No country for trash men

I failed my daughter. We were at a gathering and an older man was teasing her, as he does with all other kids, trying to get a hug and tickle her. She said no multiple times. I’m not his biggest fan. I did nothing.

When I told my wife about my feelings (she was sitting right next to my daughter when it all went down) she stated, quite rightly, that we all need to calm down. She has a point and has also known the man in question much longer than me.

Do I suspect him to have cheated on his wife at some stage? Yes I do. He just has that “look.” Do I suspect that, given the opportunity, he may molest my daughter? I’m not sure, but there’s definitely alarms going off in my head.

But maybe we do all need to chill. The incident above was preceded by a windless 33°C peach of a day that we spent at the beach with our kids. Girls in bikinis, people having fun in the sun, you know the deal.

Not a thought of gender violence or rape.

The circumstances around Uyinene Mrwetyana’s brutal murder was an isolated case. There is no way that the criminal would’ve outed his ambitions and, given the evidence provided by another woman who the murderer tried the same trick on, he was always going to commit the crime. That he was caught and the mystery solved is a testament to amazing police work.

If the post office was monitored off-site by CCTV, then it may have acted as a deterrence. But let’s not get into the would’ve and should’ve necause madness lays down that path. He was a previous sex offender and was working in a government institution and stationed next to a police station.

We need to stop shit talking the police. Seriously. They are doing their best.

Crime stats were also released this week and the reading wasn’t good. Although murder rates have dropped year-on-year, it’s still shockingly high. But, it must be said, that a clear majority of the victims are men. Yes, gang violence and escalated incidents are primarily the domain of male versus male conflict, but the hard facts point to more men dying than women.

The problem I have with the term “femicide” is that outside of the aggressors being men, it implies that there is a targeted attack on women. Outside of the crimes being committed by men, the rates murder rate being that much lower – less than a quarter according to some sources – than male murders points to the determination being born out of sentiment.

So let’s address the sentiment. I’ve been having conversations with women who have experienced incidences of molestation and rape and the overwhelming sentiment from them is that the issue was handled in a satisfactory manner when reported to the police, or they understand the impact of the decision they made to not report it. Many of these crimes go unreported and that’s part of the problem.

That said, rape and murder are two acts of violence that should never be downplayed. And they aren’t.

Our president has gone on record promising harsher punishments and longer sentences for convicted criminals. It’s unclear whether that will apply to abusers, rapists and murderers who have acted against both genders or only men who have down these to women.

And therein lies the problems. Classifying this as femicide ignores the prevalence of this acts within other social groups. There are plenty of cases involving homosexual men that are either not covered as extensively or go unreported. It is still men committing these crimes, just not against women.

Men are conditioned to be dominant. We are portrayed as special in all of our cultural stories and religious texts. The patriarchy is strong and the world is shaped by its influence. That is manifested in an idea that men and women are not equal.

I do not hold this belief and try every day to break down those perceptions so that my daughter can live in a better world. But it’s like farting in a thunderstorm.

Just this morning I had to reiterate my point about equality when she made mention of a Muslim classmate not “choosing” Jesus. She demands constant educational stimulation and my wife is a faithful Christian, so my daughter goes to Sunday school at our church. Sunday school fills my precious angel’s head with ideas of a binary world where one chooses between either the Devil or God.

Both these characters are portrayed as men and the texts supporting the actions of their respective followers are filled with tales of men.

My daughter was baptised by a woman and, if the Bishop’s health holds out, will probably be confirmed by the same woman. My daughter’s pediatrician is a woman. The principal of her school and the preschool before it are both women. She was even delivered into this world by the hands of a woman, and the attending anesthetist was also a woman who had to fix the problems caused by a man.

The music my daughter listens to is primarily by women and my (our) favourite song right now is by a woman, with the preceding track also being penned and sung by a woman.

As far as I am able to, I try and present women who are genuinely moving our society forward and contributing positively to a better, more inclusive world. And that grates against everything she is taught at church and in social settings.

By not raising my voice to tell the man that he should respect her “No” I failed her. I didn’t show her that her wishes should be respected at all times. I didn’t show her that it is okay to speak up at elders when placed in an uncomfortable position.

But my wife sees it as an opportunity for her to have reacted if she really felt violated and a harmless act of teasing and playing the fool.

I don’t think I can shake my guilt because of the timing of the incident. I don’t think I should get over it because the other man should have known better. I do think that I betrayed all of my other feminist efforts through inaction.

I won’t stop trying to shape a better world and worldview for my daughter, but my guilt reminds me that I am part of the problem. I am trash too.

My wife’s reaction, however, underlines the nuance of the fight against gender-based violence and discrimination. Where do we draw lines in our society? Is there any reliable way to predict acts of gender-based violence?

The answer to the first question is simple enough for me: identify strip misogyny from our society’s reference works. If you’re going to use the Bible to inform opinions about life, for instance, then we should remove all instances where women are presented in a poor light or seen to be in servitude to men. We should also add in a couple of books written by women to balance things out.

Answering the second question is a lot more difficult, because preventative measures can only be put in place if there are direct links between actions. Alcohol impairs judgement and affects your ability to control your body. Set a limit for alcohol in your bloodstream when driving a car and that reduces the risk of related road accidents.

You don’t reduce crime through harsh punishment because criminals don’t intend to get caught. If crime spikes at night, then enforcing a curfew is the only way to reduce the risk, and good luck with that.

The only way to solve gender-based crime is to have gender equality as the default view. Men will abuse women because men do not see or respect women as equals. Break that idea and you will solve the world’s problems.

Follow me, it will be alright

1 comment on “No country for trash men

  1. C

    The fact that you were the parents who were able to start the conversation, about awkward uncle, and decide how you felt it could or should have been handled is where the power for change lies. Your child is already more likely to be protected, simply because you guys recognize the importance of evaluating.

    I agree that we all need to know when to chill. Emotions can run high… but I will in all likelihood be the kind of crazy who offends by insisting on respecting my kids bodily autonomy. And I hope family will understand that it’s not personal. I have an uncle who used to call me “sexy girly”. For my whole life. He is gentle and kind and made of everything good. But the first time I heard him call my child that, I asked him outright to never call her that again. Because while I trust that he would never in a thousand lifetimes violate her, I also understand that that behavior is all part of grooming. Inappropriate terms of endearment, unwanted tickles or cuddles… when it’s “just who they are” it’s normalized. So by the time an offender shows up, it’s confusing to “tell on”. It was normal in front of the parents at a braai. It was normal last week. I don’t expect my child to have the emotional capacity to differentiate between when they can call time and when they can’t. So when I see the blurred lines I’m probably going to make enemies and err on the side of extreme caution. You guys are a phenomenal partnership and your children will continue to benefit from the healthy sounding boards you are to one another

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.