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Challenging Masculinities: Deliberating & dialoguing with men on Domestic Violence. “The safest place for men is the home; the home is, by contrast, the least safe place for women” Edward 1989:214 . Rubeena Partab University of KZN South Africa Bosnia 2010. Intro….

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Challenging Masculinities: Deliberating & dialoguing with men on Domestic Violence

“The safest place for men is the home; the home is, by contrast, the least safe place for women” Edward 1989:214

Rubeena Partab

University of KZN

South Africa

Bosnia 2010

  • This presentation addresses the ‘lived experiences’ of 7 S. A violent men who dialogued & debated on the intersection between masculinity, DV & religion.
  • The data presented is merely work in progress from my analysis chapter of the sub-theme on the social construction of masculinity & the rights rhetoric debate
  • I beg your indulgence in advance on the dense text of the narratives I present.
  • You are invited to assist me: discuss, deliberate/ dispute how men describe, deny & defend their violent choices within a marital dyad.
2 pertinent objectives
2 Pertinent objectives
  • To develop an understanding of the social construction of masculinity.
  • To engage & create an opportunity for reflective accounts of control & power in hegemonic masculinity.

Study informed by: critical, feminist, & particularly masculinity theory.

  • Sample: From the Adult Diversion Prog of an NPO - men who were court-mandated into attending anger management programmes
  • The exploratory study: predominantly qualitative in nature with some descriptive aspects .
Demographics :
  • Total: 57 men were invited to participate:
  • Only 7 responded & successfully attended all 4 fgs sessions.
  • Criterion for selection: was not dictated by race, age, etc, but the consent & availability of the men.
  • Ages: 34-61 years.
  • Yrs of marriage: 3 – 36
sa scenario
SA Scenario
  • Medical Research Council & crisis organisations reveals (conservatively) that:
  • 1 in 3 SA women will be raped in their lifetime
  • Over 40% of men have beaten their domestic partners at least once
sa scenario contd
SA Scenario contd…
  • 40% of girls’ 1stsexual experiences are non-consensual;
  • Less than 1 in 20 rapes is reported to the police;
  • Less than 1% of rapes are successfully prosecuted, making rape by far the safest crime to commit in SA;

1 in 10 of those raped will become HIV-positive.

gender the social constructions of masculinity
Gender & the Social Constructions of Masculinity
  • The text & narrative are conspicuous with the interactive & interpretive debate that emanated from the fg discs.
  • Although the text may initially appear seemingly over-simplistic these conversation give recognition to the complex, contradictory, intricate & diverse expression of masculinity.
  • Moreover the “hegemonic metaphors” lends substantive depth & understanding of men’s socio-cultural violent realities.
gender the social constructions of masculinity contd
Gender & the Social Constructions of Masculinity contd…
  • Thesocio-cultural implications of masculinity are demonstrated in the consensual views held by the respondents.
  • Not only do they reiterate the need for dominance, power & control but are vehemently opposed to not being accorded the appropriate respect by their wives
  • The subtext echoes that this cultural ideal is related to the concept of hegemonic masculinity that ultimately serves t o sustain male power.
gender the social constructions of masculinity contd10
Gender & the Social Constructions of Masculinity contd…
  • Moreover, the statements contains overtones of boundaries that are culturally constructed.
  • Male sex-role has become an ‘invisible straightjacket’ which keeps a man bound to antiquated patriarchal notions of what he must do or be in order to prove himself.
  • This contradiction between the hegemonic male image & the real conditions of men’s lives leads to a “patriarchal hangover”.

“… My wife has a big mouth, she says that I am a very aggressive person so when I see that something is wrong, I scream and she screams back. So I would scream at her occasionally, she would use it to her advantage & she would disappear & when I ask where she was, she would say that she was in a safe house….. Then she would go to a safe house. Why is she treated special because there are people that are involved in serious crimes & they need the safe house, not her. Basically that is how it started…”


“…you know like when you are drinking we calm down. When you keep quiet people take advantage of you like they start swearing…”

