Attention to Violence Must Challenge Masculinity, Not Entrench It

Cape Times (South Africa), February 14, 2012 | Go to article overview

Attention to Violence Must Challenge Masculinity, Not Entrench It


David Benatar's recent opinions on violence against women and men reveal a politics that undermines gender equality and entrenches masculinist thinking.

Benatar questions why particular attention is afforded violence against women when more men are the victims of violent crimes. He argues that the emphasis on violence against women represents an assertion of "special rights" for women and accuses those that defend this emphasis of a "special pleading".

Benatar poses the question, "When we are asked repeatedly 'Why women and children [are victims of violence]?', we should equally be asked 'Why men?'"

However, he offers no response to his own question. Instead he uses this question as a ploy to launch an attack on initiatives combating violence against women and on the gender equality principles that inform them.

Benatar provides no analysis of male homicide statistics, nor does he attempt to contextualise the figures he cites as the basis of his argument.

In response to the assertion that gendered power imbalances enable violence, he maintains this to be "unsubstantiated" and "at odds with the facts". He ridiculously dismisses the fact that domestic violence is predominantly perpetrated by men.

Perhaps Benatar avoids offering any analysis of male on male violence precisely because getting to grips with why men kill each other alongside raping and killing women exposes the very gender power relations that he refutes.

Violence perpetrated by men against other men and against women are relational - the flip sides of a gendered coin. Male violence as a social act tells us something about what men do to each other and to women, in order to be men.

Parallel with excessive rates of rape, femicide and domestic violence (which Benatar flatly denies) against women in South Africa, we also see levels of male homicide that compare to countries at war.

These manifestations of violence are the results of particular gender relations and hierarchies of masculine power.

His attempt to erase violence as a function of gender is entirely at odds with the facts. Research by Prof Kopano Ratele (MRC) and Mariette Smith (Unisa) shows the links between male homicidal violence and social variables. The highest rates of male homicidal violence are among 24-34 year old black men.

These homicides are race-, sex-, gender- and age-related, and, according to Kopano and Smith, are "the indirect result of attempts by males to accomplish a certain ruling form of masculinity".

In their analysis of the statistics, they point out that "for some males authority over women and children is assumed to be a rightful part of social relations and estimations of manhood[bar] (D)ominance over other men is an important element of ruling masculinity. …

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