3 Things Men Taught Me About Gender Violence
When a friend posted on Facebook that he had a lot to say about gender issues, I became intrigued. I had followed his thoughts and engaged in some brief discussions, but when he suggested a meet-up, I thought it was a joke.
I arrived with a book in hand, my ammunition, Sylvia Tamale’s extensive “African Sexualities”, and sat down to a half-heated debate on all things gender violence. The two of them had already started.
I ordered a glass of water.
2 hours later, I am sitting with nine men and another woman, who are all actively defending and proposing their viewpoints, back and forth in senseless semantics, convoluted definitions and apologetic scenarios. I had long resigned from the role of spokesperson for all women, as this, to me, became an incredibly rare opportunity to witness the many, many complexities that come with notions of masculinity. And here are 3 things I can share with you:
1. It’s Okay To Blame Culture
Let’s talk about that man.
You know, that guy, the macho-man, the traditional, the antiquated man who walks around with his shirt half open. Yea, these guys around me are not like those guys. We must note, that the abuser exists only in the third person, in a very, very distant world. Easy, convenient, apologetic.
It was, at first, rather comforting to see that these guys around me recognized domestic violence.
This is, until I asked the question,
so, what is, to you, the highest level of domestic violence? What would make YOU feel violated (and prompted to respond violently)?
There was an initial hesitation, so I revived the example one of them had used before:
here in the south (Maputo), if a man walks in and finds you (woman) with another man “in the act”, that’s too much! But in the north (Nampula), a man can just find his woman with another man and simply remove himself from the bedroom until the woman is finished. You will find him sitting at a bar just waiting for her to be done. What can he do!
So what’s the problem with that?, I tease.
Finding your woman in bed with another guy? That’s too much.
My objective was not to attack, but to understand, so I noted something interesting instead.
Though the situation was the same, the two reactions were very different.
The other guy added, it’s the culture. in the north, they follow a matriarchal way of life.
Culture is a layered term. It always evokes so many angles to the discussion, one never knows where to begin and how to get out of it. In Mozambique, there is a clear difference in the cultures observed in the south and in the north. Besides the patriarchy/matriarchy pillars that keep these traditions alive, is the role and place of female sexuality in the community — and the man’s behaviour in relation to this.
Whereas in the south, boys are socialized to assert their dominance through sexuality and economic power, in the north, sexuality rests with the female.
And sexuality isn’t just about sex. It’s about reproduction, family planning, and economic dispensation — notions that cover a range of human relations which are regulated by “culture”.
So maybe it’s time to bring culture to the centre stage of academia.
2. Masculinity Is A Performance
It all started with a man describing a culture shock. In Mozambique, men are tasked with the responsibility of paquera, a series of never-ending efforts a man displays in order to win the woman’s heart. This includes whispering romantic one-liners, buying drinks, softening her up and, these days, waiting three months to consummate the relationship.(!) In China, according to his account, things were different. To walk up to a woman and rely on paquera was a complete waste of time, for you could simply walk to her and say, “let’s have sex”.
I interjected with a what’s the problem with that? and another continued, stating that without this “courtship” element, the satisfaction and honour of getting the woman isn’t legitimate.
For Mozambican men, the ones in that particular space at least, paquera is an essential aspect of their interactions with females. First, because it guarantees them the honour of “winning the competition” (as women are apparently constantly juggling all the male attention they get!), second, because paquera is, primarily, a public display of affection.
This is important, because shortly after, someone brought up the fact that some women humiliate their partners in public, which is one of the most prevalent scenarios in which domestic abuse takes place.
Everyone is subject to public humiliation.
Every single day.
Why do men seem to react somewhat differently; why do see this reaction as exaggerated, or even disproportionate to the situation at hand?
Well, because men don’t own manhood. They simply perform it.
3. We Need To Talk About Sex
A friend of mine once told me he didn’t know women enjoyed sex.
One of the chapters in “African Sexualities” touches on the fact that there is little to no shared knowledge on female sexuality. On the one hand in the west, Freud’s obsessions with the penis still echo in pop culture and its reproductions of mainstream sexuality. On the other, in Africa, the little knowledge about female sexuality that exists is rigidly kept within impenetrable circles of matriarchs, thus causing a certain mystification around women and sex.
Boys grow up believing that their manhood rests in their genital organs, and that it is within their right to attend to their physiological needs each time they arise. Girls grow up learning that they must absolutely close their legs when they sit, and attend to their husband-to-be’s needs without demonstrating too much pleasure, as it is indecent.
Interestingly, one of the guys commented that, sometimes, men aren’t able to satisfy the most “insatiable” of women.
I smiled, curious.
The other brought it back to some women are just too much! imagine your partner telling you she wants more! or that she wants to have a threesome!
Female pleasure, or the idea of it, is almost non-existent. The subconscious of the socialized African male believes that, at the root of it all, a woman’s sexuality exists as a lubricant for reproduction. While the male is driven by pleasure, the women is driven by her apparent predisposition to simply.. reproduce. (this is one of the main motivators of Female Genital Mutilation, the belief that female pleasure is “extra”, unnecessary — as it is not ‘needed’ for her apparent main function, reproduction)
Hence the trouble with the irrelevance of paquera in China. The existence of a female who outwardly expresses sexual desire and acts upon it is a challenge to contemporary Mozambican society, and to boys and men who weren’t socialized to accept women beings with a legitimate sexuality.
The biggest lesson I’ve taken from this encounter, is that now more than ever, gender violence is also about men.
Gender violence is about manhood, how fragile and volatile it is, and the terrible effects it has in society.
I was genuinely sad to hear of their stories and their perceptions on gender-based violence.
We need to talk about masculinities, we need to unpack, dissect and deconstruct the living core out of it.
This is not to say that the woman is not as important a subject of inquiry. Of course she is, both as the victim and as the perpetrator — but for the sake of concluding the article, I’m an advocate for conversations like these:
Where we sometimes just sit, and listen.