  • Interestingly, of the respondents, 6 cited consuming alcohol, while 4 smoked dagga. In a S.A. study by the MRC of women abused by their spouses, 69% identified alcohol/drug abuse as the main cause of conflict leading to the abuse.
rights rhetoric debate
Rights Rhetoric Debate
  • Our President, Jacob Zuma in his address on Women’s day this year asserted that the laws in our statue books are not enough, they will become meaningful when they create a tangible improvement in the lives of women.
  • Feminist thinking too, highlights how patriarchy contributes substantially to women being oppressed. These diverse expressions of patriarchal views continue to prevail; here a respondent illustrate the point aptly:
rights rhetoric debate contd
Rights Rhetoric Debate contd…

“…..sometimes woman’s right is when you tell her something & she would tell you to mind your own business…she forgets that you are the head of the home…”

  • Headship in the family dictates repeatedly that it is unequivocally a male domain, when this is challenged in any form male hegemonic status is reiterated to ensure women are reminded of their ‘place’ despite striving towards gender equality.
rights rhetoric debate contd15
Rights Rhetoric Debate contd…
  • Seemingly, their identity as violent men is devalued when confronted even by women asserting their rights, thus posing the possibility of women being disrespectful to them.
  • The meaning attached to the notion of head extends beyond paternal authority to include responsibility to meet the financial needs of the family.
  • The need for compliance & being subservient is paramount, even under the guise of ‘respect’ & ‘obedience’ as outlined in the following 2 statements.
rights rhetoric debate contd16
Rights Rhetoric Debate contd…

“…I need to be respected by my wife at all times, whether I am intoxicated, sober or if I am unemployed. I must always be respected in my house. If I see that there is no order in my house then I must instill order at all times. If I put order in my house if my wife disagrees with me then I would definitely have a problem with that. ..I need her to listen to what I tell her to…., it’s that simple…”

rights rhetoric debate contd17
Rights Rhetoric Debate contd…
  • Men’s privilege derived from a patriarchal social structure to coerce a woman, sometimes through fear for her very life, into an exploitive intimate relationship that holds her hostage & in servitude to his needs & desires.
  • President Zuma also on Women’s Day acknowledged the in February 1994 when the Women’s Charter for Effective Quality was adopted it was a reminder that conventionally, democracy & human rights had been defined & interpreted in terms of men’s experiences.
rights rhetoric debate contd18
Rights Rhetoric Debate contd…
  • He acknowledged that society & its institutions had been structured for the primary benefit of men
  • Understanding the landscape of the gender discourse necessitates deconstruction of meaning men attach to their gender.
  • The deepening of the initial insights offered by these men in a non-liner dialogical manner, signal their stereotyping, reproduced in male hegemonic society.
  • Their narratives contribute in unpacking privilege & entitlement, which is illuminated in men’s dialogue which lend wider societal justification of maintaining male dominance.
  • These men consider themselves innocent, often blaming someone else. Included in the narrative, here too is the oppressive text of hegemonic masculinity.
rights rhetoric debate contd20
Rights Rhetoric Debate contd…

“…When I was working I would come home & the food would be ready I would only have to wash my hands and sit down. Now the tables have turned, I have to help myself to supper….”

  • The respondents dictates that Respect should be demanded from women which ultimately can be a deterrent in inciting further violence.

“…maybe women should try to sit down and speak to us calmly, like we are talking right now. We are wondering why the police come so quickly when they call them. These guys are abusing and assaulting us. She disappears.. she says that she went to a safe house and she takes my son with. When I ask where the safe house is, they are not allowed to tell me where it is. So how do I know that my son is safe and what gives you reason to take him, so it is things like that? As her husband should I not know where the safe house is?


…This interdict is a part of the law that woman are using for their advantage…..…When I was in Westville Prison I spoke to other men who realized that they are there for nothing ……”

  • These comments captures the essence of how some men view The Domestic Violence Act, No 116 of 1998, which allows for the wife to interdict her husband, which invariably is a potential deterrent in perpetuation of further violence.
  • Men are even imprisoned, like the statements above alludes to, further making the implication of the Act being bias.


  • These qualitative accounts & analysis demonstrate how violent men deny, minimize, excuse, justify or confess with or without remorse to make sense of their vacillating violent relationships with their wives.
  • It further illuminates the links between ‘patriarchal hangover’ & its deleterious effects on gendered relations between them & their wives.

Until the costs of maintaining hegemonic masculinities is calculated, with what precisely are the benefits, against what incrementally are the losses, then, thepotential to collude, rather than confront marital violence will prevail in society.

  • When something is about masculinity, it is not always
  • ‘about men’ Kosofsky-Sedgwick ( 1995:12)