What if I told you masculinity is not exclusive to just males and femininity is not exclusive to just females… Biologically females and males have different anatomy as well as hormonal make up. However, did you know that both sexes biologically have the same hormones just at different levels depending on circumstances. During a female’s menstrual cycle she has lower levels of progesterone and estrogen. However, when a male experiences exhaustion or fatigue he has higher levels of estrogen. Basically context here is the crux of the matter. Similarly, contrary to popular belief, gender identity or sexuality is also not binary. Research shows sexuality and gender are more of a spectrum rather than binary forms of categorization. How we identify or behave is actually more circumstantial context rather than predetermined social constructs imposed on us to adhere to. Here’s how the dangerous imposition takes place to advance & maintain the male agenda of patriarchy.
Patriarchy refers to the systemic prioritization of males in social, political and economic spaces for the maintenance of male advancement and domination in said contexts at the expense of the female population. However, Bell Hooks defines patriarchy as “a political-social system that insists that males are inherently dominating, superior to everything and everyone deemed weak, especially females, and endowed with the right to dominate and rule over the weak and to maintain that dominance through various forms of psychological terrorism and violence.” The violence Bell Hooks speaks of is the patriarchal ideology of masculinity that perpetuates itself in society as follows:
The conceptualization of masculinity, with regards to patriarchal standards, refers to characteristics applied by society to a male and expected from a male. The attributes “exclusively” associated with male identity that correlate to masculinity are problematic adjectives like tough, aggressive, powerful, strong etc. The antithesis thereof is femininity described associated with soft, passive, meek, weak etc. Consequently what is inherently masculine in patriarchal ideology is synonymous with violence. Violence is an instrument of imposing male dominion over female identity and bodies through the policing of female femininity exhibited in:
- standards of beauty
- rape culture
- shaming language
- problematic female imagery
All of which is informed by what Laura Mulvey calls the “male gaze”.The male gaze refers to the objectification of the female body in media from a perspective appeasing to the male to encourage consumption of products. Essentially, it is the “sex sells” trope packaged into strategic exposure of the female body in sexual innuendo format to make what is being sold to men more appealing and attention grabbing. Thus dehumanizing. Thus reducing the female to a dehumanized object of desire packaged as part of the inanimate product.
Similarly, the male gaze when internalized by female objects of desire can be identified as the ‘labeling theory’. According to Howard Beck, the labeling theory has to do with how the self-concept and behaviour of an individual can be influenced by the terms used to describe or classify them. Labeling theory basically involves ideas of self concept adjectives (how you see yourself) versus social identity (how society views you). Herein lies the danger of rape culture facilitated, perpetuated & maintained by the male gaze. A byproduct of toxic masculinity. Exemplified in the following :
Rape Culture as portrayed above is systemic societal policing of female bodies, removal of independent self-determination (i.e. female autonomy). Where female identity, in its entirety, is determined by the male perspective through correlating particular clothing with certain behaviour . Which normalizes sexual assault or related behaviour against girls and women. Thus promoting dangerous rhetoric of victim blaming & slut shaming where there is little to no accountability from males for violent and detrimental conduct against girls and women. Creating a situation where the onus of a man’s action is dependent on the women’s expression femininity. Clothes i.e a tool of expression (among many other things) are then used to perpetuate certain stigma. A stigma is when a powerfully negative label is used to alter a person’s self-concept and social identity e.g. derogatory female slurs like whore, slut… When referring to women that go against the norm of sexual chastity according to men. Sometimes even women use similar harmful language when the misogyny is internalized. Research shows that shaming slurs may negatively change (reduce self-esteem) as well as increase hostility in the spaces women occupy.
The representation of women in entertainment and media is that of hypersexualized bodies. Where the objectification thereof effectively dehumanizes the subjects to commodify their bodies. Desensitizing society both male and female to the dangers thereof under the guise of “it’s just entertainment”. Box office hits like the Twilight saga and more recently Fifty Shades of Grey romanticize violence, controlling and possessive behaviour towards women. Akin to abuse packaged as a kink in the case of Twilight’s Edward the kink is blood; in the case of Mr. Grey it is whips and bondage.
