Students problematise stagnation in gender debate

By Chelsea Haith

Students problematised the direction of the debate about the influence of masculinity on gender violence in a build-up event to the Silent Protest. The Masculinities and Violence panel discussion on 26 May was derailed by demands that the conversation move away from binaries and focus on building substantive theoretical and practical frameworks to combat the violence of patriarchal structures. 

“You can be masculine without being violent, whereas patriarchy is this whole nexus of violence,” said Mikaela Erskog, a Masters student in the Department of Politics and International Studies. She and Fezi Mthonti assailed the panel of the event with demands that the discussion focus on developing and discussing frameworks for understanding issues of gender based violence, instead of focusing on the white, male portrayal of intervention presented by Jackson Katz in the Tedx talk with which the event was opened.

The controversial poster designed by Lindsay Kelland for the event.

The controversial poster designed by Lindsay Kelland for the event.

Katz’ presentation focuses on the importance of locating the problem of gender violence in constructions of masculinity. Lihle Ngcobozi, also a Masters student in the Politics department, expressed the importance of problematising the idea of a single concept of masculinity in the discussion. “When we talk about these issues we cannot talk about homogenous masculinities. We need to unpack these conceptual frameworks because they can be so damaging and alienating,” she said.

Language was a crucial talking point in the discussion. Problematising the presentation of a European, white feminism, Ngcobozi said, “We need an intersectional approach so that we don’t assume a unilateral framework is applicable in every context.” This position supports the necessity of articulating the existence of multiple feminisms, African feminisms in particular given the context of Grahamstown.

Katz’ Tedx talk highlighted the negative and dangerous implications of framing gender violence as a female concept and eliding the dominant male group from the conversation, which is how dominant groups perpetuate their power. By excluding the perpetrator from the conversation society is more prone to victim blaming.

Thembani Onceya, a leader in the Black Students Movement and local Grahamstown poet, highlighted the prevalence of sexual violence in Grahamstown, referencing several crimes perpetrated by men against women. “To beat a woman on the street is no more a problem. Rape culture in Grahamstown doesn’t stop,” he said.

The panel included Werner Bohmke, Thembani Onceya, Kim Barker and Elron Fouten, chaired by Siseko Kumalo. The Silent Protest will take place on 7 August this year and the Black Students Movement are currently in talks with the Silent Protest organisers to determine a more inclusive way forward with the Silent Protest organisers hoping for support from the student movement.

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