‘Othering’ men women children: Men as the savage ‘other’
Don’t Look Away campaign’s sexist hate speech in Week End Argus of 08 December
The Don’t Look Away (DLA) Campaign is a project of Independent Media (IM) IM is “one of South Africa’s leading multi-platform companies”, including 20 of the country’s most prominent newspapers. DLA published an advertisement in one of these newspapers, the Week End Argus, on 08 December 2019. The advertisement has a picture of a terrified, abused young woman. She looks from half behind a door that stands ajar. Next to this picture appear the following words. “Men Rape. Men Abuse. Men Kill. Men are Toxic”. This is sexist characterisation of men. Then the advertisement continues. “Think we’re wrong? Prove it. Don’t look away”. As man-people we are aware of and deeply concerned about the abuse of women and children. This advertisement deeply offends us.
The Male Savage ….
‘Othering’ as hate speech
Because It identifies us men as savages. Probably this may not be obvious to many. As a society our response to women and child abuse has drifted in this direction. Ultimately to the point where we no longer recognise this as the hate speech it is. It was preceded by the #Men Are Trash campaign in 2016. Just stop for a moment. Note the relatively high incidence of crime in largely black working-class communities. Substitute the word “black” for the word “men” in the text of the advertisement. And in the #Campaign referred to above. Understand that ‘othering’ men, women and children is the root of women and child abuse.
This advertisement reflects the sexist ‘othering’ of men. There is a caveat. If you do as they (the accusers) say, they will exonerate you from this definition. This appears to undermine the charge of sexism. But this is illusory. The definition is targeted at all men. Then there is a category of “good men”. Those that agree with the sexist accusation. These are given the status of honorary humans. Because they accept that the vast majority of their genus are savages.
Other ‘otherings’ and the facts
The advertisement demands men to look and confirm male malevolence if they want exoneration. This is similar to calling the Muslim community to demonstrate its bona fides by publicly renouncing the actions of Al Quaeda and the Islamic State. That would be an example of Islamaphobia. Or calling the Jewish community to renounce the genocidal activities of Israel against the people in Gaza. That would be an example of anti-semitism. Therefore, we need to apply these standards of acceptable and unacceptable speech to the depiction of men. Understand ‘othering’ of men, women and children. Act not to other any person
There is also the question of statistical fact. Less than 0,02 per cent of South Africa’s female population were murdered in 2016/17. There are similarly low figures for reported child abuse. Let’s assume an under-reporting rate of 25 to 1 (as suggested by The Guardian). There would have been almost 11 per cent of the female population abused in 2016/17. These figures are shocking. But they indicate that at most 11 per cent of the male population abused women in 2016/17. There is no factual basis for the following assertions. Men Rape. Men Abuse. Men Kill. Men are Toxic. ‘othering’ men women children is a toxic ideology. Not a facts-based political practice.
Mainstreaming ‘othering’ men women children
We are also alarmed that this hate speech is published in the media. This media has a circulation running into hundreds of thousands, if not millions of readers. We want to contribute to a public domain where we rationally discuss the problems facing society. Therefore, we call on all reasonable people to dissociate themselves from this advertisement. We call on the Week End Argus as well as the DLA Campaign to apologise for its publication. And to commit never to publish this form of hate speech again.
We have addressed this request to Independent Media and the Editor of Week End Argus. Search though we did we could find no contact for the DLA campaign. We did however find a LinkeIn profile for Tony Oosthuizen, DLA campaign editor. And we messaged him asking for an address to submit our view to the campaign. We also made an on-line request to the Human Rights Commission (HRC). We asked the HRC to clarify whether they can investigate this event as a violation of the human rights of Men. But it goes beyond men. It goes to the heart of ‘othering’ men women children. And to the need to understand the process of ‘othering’. Our call is to wage an ideological struggle against the essentialist idea of ‘othering’.
Identity politics and resentment: the field of radical feminism
We also have a political critique of this advert. The advert is consistent with neo-liberal identity politics. By this we mean that it focuses on all sorts of identities but noticeably excludes any mention of economic class. And structural economic conditions like poverty and unemployment. These form the context of the violent abuse of women and children. To struggle against ‘othering’ men women children we have to critique identity politics.
Resentment and solidarity politics
We have just completed the 16 Days of Activism. This draws attention to the abuse of women and children. It is no accident that the DLA Campaign issued this advertisement now. The 16 Days programme has been happening each year. It is in response to the abuse of women and children in our still very-much patriarchal society. The programme tries to draw attention to these abuses. And by raising awareness, especially amongst men, to contribute towards changed attitudes.
The 16 Days of Activism programme has been running annually for more than 20 years. Judging by the reported ongoing murders of women and of child abuse the 16 Days of Activism has had minimal, if any, impact. One reason is that campaigns like the DLA don’t address the problem of ‘othering’ men women and children. But they engage in and support the ‘othering’ of men.
We start with the assumption that we are products of our socio-economic environment. This principle abandons the idea of ‘othering’ men women children. We need practical strategies to intervene in changing these conditions. Rather than symbolic protestations each year. These practices would represent a serious effort at making a safer environment for women, children. And let’s not forget the unacceptably high number of young black men murdered each year.
The struggle against ‘othering’
One of these activities is an interesting project in Mannenberg, Cape Town, called Tree of Life. The project takes in young gangsters. It provides a home for them to develop new ways of connecting with society. Including women and children. Criminologist Don Pinnock, in his book Gangster Town, identifies the larger structural changes that our society requires. One change would be decriminalising the drug trade. Another important intervention is massively increasing the social welfare budget to provide counseling to drug addicts. Finally, we need a job-rich industrialisation programme. Pinnock’s is a critique of the “War on Drugs” and the “War on Crime”. Both of which ideas are congruent with ‘othering’.
We can contribute to be involved at a micro level (like Tree of Life). We can organise and advocate for macro policy and strategic interventions. Regardless, we need to focus on a rational and objective analysis of the problems of crime, murder and women and child abuse. Not on ‘othering’ men.
Paul Hendler and Mike Hyland, Stellenbosch Transparency