OPINION: Let men know they have a role to play

Columnist Karen Kotze.

I have watched with deep interest while so many men fight the hashtags, not the problem.

And no, I do not believe all men are trash. I just believe good men aren’t interested in a pat on the head for being who they are. I think good men are needed even more so now; to take aside the fence sitters and let them know they have a role to play. And that silence in the face of violence, is no longer acceptable. In truth, it never was; somebody has always paid the price for that. Maybe many have, and many more will yet.

Men’s fragile egos over a hashtag simply cannot claim comparison with the relentless savagery and the impunity with which women and little children are raped, and murdered. Every day. Day after day.

Those fragile male egos cannot begin to know how truly vulnerable their wives, girlfriends, sisters, mothers, daughters are, because if they really did, they would understand the chasm between the issues Of hashtags, which hurt their feelings, and rape, murder.

And yes, I know that men are raped and killed daily too. I have spoken to many men who have bravely shared their rape stories and these are not as rare as I once, in my own innocence, had thought.

So I am hoping that the realisation and the admission of this will result in a move(men)t to end all violence; against everyone.

To end the use of rape as a system of power and domination; in war-torn countries, and in townships, streets and homes, just metres from your own. Perhaps in your own home.

Maybe men don’t want to know how bad it has become because they feel the onus of responsibility to change it and traditionally for men, change comes with conflict and battle; and maybe, men are tired.

But they simply cannot be as weary as the women are, of burying their sisters, daughters, mothers. Of bearing the brunt of the violence which has us known as the rape capital of the world.

The bitter irony, that the rape capital of the world is also called The Mother City.

Could they be as tired of wondering #amInext long before this became a hashtag borne out of desperation, chanted by thousands of young voices, who had water cannons turned on their rage. As though they haven’t shed enough tears. As though their fury would be doused, by that.
No; not all men are monsters. But all women and children are at risk of the monsters that walk among them, and that makes men who see, suspect something, and say nothing, at the very least, accomplices in their silence.

We need to be brave, we need to lift the lid on the broiling anger, we need to see the grief and the shame beneath these behaviours. We need to respond to this, wisely. We need to change the narrative away from what women can do to keep safe, to what men can do, to ensure the safety of this society. Women and children have become the canaries in the coalmine, their deaths are a direct result of the toxicity in society. What is underground, needs to be cleared. Until it is, these cycles of trauma will simply spiral further.
Somebody made a sign which asked: Why does every woman know another woman who has been raped, but no men knows a rapist?

It struck me as a peculiar truth. It is statistically impossible that nobody knows them. They are somebody’s son, somebody’s brother, uncle, cousin, father.

They are not isolated. They are part of a community, somewhere.

That community needs to find its voice.

Sadly, my question changed last week. I used to ask women how many of their friends or family members have been raped. It is quicker now for people to count how many women they know that have not been raped.

Ask. Your world may just fall apart. But rather know, so you can choose well.

It falls to each of us, individually. This is what forms the collective. We all bear the responsibility of making this change. I know a particular person whose misogynist and sexist comments are treated as a bit of slightly embarrassing entertainment at a local cafe. I usually remove myself rather than battle it out, with him ‘pronking’ in the limelight.

But that time is done. And when next we cross paths, I am going to be the person who steps up and says very clearly and calmly, no. Just; No more. And in that moment, I will know which side of the tipping point the people around me are choosing. And I will extend my hand to all those wanting to build a better world, regardless of gender.  

It’s going to take all of us.