By Siphokuhle Mkancu
With the conclusion of women’s month, it is a good time to look back on the #TotalShutDdown movement, which appeared for the first time this year. In its resistance to gender-based violence (GBV) and its root causes, the #TotalShutDown centred the lived realities of womxn and other marginalised gender identities given South Africa’s ongoing prevalence of rape, femicide and other gender-based assaults. It rightfully demanded a national plan from government, as there is not enough political will in addressing and reducing GBV nor interest in addressing what is no less than an epidemic that more than half the population faces on a daily basis. It petitioned for a commitment from segments of civil society, be it the media, or the private sector, to not only protect but also emancipate womxn from all forms of violence.
An implicit part of the movement was what it expected of cishet men. It was expected of men to introspect on violent masculinities, critique toxic social constructs, and cultural and religious dogma that normalise and sanction GBV; for men to unlearn their oppressive and objectifying treatment toward womxn, and relearn positive adaptations of masculinity. Instead, men continued to delegitimise and silence the stories of womxn. In the preceding Men’s March, men recited gender-“woke” speech and imitated as allies in the struggle for gender justice, exhibiting subtle forms of patriarchy and misogyny. It included speeches stating that ‘good/real men don’t rape’ that still view womxn in relation to men and are complicit in rape culture, propagating the myth that rapists are unfamiliar and unknown to the victims, less or inferior to ‘real men’, and that these ‘real men’ are an exception to the problem. After the march, men only re-centred themselves, their experiences and their individual ‘redeeming’ qualities that set them apart from the rest of the ‘trash’.
Often, the more overt misogynists attempt to undermine womxn as ‘emotional beings’, thereby implying that womxn are irrational or hysterical. Men are disinterested in understanding womxn’s lived realities. Misogynists go as far as to argue that because of unrestrained womxns’ emotions, they are not to be taken seriously and cannot be trusted to be rational, in control, or occupy any leadership position. Instead, they maintain that womxn are intrinsically flawed and broken, in need of fixing- this mentality serves as a justification of their misogyny. The sum total is that men are disinterested in understanding womxn’s lived realities because to do so would primarily mean acknowledging the language and attitudes that contribute to GBV, admitting that men are the main perpetrators and taking responsibility for the scourge of violence and abuse.
During conversations about violence perpetrated and perpetuated by men, deflectors’ response is often, ‘but womxn are emotionally abusive too’. Men, then, count the instances that intimate partner violence has occurred in their relationships or to their friends as a way to disprove the innocence of womxn and prove they can also be victims, which is true and valid. However, when this argument is used as a means to suggest that womxn are psychologically abusive or manipulative by virtue of their gender, it quickly becomes a dangerous justification for violence against womxn.
Men conveniently and frequently disregard the emotional labour undertaken by womxn- womxn are socially conditioned to be nurturers, the gendered precept goes, to offer unwavering support and act as trusted confidantes of others. Womxn are conditioned to be ‘ride or die chicks’. This unequal burden of emotional labour plays itself out in relation to gender roles and norms even within queer relationships. And even in workplaces. For instance, the feminine gay man, when in a relationship with a masculine or cis-gendered gay man is more than likely to be the one invested in a relationship, to be the one who validates and panders to the needs and desires of the partner(s). The feelings of the masculine gay man matter the most; he inflicts pain and neglects the emotional needs of the other and this behaviour is normalised even within queer relationships. In the workplace, womxn are expected to be nurturing, to communicate in a way that is coded ‘female’, to help in the background work of protecting male egos by cushioning communication in ways that male counterparts are not burdened with.
When toxic masculinities are confronted or challenged- whether it be in regards to femicide, or within queer relationships-, men divert attention from these toxicities, and insert and centre themselves and their feelings; we’ve seen this play out in the narrative of #NotAllMen. The #NotAllMen brigade deflects attention from the atrocities that womxn experienced largely predominantly by the hands of men and forgets the trauma that accompanies a womxn’s existence. That to be womxn and/or queer is to run a daily gauntlet of assaults. The #NotAllMen refrain seeks to dismiss as bogus the existing institutionalised and systematic patriarchy of which men have long benefited from. The #NotAllMen allows men to distance, detach and desensitise themselves from the problem(s) and to continue doing nothing to challenge and dismantle patriarchy or misogyny, of which they are the most direct and embodied beneficiaries. . The #NotAllMen brigade, is more concerned with semantics than violence against womxn, actively makes room and allows ‘nice guys’ to be complicit in violence against womxn as long as they are not the ones committing violence – forgetting there are myriad types of violence that are not physical and that GBV is done from the power position of being male and all the privileges that identity affords.
The #NotAllMen brigade goes as far as to protest feminism- especially radical, intersectional and sex positive feminism- and scoff at and reject equity-based gender policies, and dismiss the plights of feminists who challenge the patriarchal status quo. When confronted and challenged by feminists, misogynists try to depict the former as misandrists or man-haters, thereby, again, re-centring themselves and assuming the role of victim.
How did a movement concerned with empowering and uplifting womxn and other marginalised gender identities become a movement about cishet men? This egotistical me-me narrative plays itself out even in spaces perceived to be radical or progressive as soon as male supremacy, position and privilege are challenged. For example, in anti-racist spaces, black men dominate conversations, and anti-racist discourse. When black womxn challenge black men’s positionality within the social hierarchy and how black men reproduce patriarchal power hierarchies within liberation spaces, they are accused of betraying the revolution. But a revolution that is unsafe for womxn, that is homophobic and transphobic is not revolutionary, but a mere replica of the status quo.
Siphokuhle Mkancu is a Communications and Advocacy Intern at IJR and holds a Btech in Media, Communication and Culture from the Nelson Mandela University.
 Cisgender Heterosexual