GBVF a big problem in our society but let’s not neglect the boy child – positive masculinity experts

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A father and son spending time together.
A father and son spending time together.
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Girls and boys are often raised differently, even in the same household.

Girls are expected not to have too many boyfriends because that makes them seem loose. Yet when boys have more than one girlfriend, then it’s a compliment to them and their ability to convince or persuade girls.

In a time where GBV is at an ultimate high in South Africa, experts believe it's time to focus on grooming boy children better.

They say there are ways boys are influenced by their elders that unconsciously instil bad behaviour in them.

Dr Kgamadi J Kometsi, a senior lecturer in the department of psychology at the University of Johannesburg, says one of the best ways used in behaviour modification is to show the negative impact that one’s behaviour has on another.

“To some extent, this is happening already with some of the more extreme forms of gender-based violence. It should also happen more with these micro-aggressions that these forms of pursuing women assume. Another idea would be to appeal to the imagined audience of these problematic performances of masculinities.

“Changing the audience so that it neither rewards men who perform these forms of harassment, nor punish or alienate men who choose not to harass women as part of their masculinity performances would be key. Again, finding relevant role models would help such as traditional or cultural icons, sports personalities, and other celebrities with appeal to younger men in particular.

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He says he believes that the visibility of the more desirable forms of masculinities provides society with one of the ways in which we can influence men’s conversations more positively.

“The performance of masculinities, even through certain types of conversations presumes a critical audience, usual consisting of other men, that would judge con-conformity harshly.

“Therefore, the more the desirable performances of masculinities are foregrounded, the more likely men would feel permitted to change some of the existing scripts and conversations. Mass media can play a key role in highlighting prominent men engaging in much more constructive performances of masculinity, without losing their essence as men.

Dr Kometsi says the past is always implicated in who we become as adults. However, there is no linear causal relationship between childhood adversities and abusiveness in adulthood.

“For some men, it is exactly the adversity suffered that dissuade them from being abusers themselves. This however, does not take away from the fact that a lot of problematic behaviours in adulthood has its roots in childhood experiences.”

But what needs to be done to ensure the next generation of men does better?

Targeted interventions as early in children’s lives as possible are required, says Dr Kometsi.

Such interventions should avoid assuming a lecturing format. They should involve children acting out the desired behaviours, and being guided and supported in this.

Right now, he says, not enough is being done to develop young boys into upstanding men.

“There are parents and institutions that are doing their best to support positive behaviours in men. However, the social fabric is under tremendous strain. Survival initiatives trump adults being able to invest time and effort in bringing up children who will become upright citizen. Who the child becomes is almost left to chance, as long as their survival is ensured.”

Kabelo Chabalala, who is an author and the founder of the Young Men Movement, a non-profit organization that focuses on the socialization of the boy child to create a better generation of men, agrees that not enough is being done for young boys.

He says society has a problem of being unable to multitask when dealing with challenges.

“We still have a long way to go. One of the biggest problems in our society is that we cannot multitask issues. When we want to focus on the injustices of women and girls, we only want to focus on that and get carried away with that.

“One of my current issues is that once we shift the needle to the boy child, are we also going to repeat the same thing? We need to find ways to strike a balance. As we empower girls, let's make sure we do not leave the boys behind. As we empower boys, let's make sure we don’t leave the girls behind.

“GBVF is such a big problem in our society and that is a key marking stone that we are not doing enough. Crime rates are a marker that we are not doing enough to ensure that boys and men are upstanding.”

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Kabelo says positive masculinity can be promoted by reinforcing and creating more platforms for boys.

“But let’s do away with this concept of two-day camps at Hartees or Drakensburg as if that can change boys. They need platforms that will show consistency and repetition. Repetition will help us to ensure they become better boys.

“South Africans consume television or the media, but the media doesn’t take responsibility or portraying the men in our country as we want them to be. They keep on reinforcing to show them raping and killing because that is what our society does every day. That our stories, our dramas and our telenovelas are a reflection of our society. But how about them becoming a reflection of our ideal society instead of the bad things that are happening?”

He says it takes time to see changes happening.

“We need to encourage boys and their virginity. We need to talk about boys understanding that sex is not a mark of their manliness. All of those things of reinforcing new ways are important to ensure the next generation of men will be okay. Then boys can also learn that it is okay to report if they are molested and they will not be laughed at when they report at police stations.

“A lot of unlearning and relearning has to happen and that will not happen overnight. Men need to be modernized through awareness and education. That is the only way we will get accustomed to a better way of doing things.

“We need to remember that there were so many things we thought were okay growing up, and by being exposed to different worlds, we later learned that some of these things we called persuasion by forcing a girl to speak to you, twisting their arm or pulling their hair are actually abuse.

“As we get conscientized, we will look at things differently. As we understand the terms and look at things like consent, we quickly learn that some of our practices are regressive and should be let go.”

He also urges men to go for counselling so they can deal with their own traumas and not internalize them and make them a way of living.

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