TALKING POINT // BOYS MUST CRY: A CONVERSATION ABOUT BLACK MASCULINITY

About a month ago, I said I wanted to broach this subject because it is quite interesting to me how unexplored it is when one thinks of how necessary it is to dissect a masculinity whose influence is so ubiquitous, so sweet and acerbic at the same time, so in need of being addressed. My City Press column last week was inspired (not sure if that’s the right word) by the Pulane incident and I have been inspired to share it in the wake of the American backlash to Trevor Noah’s appointment as the host of the Daily Show*.

Here is the column

There’s a new song by South African singer Wanda Baloyi called ‘’Indoda’’, in which she melodically croons ‘’indoda ayikhali’’, a man doesn’t cry no matter how hard it gets, a man doesn’t cry, she sings. A Google search of this term reveals another song titled ‘’Indoda ayikhali’’ by Afro-pop star, Nhlanhla Nciza. The former was casually announced on Metro FM on a Monday morning, with no thought spared to its content. The latter’s music video has 63 000 hits on YouTube and again, the meaning of its content is taken as fact with no room for any dimension to its implications.

When we examine the sociological context within which South African boys grow up — whether it is through traditional initiation rituals, sports fields or daily subliminal messaging on television that is suggestive of how a ‘real man’ behaves — there exists a culture that relinquishes boys of their human ability and need to cry, to express so called soft and feminine emotions like fear and insecurity. Upon this examination, the performance of masculinity that the patriarchal brand of masculinity requires from boys and men becomes clear. Teach boys that crying and complex feelings are for women or effeminate men and the result will be men who genuinely think that they do not have the capacity, need or means to express those feelings.

What this unsound indoctrination fails to do is to make room for the fact that heterosexual boy’s bodies, just like all human bodies, are likewise vessels through which human emotions exist, travel and need to be expressed. Girls are encouraged to express their emotionality to a degree in which it is assumed that it is their nature when it is nurture and boys are discouraged from expressing their emotionality through speech, touch or crying, making it seem like tools of emotional expression such as violence are natural.

This is the context that creates the conditions for sexism to not only thrive, but to be a commonplace feature of how things work. In these conditions, men and women’s bodies are treated as differently as history has treated black and white skins. Similarly to how racism adds social meanings to physical attributes, sexism — which is not separate matter but another layer of the larger paradigm of what write bell hooks calls the ‘white supremacist capitalist patriarchy’ – adds or takes away value to physical attributes based on gender. The case of Pulane Lenkoe — the woman who gained overnight fame or notoriety depending on which side of the gender divide you stand as a result of her ex-boyfriend leaking a nude image of her on social media — is an interesting study of how men’s liberation can be woman’s oppression. A jilted ex-lover who did not have the emotional ability to reason with his partner in private, eventually explodes in public using sexual violence as his means of communication. This trope is becoming increasingly less newsworthy because of its frequency.

In the wake of the incident, Lenkoe gained over 30 000 new, mostly male followers in 24 hours, a following led by local male celebrities who chose to publicly retweet and place value on the sexually attractive shape of her naked body than on the fact that this is a contemporary form of sexual violence. Instead of protecting her dignity, Black masculinity’s popular response was to lick its lips at the sight of her naked body, to salivate at the stinging of her integrity.

When the colonial government broke the bonds of union between black men and black women by systematically separating families in the early 20th Century, and when the apartheid government further entrenched this separation by legislating it in its mid century crescendo of domination, they did so to ensure that there could be no formidable resistance from black communities against the migrant labour system and apartheid. I wonder if they knew how well this would work.

A breaking of the familial structure that exists in white, Indian and Coloured communities where mothers and fathers raised their families in the same physical space, was necessary to ensure long term dysfunction within black families where bonds between black men and black women were weakened or destroyed by separation and abandonment. When leaders like Biko, Mandela, Mbeki and Mlangeni were separated from their wives and families, it made for a lasting template to break resistance to apartheid en masse.

How has this separation manifested itself in modern society? Can we say that the bonds of trust, community and love exist between black men and black women? What happens when black masculinity, which in South Africa has only recently ripped itself from the belly of history, mutates to be the lascivious oppressor of black femininity, a past time of the former oppressors? Furthermore, what happens when this lascivious brand of black masculinity is built on top a patriarchal masculinity that has been divesting men of their ability to be compassionate, to be empathetic and to have the will and desire to examine the interiors of their emotional selves?

ENDS

*When Trevor was announced as the new host, I was not elated.  I did not jump up and down with glee because while the man can be counted as funny, I’ve never been into his politics.  I am happy for his individual achievement but it does not bar him from a problematic politics in which he constantly denigrates black people and women in the name of comedy. His misogynist tweets about ”fat chicks” and ”jewish chicks” are coming under fire in a publicly (though not privately) intolerant of sexism America and his PR must be working overtime to throw light on the shade he is currently getting.  For me this highlights a glaring tolerance that we as South Africans have for sexism, where popular, good looking and powerful men like Noah, can get away with adding fuel to an already burning bush. I know I’m being an international wet blanket right now. I know.

Image: Eish, I have no idea who took this gorgeous image.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

// Comments (7)
  • Zuki says:

    I know exactly what you mean, nam I was not particularly elated by the news of Trevor Noah, exactly because his politics and jokes were no funny to me. But then just kept quiet so not to be a “hater”.

  • Zethu says:

    The end note just made me feel okay for being ambivalent about Noah’s achievement.

  • Senzi says:

    I’m having such a difficult time trying to reveal to my brothers the violent patriarchy (and, somewhat, self-hatred) that makes them contribute to making the world a harder place for me to live. It’s a swim against the current constantly because dismantling a white supremacist capitalist patriarchal system is ironically seen as un-African.

    I have considered suffering in silence whenever they say something self-hating in its anti-blackness or misogynist in its sexism. And I’m only 20, I only recently have been going through a period of disillusionment about this world we live in. I don’t know ngempela.

    But thank you for this. One day I’ll be brave enough to forward it to my brothers.

  • lolo says:

    The source of this beautiful image can be further explained here:

    http://www.franceinter.fr/emission-regardez-voir-pieter-hugo-photographe-sud-africain
    (you may have to ask your browser to translate it for you).

    It’s a piece of work done by Pieter Hugo. Amazing photographer!

  • Milli Bongela says:

    Thanks Lolo

  • Milli Bongela says:

    Thank you Otsholeng

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