This story originally was written for World Pulse’s Ending Violence Against Women Digital Action Campaign.
World Pulse believes that women's stories, recommendations, and collective rising leadership can—and will—bring an end to gender-based violence. The EVAW Campaign elicits powerful content from women on the ground, strengthens their confidence as vocal grassroots leaders, and ensures that influencers and powerful institutions hear their stories.
SOUTH AFRICA: A Man's Perspective
Educator and World Pulse community member Isaac Aggrey urges men to reject cultural norms that equate manhood with power and dominance. Only then, he says, can women enjoy a world free of violence.
There is no question that the root cause of the abuse of women is the social, economic, and political inequality women experience worldwide. Women earn less money than men. Their work at home is undervalued. Few politicians are women. Yet, raising awareness of the issue of gender-based violence is always left to women, for it is true that if society now takes violence against women seriously, it is because women are working hard to make this issue a priority.
Beneath the legacy of gender-based violence is a legacy of gender conformity that leads men to deny their true nature in favor of fitting into a society that requires men to be invulnerable. I quite remember male friends telling me how their fathers told them to promise to always have a sense of power, of pride, of confidence, mastery, and control. I ask myself, and I ask you, how does prestige, privilege, power, and control make one a man?
Many interviewed say they fear being scrutinized by their peers if they deviate from the prescribed rules of being a man. They say they do not want to stand alone in the shame of difference. They prefer denying themselves in order to feel safe and accepted within a dominant culture that demands of them: “Be a man!”
What would it mean now if we were to create a culture in which men join together to reclaim these parts of ourselves that we once hid and denied? What would it mean if we as men found the courage to stand and face the dominant culture, saying with determination and pride, that we do not want to “be a man”? If we said together that we refuse the rigid box of gender conformity? What if we created a community where we could feel safe and accepted in the infinite variety of our gender expression?
It would mean the end of the system of patriarchy, wherein the promise of power is leveraged by the threat of violence. Homophobia, violence against women, and war—the ultimate weapons of gender conformity—would disappear, no longer needed to prove and protect our "manhood”.
Men would show up in the full rainbow of our expressions. We would inhabit our homes and families and remember the delights of nurturing relationships. And we would seek out the close, loving companionship of other men and women. It would mean hope for the world in places where we have long felt only hopelessness.
I believe this is all happening now. Yes, it can often seem agonizingly slow and painful, and there is certainly plenty of overt and covert resistance; however, there is a tremendous wave of liberation moving through our world.
It is time for us now to assert that we will not be boxed into masculinity by seductive promises of power or intimidating threats of violence. It is time for us now to break through our fear and isolation and come out as gender nonconformists who do not fit or accept prescribed rules of manhood.
We can create a new culture where being a man does not mean undervaluing women or colluding with patriarchy and perpetuating violence against women. We can create a new culture where being a man is an open-ended, ever-expanding expression of possibilities.