In case you haven’t seen, the social media ‘airwaves’ have been filled with feminism this past week, as women and girls took to Twitter to name and shame men who have raped, assaulted and harassed them.
I have no doubt that most of these stories are true. I have no doubt also that they are the ‘tip of the iceberg’, considering – evidenced by the comments from many men on the Internet – that this is still a deeply patriarchal country that still refuses to believe women when they say things, even when it’s a dozen women saying the same thing about the same man.
I also hope that efforts by revolutionary-minded legal practitioners such as the Namibian Women Lawyers Association are successful. These should help keep
these brave women safe from attempts to silence them through the misuse of Namibia’s outdated defamation laws.
I also hope this campaign makes efforts in future to reach those many Namibian women and men not connected through social media or the Internet.
The only question that remains for us men is, what is to be done?
How are we to reform ourselves, not just not to be accused of rape and harassment but not do it? To be the kind of men for whom the thought of forcing ourselves on someone would never enter our heads?
There are many possible answers, but for my part, I think we need to develop and promote and teach a new masculinity.
For me, non-violence would be at the heart of this new masculinity. Non-violence, as I understand it, is not necessarily passive. It does not mean not standing up for your rights, and some writers on the subject have stated it may not even preclude armed self-defense as a last resort.
What it does mean is that you seek co-operation before competition. You look for the gain of truth even in your opponents’ arguments. You refuse to participate or co-operate with unjust systems. And you learn how your mouth and brain can be as effective weapons as your fists and feet.
I realise I’m on shaky ground as I say this, but I believe this new masculinity should mostly be led by black men, and reclaim the African man’s way as a way of peace.
To do this, African men must reject some of the Western ideas of manhood that are all over our popular culture. Not least the idea of the father/husband as ‘head of the family’, with the divine right to boss the other family members around.
If you read feminist theology and liberation theology, you’d see that the Good Book, when understood in context, doesn’t say that.
We would also do well to reject some of the Western misinterpretations of Asian philosophy. The division of ‘energies’ in to yang and yin, hard and soft, ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’, is much more complex when you actually read the Chinese and Indian philosophers on which it is based.
At the risk of oversimplifying once again, these are more about competing impulses that exist together in all people, rather than one lot of humans only having the one, and the other lot only having the other. It’s about the dual nature of humankind.
And let’s not waffle on about the animal kingdom either. Read some damn zoology. The Lion may be King of his pride, but don’t forget hyaenas live in a matriarchy. Homosexuality is common in many wild animals.
I hope we as men can form organisations to do this re-education work. But let’s also use the existing organisations we have: church men’s groups, sports teams, barber shops, bars, all the typical places where guys gather, can play a role.
I also hope that a new men’s movement goes beyond relationships between man and women. ‘Being a man’ is such a powerful thing in how we grow up, in how we end up conducting all sorts of business.
What if ‘be a man’ didn’t mean ‘go and do something (possibly stupidly) courageous’ but more ‘go treat your subordinates with respect’, or ‘pay your workers well’, or ‘be kind to homeless people?’
I have hope that new ways of ‘being a man’ could help change our economy, our political systems, our distribution of wealth. It’s a long shot maybe, but as our Twitter feeds have shown us this week, the alternative is too ghastly to continue living though.
Hugh Ellis likes shopping for clothes and baking muffins. While not being macho like this, he works at the Namibia University of Science and Technology. The views expressed here are personal views. Contact him of Twitter @ellis_hugh