The Boy Child and Gender Based Violence

By Philile Langa

The Vulnerability of Black Boys With Regards To Violence

I’m writing this from the point of view of a queer black feminist who has done research on race and violence, and the ways that the two intersect with each other and other aspects of identity. I’m writing this from the position of a black woman who has been told by black men that gender issues should be an afterthought when it comes to black liberation. I’m also writing this from the point of view that if I am to be against violence as an oppression, then I have to be against violence no matter who it happens to. This includes victims of violence who may one day become perpetrators of violence against black women.

This article was first written up as a presentation at a seminar titled Philosophy Born of Struggle: A Philosophy Born of Massacres. My presentation was on Gender-based Violence against boys and men during armed conflict on the African continent, and the ways in which they are excluded from narratives of armed conflict gender-based violence victimology.

This is an unusual subject: that of gender base violence against a group that is not women. I say it like this intentionally: a group that is not women. This is because if you were to search gender based violence during armed conflict, you will have millions of hits where the overwhelming majority will be studies or policy around gender based violence against women, with men as victims being an extremely rare feature. 

In this article, I’ll be speaking on gender-based violence against black men and boys in general terms, focusing on three points: the definition of gender with regards to gender based violence, recognition and acceptance of the phenomenon of gender based violence against men and boys, and lastly, the impact of race on the recognition of black men and boys as victims of violence.

What is “Gender” based violence?

Within gender based violence research, gender has been made into a synonym for women. This has led to most of the public translating gender to meaning “women”. Girls are included on the rare occasion. Gender-based Violence, to many scholars and lawmakers, is not violence perpetrated against a person because of their gender. It is violence perpetrated against women for the reason that they are women. One of the arguments in those cases is that since women make up the majority of victims of gender based violence during armed conflict, then it is only logical to associate gender in “gender-based violence” with women. Another argument is that men are not really victims since any violence that is perpetrated against them is almost always by other men, within the patriarchal system that men themselves have created with the intention of oppressing and bringing harm to women, and with violence that is sometimes intended for women. Children are hardly mentioned. Girls are added on occasion to the titles of studies, but hardly focused on, whether on their own or with women whom they are generally attached to. Boys are treated in almost the same way as men in that they are usually mentioned in the context of being perpetrators of violence, such as in the case of boy soldiers, but with the need to be saved due to being children. There has been a remedy to the situation of girls not being focused on with the creation of Girl’s Studies. While there has been a concerted effort to develop a field of study concerning men, little attention has been paid to boys. And most of these developments are happening outside of South Africa.

Boys straddle between the identities of violent patriarchal oppressors and innocent children. It is due to the latter that there has been any attention to boys within the framework of victims of violence. Even then, the attention to boys is too little, especially when we know how violence affects the development of children. 

Recognition and acceptance of the phenomenon

Generally, with male victims of gender based violence, there is a lack of recognition of their victimhood. Even with fieldworkers, there is not just a lack of training in recognizing the different kinds of violence that can be perpetrated against men and boys, but there is also a general lack of awareness that violence against men and boys can be gender-based. It is as if patriarchy does not feature in the violence that men and boys experience.

The nuance that “boyhood” provides is that boys are considered children in peaceful circumstances. But in those “peaceful” circumstances, they are also seen through a patriarchal gaze of being the inheritors of the strength and violence of their male elders. This contradicts the innocence that is sometimes afforded to children. Boy children have to be recognized as children and therefore the violence that is perpetrated against children needs to be recognized. When boys are raised within a patriarchal paradigm, the result is that they grow up to be violent men. It is understandable that innocence no longer applies to them at this stage as more often than not, they are willing participants in the violence that is patriarchy, no matter who it is targeted against.

The fact that most men are willing participants in the violence that is patriarchy does not negate the fact that when other men are the targets of this violence due to their gender, they are victims of gender-based violence. Gender-based violence is gender-based violence no matter the gender of the perpetrator or their victim. Just because most men are willing participants in patriarchy does not negate that vulnerability.

There are many feminist researchers who think that men deserve it/they have it coming with regards to being victims of gender-based violence. Their argument is that gender-based violence occurs within a patriarchal framework. Gender-based violence against men is therefore an attack on men in a system that was initially designed to attack women and all that is feminine. Men are then victims of their own violent oppressive system. This is then deserved retribution.

