The role of the man in society is one that has been subjected to much change throughout history. Where does the modern African man find his place? At the Park Exchange, 3 young men came to shed some light on this topic. Theresho Selesho, Lehlohonolo Seremane Mokoena and Dennis Ngango all come from different backgrounds.
One important point of discussion was the factors that make up the modern African man, and have moulded him into who he is today. A significant point was made by Theresho, who referred to the family setup, or lack thereof, in many of today’s rural and also urban communities. The lack of father figures and early exposure to violence, as well as the migrant labour system combined with prostitution has led to a degradation in the perception of the role of the man and the father in some communities.
Different communities have different coming-of-age rituals for men. In some black communities, boys may need to go through initiation and circumcision. In Afrikaans communities, many consider it important to shoot one’s first buck. In other, urban communities, it may be loss of virginity or the purchase of a car or house with one’s own money. It is interesting to think about what society views as a man’s purpose or duty in life, with regards to his country, and on a more personal level, his family.
Some of speakers identified several characteristics which define the role of men in their eyes. A man is a protector, a provider, and a leader. However, it was interesting to see these attributes being discussed in contrast to patriarchy and chauvinism. Men should live a lifestyle of innovation, Theresho said. As men, it is vital to strive for growth in every area of life. His idea of the “2016 Man” was interesting – described as innovative and deliberate, progressive in every space, engaged with his environment, willing to sacrifice for others, and helping those who are in need wherever he can. The 2016 Man builds his own South Africa, in his own space, and influences wherever he goes, according to Theresho. According to Nolo, our third speaker, being a man means being passionate about something, being a leader, providing strength and support to others, knowing yourself and challenging the status quo, whatever that may mean in any given situation.
One of the most interesting statements, for me personally, in the session, was also made by Theresho. When asked what he thinks is an outdated idea about men, he responded with “Our greatness. As men, we are not great. We are not ok. We are broken and we need to realise that.” This was a much-addressed topic in the session. Men’s tendency to not seek out help, especially when faced with emotional struggles or difficult decisions, and how this leads to much pain. The idea that men are more powerful, more capable or more intelligent than women was also subject to much discussion.
Nolo especially emphasised the need for men to work on their own perceptions of themselves and of women, to treat them with respect and also to educate other men. It was, all in all, a very interesting discussion, with many new perspectives being shared and old ones challenged. What is, to you, the definition of what man is?.
– Thomas Karberg
An important narrative which the first speaker, Theresho, brought out is that of mentorship, and that we have a responsibility to pass on our knowledge and better another’s life, as a form of cultural rite of passage amongst our generation. This narrative in itself touches on the need for role models for our male youth to provide guidance in an ever challenging society.
Sitting next to me was a young gentlemen, Lehlohonlo Seremane, who unbeknownst to me happen to be our next speaker. I was curious to hear his views on deconstructing the South African man and I was not disappointed. As a young mover-and-shaker, he encourages the modern man to be responsive to their environment and not be confined to cultural and traditional expectation. He advocates for leadership in a man in its purest form, one that leads yet has humility and roundedness to bring others to the table.
In a generation that sees themselves often weighed down by expectations, Lehlohonlo sees this as a challenge for our generation to not put too much pressure, and instead strive to challenge the status qou and in essence to be better men for us, but most importantly for our families largely for our country. As a new age man he enjoys the blurring of social norms and status quo, he encourages men to not create an atmosphere where women have to be masculine to be heard, and asks an important question “Why are women treated with different rules to men?”.
– Zuko Qusheka
Our third and final speaker, Dennis Ngango, decided to tackle the challenging topic of sex. This part of the day took the form of a group discussion where everyone was welcome to contribute in a form of a comment or a question.
From most of the input, one could gather that many were dissatisfied by the manner in which men continuously objectify women and the manner in which they approach women on a day to day basis. The concern was directed mostly towards the eroding effect which constantly speaking about “ass”, looking at “ass” and jesting about female bodies could have on a man’s psyche and the negative effect it could have on what should be a healthy social interaction with women.
Some solutions to these things were that men need to start to interacting with different kinds of women on different levels. This would hopefully help them to see women in a different light and not just as sexual objects of desire. However, what was also mentioned was that men should not be made to feel guilty for being physically attracted to a woman but instead a sober perspective needs to be taken on the matter. Lastly, the need to take personal responsibility and escape mob mentality was put forward. Ultimately, men should learn to hold each other accountable as they tend to fall into these habits when they get into peer groups and look at the objectification of women as ‘normal’ behaviour amongst men, and that’s actually where the behaviour is consciously learned.
Throughout the chat, the women in the crowd posed tough questions to the men such as: why is the reaction to the rape of a man so much more ghastly than to that of a woman? Why do men treat their female peers with less respect than they would their mothers? What is a man’s definition of ‘ladylike’ and should such a term still exist?
The aim of these questions were not to antagonise men or paint them as sexual vultures, but rather to try understand better how a man thinks and explain how their intentions are at times perceived by females.
A point was also raised that from a very young age boys and girls are taught to view sex differently and this manifests later in life. By having frank discussions on the matter and always aiming to respect one another’s dignity and desires, the disconnect can be addressed.
At the end of this GuyTalk where ‘man’ was deconstructed, no ultimate conclusion was reached, however, the ladies left having a better understanding of the man and his approach to life, family, wome, himself, the status quo and sexuality and the men left with plenty of reasons for introspection.
– Puno Selesho