Audiences are not entirely passive and can be critical. However, repetitive exposure to certain ideas can breed a subconscious complacency to the problematic images we are fed. Music, arguably as impactful as imagery, also promotes vulgar language and negative outlooks of female femininity. In hip hop rap misogyny is apparent in references to females as “bitches, hoes and chicks” to be conquered by the male or disregarded depending on the theme. If the theme is male success the degradation of the female body is exerting “masculinity” and monetary prosperity that “bought” said women. Basically hypermasculinity realized. Similarly pop music and culture also reinforce “manhood” by positioning women as conquests and damsels in distress in much need of male “guidance”.
When there is a pervasive culture of accepting the marginalization of women which includes the abuse and discrimination thereof. When shame is used to police, silence and distract from said plight it is…
This is not coincidental but antedotal to the maintainence of patriarchy and the advancement of the male agenda.
According to Crime statistics South Africa, an average of approximately 109 rapes were reported each day between April and December 2016. The legal definition of rape according to South African law is:
“Non-consensual oral, anal or vaginal penetration of a person (male or female) with a genital organ, anal or vaginal penetration with any object and the penetration of a person’s mouth or the genital organs of an animal.”
Recent media coverage has been dominated by headlines of femicide incidences in South Africa. That included graphic details of the heinous violence against the increased murders of women across the country. Especially those of black South African women, where a pattern of violent behaviour is identified from someone very close to the victim in question. As was the case with the first significant report in 2017, of Karabo Mokoena’s brutal murder. The SABC News reported the murder of 60 women in Gauteng during May of 2017 alone where 53% of the women were killed by their romantic partner. As was in the case of Karabo Mokoena who was beaten, raped, killed and burnt by her intimate partner.
Nonkie Smous, a black lesbian woman, was assaulted and burnt beyond recognition. Karabo’s killer has since been apprehended and placed in prison. Nonkie Smous’ killer(s) is/are suspected to be male members of her community in the township of Soweto that were known to harass her on account of her sexuality. Research conducted by the LGBT Well-being and the Love Not Hate campaign found that 41% of the South African LGBT community knew someone that was murdered due to their sexual orientation or gender identity.
The media coverage and outrage about increased femicide in South Africa has been immense. As well as selective, the coverage lacked the influence of socio-economic factors that put certain individuals in certain high risk communities. Which are generally dangerous but even more so for black women who are especially part of LGBT community.
South African media has produced graphic information concerning violence against women and their murder. Yet very little to no justice for their victims, or potential solutions are introduced. By neither media or the government that both advocate for justice, protection of freedom and the rights of women but simultaneously perpetuate the compromise of said ideals. In a country where the president has been accused of sexual assault; where every other lyric in popular music is “bitches, hoes” this or that and news reporting with victim blaming rhetoric.
Dismantling said patriarchal structures, and reforming their function is that of utmost importance. It is also why intersectional feminism, particularly black feminism, is absolutely necessary to report our own stories in media and advocate for our justice. By women occupying spaces of authority in our government and police to enforce said equality and protection of our freedoms. As exhibited by the police of Katlehong township, where the female police led protest took place demanding more accountability & help from the community by exposing perpetrators.
All in all the revolution will be intersectional. Otherwise the goal is not for equality or freedom but power.
Change among the Gatekeepers: Men, Masculinities and Gender Equality in the Global Arena by R. W. Connell
Labeling theory: Social constructionism, Social stigma, Deinstitutionalisation by George Herbert Mead & Howard S. Becker
Visuals and other Pleasures by Laura Mulvey
Wretched of the Earth by Franz Fanon.
Understanding Patriarchy by Bell Hooks. http://arizona.indymedia.org/news/2004/07/20613.php