Gigaba needs help to rid him of toxic hyper-masculinity mentality

Mbuyiselo Botha Gender Imbizo
Malusi Gigaba raises his pinky in response to Mbuyiseni Ndlozi during the Ramaphosa Q&A
Malusi Gigaba raises his pinky in response to Mbuyiseni Ndlozi during the Ramaphosa Q&A
Image: YouTube/MultimediaLive

Home affairs minister Malusi Gigaba recently wagged his little finger at EFF MP Mbuyiseni Ndlozi. This act is interpreted as a suggestion that Gigaba is well-endowed while Ndlozi is not. In this act he was joined by his fellow ANC cabinet minister Lindiwe Zulu.

This is sad, because this is the manifestation of toxic hyper-masculinity. Toxic hyper-masculinity is a distorted, myopic, short-sighted meaning of what it is to be a man.

Indian political psychologist, social theorist, and critic Ashis Nandy describes it as a "psychological term for the exaggeration of the male stereotypical behaviour such as an emphasis on physical strength, aggression and sexuality".

I find this description relevant if we are to understand the crisis that we generally find ourselves in, as men. Gigaba is a manifestation of what hyper-masculinity is all about. It would be delusional and amiss of us to just dismiss his little finger sign as just an innocent, meaningless act from a desperate man who seeks to defend himself.

Professor Raymond Suttner, in his book Recovering Democracy in South Africa, says "all South African males, despite the striking differences in the environment in which they grow up, have experiences that bare some similarity".

"From early childhood, we have been socialised to understand maleness and masculinised identities to mean embracing and becoming part of a rough, tough society where brawn is often celebrated, as much as if not more than brains.

"It is a society where toughness is a quality of manhood and is rated above tenderness. In all of this, ethics and integrity do not carry much weight."

I find Suttner's analysis of what it means to be male in SA not only apt but profound if you look at the happenings in our parliament and our society in general. It is men who die young and early, who indulge in reckless, irresponsible sexual acts all in the quest to be deemed "real men".

The sad thing about toxic hyper-masculinity is that it adversely impacts and affects women because as society we valorize violent and toxic expressions. How many times have you heard a man saying to another man: "I made her cry, I inflicted pain when we made love, I wanted to prove that I am able and capable to penetrate her until she cries. I do not want her to undermine or disrespect me."

Surely, you have heard a lot of this or similar talk coming from men as an assertion of their domineering role in their relationships. Often when these conversations happen around men, they hardly call each other out, because men have been raised to believe that sex must be painful and not pleasurable for women.

The fist fighting and wagging of the little finger in parliament have a much bigger impact on society - it shows boys that the battles between men are solved through fists and physical comparisons of penis sizes; which are both unrelated to the work of parliamentarians.

This is a drawback and regression on society's project of trying to make boys and men think differently of what it means to be a man; that being a man has nothing to do with one's display of violence, toughness or penis size.

A space such as parliament should be the last place where toxic hyper-masculinity should find expression, it should be a space conducive for a battle of ideas.

Toxic hyper-masculinity finding expression in such a space is frightening because it shows us just how pervasive and deeply entrenched it is, that it comes alive in a space where publicly elected representatives who represent each one of us sit to discuss issues that directly affect you and I, daily.

We should all be deeply disturbed and concerned about these occurrences and ensure that we use this as a learning moment that we can use to teach boys around us about how not to behave. That they can use their words and not their fists or penis sizes to put a point across. We can all use this as a learning moment to build men with healthy mechanisms that have nothing to do with the display of their physical strength, aggression or stature.

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