We have to be careful with the way that we construct the victimology of victims of gender-based violence. If we lean into the understanding presented above, that men who are victims are victims of their own system, then we are actively legitimizing the patriarchal understanding of what a victim is, that “real men” are always perpetrators and never victims. We legitimize the patriarchal thought that weakness or victimhood is to be equated with femininity or womanhood. We legitimize the patriarchal though that femininity or womanhood should be on the receiving end of the violence of patriarchy. That means that even when women are the perpetrators of violence, what they are attacking in their victim regardless of gender, is femininity. We strengthen patriarchy with this logic.

There is a fear that if men are accepted as victims of gender-based violence, then the female victim/male perpetrator paradigm will be under attack. So what if this paradigm is weakened or torn apart? I am of the belief that we should be attending to the victims of gender-based violence, not attending to our own assumptions and patriarchal stereotypes.

Race

We cannot talk about the dismissal of the fact that black boys and men can be victims of gender-based violence, without talking about the impact of race on this dismissal. It is important to take note of the racist stereotypes around black men and boys with regards to violence: black men are inherently violent. It dismisses the violence that this country has experienced that has influenced patriarchy and the way that boys grow into men and carry themselves around each other and around others. Violence has been an increasing part of the lives of black people in this country, especially with colonisation and apartheid. These violent oppressive systems have woven themselves into our society and made violence seem natural in our communities. Colonization and apartheid have contributed to the socialization of black boys and men into the kind of violence that we see today. This socialization disproves the racist stereotype of black men being inherently violent because if black boys grew into violent black men on their own, then socialization into violence would not need to happen.

Just as we have been socialized by white supremacy to believe that black men are inherently violent, through that, we have been socialized to believe that black boys, and especially black men, have no vulnerability. Through accepting that black boys and men are socialized to be violent, we then accept that black boys and men are vulnerable to gender-based violence. If we accept this, we also need to accept that the socialization of black boys and black men into violence is a violation of black boys and black men.

Time for a woman to take the reins?

By Gillian Schutte.

The presidential race is underway and for the first time in our democracy a woman, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, is presented as a definite contender. An interesting by-product of this is that the matter of the ongoing underrepresentation of women across society and in government is back on the table and being hotly discussed on social media.

Though it is said that women enjoy more cabinet representation in South Africa than many other countries on the continent, there is still a long way to go. Statistics show that despite the fact that women outnumber men in South Africa we have remained a male-dominated society. Women in business, in politics and in institutions still earn less than men. Few top positions are filled by women as the glass ceiling is still firmly in place. In this system black women are the most compromised as witnessed in the low numbers of black women in leadership positions across the board. Those who are black, female as well as poor are most unable to enter the neoliberal market and are forced to eke out a living on the margins of society.

All this came to mind as I watched Lindiwe Sisulu give the keynote address at the annual memorial lecture in honor of struggle stalwart, Lilian Ngoyi, in Khayelitsha last weekend. Her feminist and pro-poor delivery was resonant and this got me thinking about what sort of President she would make and how hard it would be for a woman of her stature to run for this position in an administration that remains male dominated.

Feminists from across the political spectrum have been hopeful for some years that a woman president would be elected in South Africa. Thus far all the political parties remain headed by men or have an overwhelmingly higher number of men in office. This means that despite a constitution that promises equality between the sexes, the issue of institutional patriarchy still remains. Until we see equal representation of women in business and in politics, we cannot argue otherwise.

It was revealed in the media recently that Sisulu may also join the presidential race and has been on the receiving end of death threats as a result. Though she has not verified her involvement political writers have indicated that she has the backing of key branches in the Eastern Cape as well as many struggle stalwarts and MK Veterans. Student leaders such as Mcebo Dlamini have publicly declared their support of her saying that students will not be ashamed to march beside her.

But in a male dominated administration it is clear that if Sisulu does campaign she will not only have to run the gauntlet of men in power, many of whom would no doubt resist her efforts, she will also have to deal with the lack of support from women within the ANC ranks since she is effectively running against the Women’s League choice of candidate. To complicate matters further it has been said that Dlamini-Zuma is also Number One’s number one choice.

With a Women’s League that has been harshly critiqued as an organisation that has lost its way and spends its time and resources spin-doctoring on behalf of President Zuma instead of fulfilling its mandate around women’s rights, it seems inevitable that Sisulu will not get support from those quarters within the cabinet. Some have said that they take their instruction from the men on top and lack the feminist agency that one would expect from a movement with its roots in the struggle for justice for women. In fact many say that the Women’s League’s dismal track record shows exactly how little they do to address the multiple injustices meted out to women in South Africa, particularly those surviving on the margins of our economy. Feminists have written on social media that they have become a useless entity there to serve the patriarchy instead of their own constituency.

