Mother’s Day festivities found me in a rather somber mood. I couldn’t stop thinking of South Africa’s Karabo Mokoena, who at the age of twenty-two was gruesomely murdered by her boyfriend.
I didn’t know Karabo. But I have been losing sleep over her murder. It shook me to the core. As a daughter, a future mother but mostly as a woman. For the past week, I have been struggling with fear, defeat and disempowerment.
It wasn’t so much Karabo’s murder as it was the reaction that it sparked off; the provocatively titled topic #MenAreTrash on twitter whereby women shared their stories of abuse and fear inflicted on them by men.
As I read the stories, I came to the terrifying realisation that every woman, no matter where she is, has endured some form of abuse or has at least been in a vulnerable position for no other reason apart from her gender. I certainly recognized my own experiences and the experiences of women I know.
I know what it’s like to be belittled, objectified, and to walk around in a constant state of fear and self-awareness. I have been groped by men old enough to be my father. I have been verbally insulted for saying no to sexual advances. Of course, my experience pales in comparison to that of women who have been raped, beaten, emotionally abused and killed.
There is a problem. And that problem is patriarchal entitlement. Most young boys, unlike most young girls, do not receive lessons on politeness, gentleness and humility. They are told to “be a man” which includes the endorsement of violence. They are told not be emotional because it’s “weak and unmanly.”
Those boys grow up to become men with fragile egos who think that they are above reproach. Society tells them that women must nurse those fragile egos. That’s why some men (and women) are more enraged by #MenAreTrash than by the stories about the abysmal injustices committed by men against women. Egos have been bruised.
Of course there are a lot of good men. But let’s be honest. Aren’t men solely responsible for almost all the unspeakable crimes against humanity?
The Chibok girls, those children were kidnapped and impregnated by men. In fact, men have a long history of violating women during conflict. Who was at the forefront of holocausts, genocides, world war and who is running the show in the current conflicts and terrorist activities around the world? Who is responsible for the gang-raping of women and little girls around the world? Who killed Karabo?
What does society tell women who have been raped? That they should have dressed better or should been more cautious because men can’t help themselves. What does society tell women who have been abused? That they should have known that men are easily provoked.
Such comments are usually made by men. This speaks volumes about what they think of themselves. In fact, one could deduce that they think of themselves as trash.
Even the good men are guilty of “minding my business” as their friends, colleagues, uncles and fathers behave poorly towards women. Some of those ‘good’ men have actually defended and stood by their abusive peers.
It’s time to admit that there is a problem. A behavioral problem protected and reinforced by patriarchal entitlement. We cannot solve it by walking on eggshells around it.