Saturday, September 26, 2020

Activism against whom?

I hear it almost everywhere: over the radio and it reaches to me across the couch on my living room. It has been accepted with minimum questioning to the point that it has become somewhat of a truism. “Sixteen days of activism on violence against women and children”. When I heard it for the first time, I thought its phrasing to be most bizarre. It presupposes victims and perpetrators. The victims are named. They are women and children.

They are victims of violence. The perpetrator is unnamed but assumed. He is a man. Elsewhere the wording is different. “Sixteen days of activism against gender violence”. It sounds more accurate, but it is a smoke screen. “gender violence” has become a de facto euphemism for violence against women. I am aware that theoretically gender is to be understood as the set of social constructs relating to males and females. However, applicationally, it is used predominantly to deal with female oppression. That may be fairly easy to understand since there are many who find it more convenient to deal with complex social matters by virtue of classifying a complex society on the bases of genitalia. I should not get side-tracked.

I do find the phrasing “Sixteen days of activism on violence against women and children” most troubling for as I have pointed out earlier, it at one level portrays all women and all children as victims of men. Perhaps the semantics was unintended. However, the fact that the meaning was unintended does not eliminate its existence. The reality on the ground is much more complex. Let’s first deal with what appears to be obvious lest I be given that cheap label: a male chauvinist. There is much evidence that many men have abused many women. The abuse is varied. Cases of assault and murder are recorded in police dockets. Cases of psychological trauma remain buried in the minds of many women and have been the subject of many parental meetings and repeated consultations with psychologists and counsellors. To deny the existence of this kind of abuse would be sinful.

Many men have also been directly responsible for violence against children; both male and female. So the argument that certain men are responsible for violence is true and is supported by a mountain of evidence.

However, to stop at the claim that women and children are victims of male violence is to over simplify a somewhat complex social reality. Cases of female physical violence against men are few and even where they do exist, because of the fear of being considered weak, many men are too ashamed to report such abuse to the police. Part of the reason why there are fewer cases of female physical violence against men may be explained on the basis of physiology.

Many women are physically weaker than men: they have therefore judged accurately that they cannot win a physical confrontation. That however does not mean that they do not battle men. They do battle them where men are weakest: speech. Many women are verbally abused daily. They are tongue-lashed, tongue-kicked and tongue-punched. Such verbal and mental violence is as serious as any physical confrontation. Many men therefore go around appearing composed and assertive in life when they are inside terribly bruised by women.

To talk about “violence against women and children” also conceals the fact that many women abuse children.

Setswana idioms such as “mmangwana o tshwara thipa ka fa bogaleng” may mislead us into assuming that all women are good to children. Some indeed are, however some are shamefully not.

Recently the Voice newspaper carried a story on its front page of a young mother who had abandoned her three children with her own mother in the village and the young mother was nowhere to be found. That was classical material for that famous SABC1 program Khumbul’ekhaya. Many children remain emotionally and physically scarred from their abrasive contact with women ÔÇô such women may be a child’s mother, a relative, or totally unrelated to the victimised child. The truth on the ground is that many women abuse children. To bundle women and children together as victims may therefore be greatly misleading.

Now cases of abusive children are rare. They are rare partly because it is very shameful for a parent to complain that their child is abusive to them. Such shamed parents feel that the abuse may be understood as a consequence of bad parenting skills. Therefore the shamed parent ends suffering in silence. Cases of over-bearing and demanding children are on the increase. Some children even threaten their own parents physically.

We must not forget cases of women who are abusive to other women. This is especially common in the work environment. Repeatedly we hear women complaining that their female-boss is much more hostile to them compared to their previous male-boss. To me “Sixteen days of activism on violence against women and children” begs the question: ‘activism against whom?’ As long as the simplified statement filled with presuppositions is used, I will for a long time find it bothersome and poorly crafted.

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