Traditional Gender Roles In A Deteriorating South Africa

Staff Writer | The Republic Mail

There is a degree of violence in not acting, an art many South Africans seem to have perfected; writes Marungwane “Shadi” Ramashapa.

We are traveling in a taxi to Johannesburg CBD, engaged in a heated debate about gender equality. Six strangers, discussing the roles of men and women in the African household, four men and two women. Occasionally, the taxi stops to pick up new passengers who add their opinions to the conversation. I attempt to avoid debates, but closed minds debating always manage to draw me in. I am riled up and scoff loudly to express my shock at the opinions being presented.

Some of the opinions which were expressed include the following:

  1. “There is a difference between a woman and a ‘real woman’. A real woman does not believe in 50/50. The concept itself is not African in nature and anyone believing in it has been misled by white culture.”
  2. “It is the man’s job is to provide for his family. A woman’s job is to serve the husband and maintain the household. In the case where the husband loses his ability to provide, the wife must take over the role as provider but she must remember that she is still inferior to her husband.”
  3. “Women have a lowered thinking capacity than men.”
  4. “My wife will not be allowed to work. Even in the instance where I am not working, she cannot work. Allowing her to work is allowing her to interact with other men. A working woman (especially one who earns more than me) begins to believe she is the man of the house.”
  5. “If I am too tired to have sex she must understand because I have been working. She isn’t allowed to be tired. What has tired her out? Who has she been sleeping with? It is okay to beat up a woman because I am disciplining her. She is not a ‘real woman’ if she goes to the police.”

All these opinions violently clash together to sing a tune which may be interpreted as disrespect and fear. I am tempted to turn down the melody. I am tempted to ask who wrote the rules of gender roles. I am tempted to explain that history has always been written by the victors, and that change is important. Tempted to point out that even though things have always been done in a particular way, it does not mean there isn’t a better way of doing them.

Unfortunately, I have learnt that there is no amount of sense which is able to penetrate an unwilling ear. There is no amount of evidence that may be presented to those who are dead-set on misunderstanding. It is a pity that in 2017 we are still being met with such opinions. It is even more upsetting that we are allowing culture to be the excuse that we use in order to overlook basic human decency.

I believe that perception leads our actions, which is why I show concern when realising that women are still perceived as objects which function. There is a connection between the value we assign people and how we treat them. I believe that men who are taught to view women as inferior have a higher likelihood of mistreating the women that come into their lives, whether intentional or not. August seems to the month where the skeletons concerning the characters of our favourite public figures were pulled out of the closet. Now we are uncomfortably seated in front of the television trying to make polite conversation and ignoring the fact that South Africa and its government shows such little regard for its women. It is especially evident in both its actions and lack of action in the past few weeks. There is a degree of violence in not acting, an art many South Africans seem to have perfected.

This is nothing new, and it is a pity that this conversation has to happen in August. As though there is a set time-frame when we are allowed to discuss women issues before the month ends and we are asked to leave the stage. Phrases such as ‘How could he do such during Women’s Month?’ bore me. They imply that it is okay to mistreat women outside the month. What license are we giving for the rest of the year? Or shall we wait for the 16 days of activism against gender-based violence to address this? Men are not the only problem. I find myself horrified at the comments and responses that some women have when confronted with cases of abuse. We need to better. We need to understand that every action we take is a conversation with the universe. I am frightened at the script that we are co-writing through our actions.

Marungwane “Shadi” Ramashapa [@Thee_Shadi] is a Masters candidate at the University of Johannesburg. Her interests lie in social development and governance. She also uses writing, arts and poetry in achieving a sustainable society.