend that “Hegemony did not mean violence, although it could be supported by force; it meant ascendancy achieved through culture, institutions, and persuasion.” All this amounts to cheating an egalitarian system, which was practised by the San. It is like a person scoring a goal and competing with himself to win. It is a travesty for fairness.

African culture also views masculinity as superior due to its traits, which are alleged to be unique to it. Things like virtue, strength, power and authority are viewed as endemic to men. If this were true, even though it is not, it must be made clear that it was perpetuated by injustices of denying women a seat at the high table. In the early 1800s, Khoekhoe women were denied access to councils of elders and drinking milk without rationality. They were also ‘sold’ through cattle exchanges between the Xhosa, San and the Khoekhoe during intermarriage in a custom called lobolo (bridewealth).

This article is not subject to disrespecting or denouncing traditional cultures; it is just addressing the lack of rationality in institutionalised norms that have been practised for decades. It recognises that South Africans and the whole world must learn to do things out of rational necessity and warns against the dangers of ‘going with the flow.’ It was only possible to segregate women because they were ‘different’ but then again it was subject to irrationality. Gender inequality affects political, social, economic factors in society.

Political effects of hegemonic masculinity

Dating back to old times when women were barred from traditional councils of elders and key decision-making, this trend has stubbornly held onto society. First of all, without any doubt, women have the right to participate in politics because they are human beings and equal to men. It must also be recognised that the lack of women political participation deters them from enjoying and appreciating public policy, in that, by excluding them from decision-making, it hampers their interests. This leads to great inequalities in terms of assets, education and healthcare. Issues such as Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) and rape (culture) can be best tackled by women as they understand the dynamics and know what they want.

Things that are decided for people and found to be incongruent with their values are just a sham. We cannot host a No Violence Against Women and Children summit without the concerned parties to hear their views. Exclusion of women from decision-making is thus deciding things for them. In democracies there are three types of decisions- authoritarian, participatory and consultative decisions. Taking the authoritarian route is not only irrational but a travesty for representation.

Social effects of hegemonic masculinity

From a young age, children are conditioned to behave in certain ways and it is hard to alter learned behaviours, attitudes, and needs. Girls are expected to cook and clean and boys to do physically strenuous work. Boys are taught to be physically and emotionally strong and girls to be weak and emotionally sensitive. This divide brings negative misconceptions on both groups during interaction. Men are ‘supposed’ to be violent and dominating whilst women must only be submissive as though servants of a King. It creates a sense of disrespect, fear, and jealousy in the gender spectrum. Men are seen as superior and in turn command obedience from women, who in turn, are clouded by fear of force or violence.

Some men in the corporate space are reluctant to promote women. Sexual harassment is also quite prevalent and there is either a lack of policies or implementation. In a nutshell, this issue is incumbent on society itself and the misconceptions which are embedded into it about gender roles. This gender spectrum destroys relationships in general. Domestic violence against women is also prevalent because of these misconceptions that women must unreasonably submit to men and that they have no say in anything.

Romantic relationships are eroded in this way because there is no mutual respect and there is insensitivity to each other’s feelings- men crying are seen as weak and women are seen as nuisances by nature. Children are also normally taken care of by their mothers than their fathers- a divide between parent and child. Fathers are normally feared and seen as villains and mothers as sweet-loving angels and kind listeners to their children.

Economic effects of hegemonic masculinity

Demographical data brings justice to the relation between population growth and economic growth. The higher the population, the higher the need for employment and thus a good economic outlook. According to Stats SA, the mid-year female population figures for 2018 are at 51% compared to 49% of males. The disintegration of women from key aspects such as education, healthcare, safety and security and business opportunities decreases economic productivity.

If fewer women are being educated yet they consist of more than half of the population, it drags productivity and a lack of skills in the labour market. If fewer women are involved in business, there is lack of entrepreneurship and that of job creation, leading to unemployment and economic poverty. Negative economic growth in turn, leads to lack of investment opportunities. Inflation and repo rates soar and recessions follow. The poorest of the poorest thus suffer at the mercy of man’s greed.

All societies must strive to advance an equitable agenda and not that of adversity based on unfounded or untutored beliefs. Discussing the issue of Gender Equality at fora like the United Nations is imperative but not a cure for all. It must be recognised that communities themselves need to take redressive steps to promote equality, curb violence and foster an egalitarian environment. It starts from changing (nonsensical) perceptions of women inferiority and making children to be gender sensitive, sound division of roles like making boys to also cook and clean.

Girls must also be encouraged to partake in ‘hard’ careers such as engineering, the military, air and maritime pilotage and emergency services. Everything starts small until it grows big. Communities must always be cognisant that the role of the State is pluralistic - it serves as a referee and helper in the midst of challenges, it does not initiate things. For instance, policy is initiated by communities through their wants and needs until the authorities decide what to do. There are jails and law enforcement authorities because citizens failed to maintain order among themselves. Thus the State maintains order and perpetuity.

Ompha Malima is a Lead Advocate for Sustainable Development at World Merit South Africa. World Merit is a social enterprise that offers rewards and opportunities in exchange for members taking action toward social issues.

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