The rape and murder of Uyinene Mrwetyana in a post office caused shock and outrage across the country and drew attention beyond our borders. The Duke and Duchess of Sussex followed the story from afar and, on their recent royal visit, Meghan Markle tied a yellow ribbon at the site of the murder to mark her respects.
Let’s be clear, Uyinene’s case is not an isolated one. South Africa has femicide rates four or even five times the global average. 20% of women in the country have experienced physical violence and astoundingly, the SA Medical Research Council has also found that 40% of men assault their partners daily. Over 40,000 rapes are recorded each year (over 100 a day) and this when studies show that only 25% of rapes are actually reported.
However, due to news and social media coverage, this particular crime has heightened awareness and led to some ‘hefty debate’ in classes and schools up and down the country about Gender Based Violence (GBV). While girls are asking the question #AmINextand boys are confronted with the statement #menaretrash it would be wrong as teachers to remain silent on these issues.
In Zaron Burrnett’s “A gentlemen’s guide to rape culture” he opens with a statement “If you are a man, you are part of rape culture. I know … that sounds rough. You’re not a rapist, necessarily. But you do perpetuate the attitudes and behaviours commonly referred to as rape culture.”
This is without a doubt a provocative statement. It is also representative of the current sentiment in the country. Is it true?
Burrnett’s point is a simple one. A culture that demeans women, or allows misogynistic attitudes and behaviours, creates a climate for sexual harassment, abuse and rape. So you are not a rapist just because you laugh at a sexually degrading jokes about women, but you are part of rape culture.
If you teach boys, ask them these questions compiled by Olwethu Hugo, an educator in an all-boys’ school. If you teach girls, ask them how much they witness this type of behaviour.
Have you ever…
- Trivialised inappropriate behaviour by men towards women with the saying ‘boys will be boys’?
- Laughed at, or condoned, sexually degrading jokes about women?
- Remained silent in the face of sexist or abusive comments, without calling out the men that are involved?
- Catcalled or wolf-whistled?
- Used sexual slurs to refer to women for sexual exploits that men themselves are just as privy to?
- Defined your manhood through aggression?
- Put pressure on other males to get with as many women as possible?
- Taught women to avoid getting raped instead of telling men not to rape?
ARE MEN TRASH?
Given that many men and boys will have been part of such behaviours is it then true that men are trash? Below are some points to consider in answering that question.
1. I work in a Diocesan school and the Anglican Communion is clear that women and men are created equal and created in God’s image. Any argument that one gender is superior to the other is flawed.
2. Our thoughts and attitudes matter. “…I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” (Matthew 5:28). Likewise, it’s not enough to say ‘I don’t abuse women’ if our thoughts and attitudes contribute to a culture of abuse.
3. The concept of Repentance is a useful one here. Repentance means a ‘turning away from’. This implies a deliberate shift in behaviour, a speaking out and standing against, as opposed to just a passive silence or inactivity.
Given the first point, we cannot conclude that men are trash. Our boys are fearfully and wonderfully made. That however, that goes hand in hand with recognising the same of women, and the responsibility we all have to stand against GBV and the culture that enables it.
A TEACHER’S ROLE
For me it behoves educators to hold and explore a tension for the young people in their schools. On the one hand, when it comes to #menaretrash we want our boys to know, with humility, that they are not. Simultaneously, on the other hand, they must understand the depth of hurt that fuels this statement. We want our girls to continue to valiantly express their pain while we as adults validate their voice.
Yes, it would be wrong to say that schoolboys are trash. But it would also be wrong to excuse or be silent about, behaviours that they may witness, or participate in, that are trashy.