Whenever Batswana guys hold court, you can be sure the chit-chat will veer off to comparing the number of notches on their bed posts or making fun of colleagues who have been “panty whipped” which is a direct translation of Botswana’s bro-menclature for henpecked.
Botswana’s toxic bromance however find itself living uncomfortably cheek by jowl with the country’s burgeoning feminism.
This has resulted in a lot of Batswana men lost along the gender equality sliding scale, with some openly sexists, others trapped by guilt in the no man’s land of mouthing support for gender equality but unable to walk the talk and a few who are truly gender blind.
Dr Poloko Ntshwarang, senior Social Work lecturer at the University of Botswana is among a few Batswana who take offence at the toxic bromance,” When an acquaintance makes a rape joke and we laugh, we are telling that person that we are okay with his belief and that rape is acceptable. It is in these instances where another man extends an offer to agree with sexist or misogynistic thinking that we approve of harm to women. I think it is our complicit actions that encourage and enable harmful, sexist attitudes and behaviors.”
Too often, men find themselves in a situation where a male colleague makes a sexist comment or a joke in a group of men and women. They feel the awkward discomfort, totally grasping the inappropriateness of his remarks. In this context, a man will often look to see how a female colleague reacts, as if requiring confirmation that she was offended before bothering or daring to say something. There are a number of social and psychological processes that create timidity and perpetuate silence among potential male allies. For example, pressure to conform, a sense that this isn’t “their fight” – the bystander effect. Another is conformity, belonging to a group is powerful and unfortunately hinders many men from acting against what they think is the opinion of the majority. Men overestimate their peer’s acceptance of sexism which often times results in a reluctance to act. They are very much aware of the harassment, abuse and sexual violence which happens in society, within households, communities, work places and various spheres of life. The silence of men when another makes abusive or sexist comments or even sexually harasses women is an insinuated approval which perpetuates the cycle of sexual violence.
Dr Ntshwarang says, “accountability means taking responsibility for your actions, accepting the consequences and taking steps to change. It isn’t about saying “I’m sorry” or making promises not to do it again. It isn’t about making excuses and shifting the blame to stress or substance abuse or women. Most men continue to abuse, sexually assault, stalk and terrorize women relatively without consequences. When we think of holding men accountable for their violence and abuse, we often think of the consequences of criminal actions, but crime is only part of the violence women experience. Silence is very much indirectly supportive of that behavior.”
Ironically, talk to any Motswana male gender bigot about their mothers or daughters and most will throw a fit at the mere though of their loved ones being treated unfairly, harassed, or even assaulted. But privately, very few men find sexist jokes tasteless.
Dr Sophie Moagi, clinical psychologist in Gaborone says “Many men who use abuse don’t realize that their controlling and intimidating behavior constitutes domestic violence. Helping men see their abusive actions as domestic violence is an important first step towards changing behaviors. Some men are so conditioned to violence that they can struggle to recognize the harm of what they’re doing and its negative impact on their families. This conditioning often occurs as a result of their own upbringings, and either witnessing or experiencing domestic violence themselves. Behind the abusive acts lie men’s need for power and control in their intimate relationships – being in charge and getting their own way. These behaviors and beliefs are underpinned by a set of ideas about how the world should operate, creating high expectations for the behavior of one’s partner. These expectations are imposed on others and when they are not met create extreme frustration and violence.”