There have also been strident voices on social media intimating that it is no surprise that Zuma is campaigning for Dlamini-Zuma in the succession race, insisting that she remains beholden to him via relationship and history and is his ‘stay out of jail’ ticket as well as a conduit through which he can maintain his network of patronage and his fingers in the Treasury coffers. Her current campaign tour, on which she has been given presidential security despite not being Member of Parliament nor a registered VIP, has been criticised and she has already been accused in the media of spreading divisive politics. This all compromises her own track record and as a woman in her own right. Dlamini-Zuma, who attained her medical degree at a time when to be black and female meant exclusion, is not the empty vessel that some chauvinistic writers have described her to be. She has held top office in the ANC government and has just completed her term as the first female chair of the AU.

But the fact that she is backed by The Women’s League in cabinet seemingly means that no other woman except the one selected by Zuma himself, will receive the much needed backing and lobbying from them – a matter that sources say, has created tensions within the ranks of the ANC. Apparently since Sisulu has become a potential contender the gloves are off and she is being undermined and disparaged by many of her female colleagues who say she is more of a fashion model than a leader and other such demeaning insults.

If this is true it is an all too familiar scenario that occurs in any environment where patriarchy has taken root and women are forced to play second fiddle. I’ve heard stories from other political parties, progressive social movements, universities and NGO’s that there are always exploitative men who will subject young women to sexual misuse and manipulate more susceptible women to wage war on the strong women leaders who pose a threat to their boys club.

This was a conversation that occurred throughout the Fees Must Fall Movement for example, when female students contested the domination of leadership spaces by men, decreeing that there could be no revolution until patriarchy falls.

Some independent studies suggest that until all women recognise systemic and attitudinal patriarchy as the thing that thwarts their career progress, chances are they will turn on each other in the workplace where patriarchal approval is often the only thing they can rely on to get ahead. Instead of uniting with other women to deal with this institutional chauvinism that continues to undercut them, creates glass ceilings for them and systematically sets them against each other these studies suggest that women will often internalize patriarchy as a way to survive this inequality.

Nowhere is this divide and rule approach more visible than when women are vying with men for political power. In a world where women still have to work doubly hard to gain the same approval as men or to secure social and political power, it is no surprise that this often materialises in hostile marginalisation of women by women. And sources close to Sisulu say that she on the receiving end of this syndrome and is thus being frozen out by the pro-Zuma faction of the women’s league, in response to her possible campaign for presidency.

Sisulu’s arrival as a potential contender in the presidential race has destabilised many it seems. This inimical response could have a lot to do with her stellar track record, not only as a former liberation fighter and senior in the MK, but also because she holds a very senior position in the NEC being one of the longest serving ministers in the cabinet. She also has an impressive record in good governance, an impressive academic record and has published several academic articles pertaining to women’s contribution to the struggle, women in the agricultural sector, and worker women’s rights amongst others. This will endear her to many women from across the sectors especially if her campaign highlights her contributions to knowledge-production around issues that affect their lives. Her CV is studded with global awards and currently I am told, she is doing her second PhD with Leeds University.

It is possible that she is recognised as the dark horse in this race? Could this be why she received death threats even as a comrade who has held the office of Minister of Defense and Military Veterans, Minister of Public Service and Administration and who is currently serving as Minister of Human Settlements.

Not only that but her work on the proposed anti-corruption bill will stand her it good stead with many voters who are sick and tired of the news around endless corruption and patronage within the ANC and the business sector.

If the rumours around Dlamini-Zuma and her inextricable ties to President Zuma hold any truth it would seem more prudent and progressive for the ANCWL to back someone of Sisulu’s stature. This would provide an ideal opportunity for women to become a united front to take the women’s cause forward, independent of the patriarchy. If anyone is up for this it is more likely to be Sisulu, who would come in as an independent candidate without any of the tribalism and benefaction baggage that Dlamini-Zuma has allegedly been coerced into dragging into her campaign for presidency.

This could be the ideal point in South African history for women to band together and vote a solid woman candidate into presidency. It could well be that Sisulu is exactly what the South African voting constituency is looking for after the Zuma and Marikana era, and she could well be the ideal candidate to win this race and to stitch back together the ANC’s tattered image.

Copyright policy