Polite English translation – I am sick and bloody tired of this men/male involvement/masculinities issue! It is just taking up so much “air time” it is becoming a full time occupation. It feels like I have been spending a great deal of my time in the last ten years discussing it. Even in spaces where it is not on the agenda, it comes up. You can set your timer in any conference, workshop, seminar, interview… Five minutes into it, right on cue, you are guaranteed to get the first question – we keep talking about women (and girls, who have been added these days) – what about the men (and boys! How can the two be separated, its like Rosencrantz and Guildenstern!). So I can’t believe I am engaging in this conversation, yet again.
Let’s establish the facts first:
- The majority of violence against women is perpetrated by men
- Women are disinherited by their male relatives
- Male decision makers refuse to prioritize women’s needs
- Mullahs and priests are male, and it is they who make such fundamental decisions as whether women live or die, have babies or not, can move freely or not, what they can wear, who they can talk to and not get stoned for it…
Dare we continue listing the facts? Women don’t make this up. We have seen male brutal power in action, and we have the scars to prove it. Who can blame us if we see MOST men as the enemy? Even the few who try to go against the grain, revert to type when the chips are down. When they think it’s safe, they pull us aside and say, “mmm but my sister don’t you think sometimes you go too far?” Or indeed they want to practice gender equality only on their terms. They want to hear us say things in the way that makes them comfortable. When we question and challenge, they accuse us of being ungrateful, of wanting too much, not understanding the challenges of management/leadership, or the great sacrifices they have to make to get this little quarter loaf of a change.
This “men business” has become a religion. Nay, a cult. In development circles, if you don’t show male involvement you are a pariah. Not doing enough. Ask anybody who has dared challenge a donor on this issue in the last five years. The invitations to speak at conferences dry up. So too, the funding streams. Evidence is beginning to emerge showing that this issue which appeared benign just a decade ago is THE thing. Fact: one big AIDS donor recently admitted in public – at the AIDS conference no less, that 60 per cent of their funding for gender equality goes to work with men and boys. Repeat that, 60 per cent! How are feminists supposed to respond to this alarming information? We should sit down and analyze what the money was for? Evaluate the programs and see if women were empowered? It’s simply abominable. Finish and klaar…(clear), as we say down here in Kwaggasfontein.
It is true the programs on men and boys are totally lacking in political intent. But they have not been short on ambition. If we add the 60 per cent funding to the million men’s marches, is that not serious ambition? I don’t remember any donor giving us money for a thousand women’s march very easily, let alone any donor who allocates 60 per cent of their total grants to women’s movements – sorry the women’s funds don’t count.
Who wants complexity and has time for it in the 21st century? We live in a very stereotypical world with stereotyped views, and stereotyped behaviours. Consider how we are all wearing purple clothes this year. Everyone wants an I-pad. Manly men wear pink shirts, and womanly women have hair extensions. Reference the acres of column inches dedicated to analyzing this monochromatic world. Why do we assume the development world is immune to these stereotypes? We have become seriously one-dimensional societies, stripped of all complexity. When I talk about the politics of my country, Zimbabwe, nobody wants to hear the complex story. It’s simple isn’t it? Mugabe equals bad. Tsvangirai equals good. What is there to debate?
Ditto our news, media and ways of communicating. Nobody has time to hear complexity. Blessed is the person who still reads even a magazine (not a book, I said magazine), from cover to cover. We all want instant news, instant fun, and instant gratification. When I try to write complexity into documents, press releases, (you are so mad EJ Win!), nobody is interested. Eyes glaze over, the journalist/policy analyst/random student in my office starts to fiddle with their blackberry. It’s my cue that I am saying too much. They want the sound bite. They only want the one piece of data that tells women’s story. The donor and the policy maker want one solution, or as one philanthropist put it, “a widget”, that can change women’s lives. We recently found it. Eureka! See how the media and everyone went totally berserk over news about a microbicide that has 39 per cent efficacy. Nobody wanted to discuss violence against women, the human rights of lesbians, the struggles of sex workers. Too complicated.
While it is true that neo-liberalism etc have had brutal impacts on both women and men, it is a bridge too far to think we are united with our men in the struggles. We have been down this road before, reference the anti-colonial, anti racism struggles some of us experienced. Been there, done that, bought the t-shirt, owned the factory, and now sold it to defray expenses. We have more scars to prove it. I am sitting in a country and a region where women now know that our struggle as women is unique and ours to fight. Our erstwhile male comrades are even more brutal than our colonial masters, ostracizing us from family, political party and community when we don’t conform to their male projects. When we contest power with them they use sex and sexuality to cut us down. The scars are still too fresh and the battles are on going on that front.
All the things you suggest men should do; mobilizing other men, challenging one another, voting for women, working in trade unions, I agree they MUST do. Not as a favour to women. But because they want to, and they must do it if they are so called democrats, human rights activists/believers that they claim to be. The biggest thing men must do however is to change their personal behaviours, attitudes, and relationships with women. They must be consistent in demonstrating this change. We of course need EVIDENCE, (yes that ever so wonderful word that they love throwing at us), that what they are doing is contributing to gender equality and women’s enjoyment of rights. For now, please don’t expect feminists to be jumping for joy because men have done what they should have always done. Be good people. Simple enough?