Gender roles and South Africa

Morag Naledi McKenzie ( South Africa, Ac 2010-2012)

Society has long defined males and females by their physical attributes. Mankind has created boxes in which males and females must fit. Traditionally, the male is the provider and holds the power. The women are more submissive nurturers. Within developed countries, gender roles are breaking down. However, within developing countries it is more difficult to break down gender roles, due to lower standards and less access to education. This means that women who are unable to receive an education need to find a husband in order to be looked after. This need to be looked after shows weakness within females, and manifests a male‟s inherent need to dominate. Thus, this creates a mind-set which paints the repression of women as acceptable. Consequently, when women step out of their prescribed gender role, they are challenging the male role of power. The male then feels an innate need to push the female back into her gender role through any way deemed acceptable. What must be examined is why acts of violence towards women can be deemed acceptable.
In South Africa, a social services volunteer spoke to a woman who dealt with abuse: “Culture plays a role…this African woman, it was terrible, a Xhosa woman was abused, she was burnt…but still she said she can‟t leave her husband, her family and his family first had to talk together…culture plays a role, you feel sorry for her, but culture holds her back.”

Within South Africa, there is a specific atmosphere which reinforces traditional gender roles. Under Apartheid, the black male was emasculated. The whites who enforced Apartheid were the males who held all the power within South Africa, therefore, black males did not fit into their specified gender roles. Their masculinity was stripped from them. After Apartheid, the black males started looking for ways to regain their power, leading to a specific act of violence found in the townships in South Africa. It is known as “Corrective Rape”.

“Corrective Rape” is the idea that Lesbian women can be cured of their homosexuality heterosexual men raping them. The idea that lesbians need to be “cured” stems from gender roles. The men who commit the rape are trying to force women back into their prescribed gender roles. Lesbian women are choosing not to be with men, so are choosing to break these defined gender roles. Through this rejection, the men are being emasculated as they were under Apartheid. Thus, to them, homosexuals defy their regimented gender roles. Therefore, the men feel as though it is their duty to put lesbians back into their place: that of the submissive women. Of course, this occurs most obviously during the act of rape. The act of „corrective rape‟ gives those men a warpedsense of entitlement, and a need to protect their gender roles and feelings of entitlement to power.
Although gender roles play a huge part in why “corrective rape” occurs, it is also the idea that homosexuality is „un-African‟. When the colonists first came to South Africa, missionaries ran surveys of the black populations and concluded that amongst Africans, homosexuality did not exist. They believed this because they considered homosexuality to be a European bourgeois sin which had not infiltrated Africa. This enforced the idea that homosexuality was and will be something inherently „un-African‟. There is also the factor of religion, something very important within township areas. It is widely believed due to commercial spread that the Bible condones homosexuality. Therefore, the homosexual becomes one who is lower, one who is wrong. This means that the heterosexual is therefore „allowed‟ to abuse the homosexual. This belief is strengthened by Jacob Zuma, the president of South Africa, who said: “Homosexuality is a disgrace to the nation and to God.”
Zuma‟s words resonate in South Africa, and although it is the first and only African country to legalise gay marriage, it is also dealing with being a country split by its status as both a developed and a developing country. The education within the country varies hugely, and, within townships, the opportunity for education is much lower. This allows the beliefs of prior generations to continue to be taught to the next generation. It also allows men to believe that they have a right to perpetuate these beliefs and force those who don‟t to suffer.

That is what “corrective rape” is, an act of violence. It hopes to spring fear, so that lesbians will be forced back into their submissive roles. However, it does not work. Throughout South Africa, Africans are coming out and declaring “lesbians are real women!” South Africa is home to some of the largest Gay Pride marches and demonstrations of gay pride. Those who represent and support the rights of LBGT (Lesbian, Bisexual, Gay, and Transsexual) are doing what South Africa does best: fighting to change an oppressive regime.
-United Words Team-

10 thoughts on “Gender roles and South Africa

  1. Why is it so hard to find an article that simply states the roles of men in African society?

    That’s all I need for this essay. But it’s so hard to get, dammit!

    Nice article by the way.

    1. In as much as we would want lesbianism to be cut off,its something that exists and we cant really run away from it.In my own point of view this “corrective rape” is unjustifiable and its totally role.Its not the role of man to judge but its God’s so lets just embrace what we have got and try to compromise with the situation at hand,Lesbianism.

    2. I am sorry but “Corrective Rape” sounds like it would just make the women run scared of the men because of what they do. It would put a bad image of men in their mind and they would not even try to get close to any kind of male no matter how he acts towards them.

    3. Hi there,

      I have also got a history essay which I am working on. I know the struggle of trying to find men’s role during apartheid. Could you possibly suggest any websites which could be of any use. I have not even found one website as of yet.

      Thank you and your help is much appreciated.

  2. Hi . Can you maybe tell me what kinds of sexual abuse there is. All I can think of is rape and I need a few more ??

    1. I really need information about sexual abuse . What methods does sexual abusers use to keep the victims quiet about them being abused or what consequences does it have when men refuse to use a condom during sexual intercourse except for pregnancy , HIV and diseases like herpes and sifilis, what else is there ?

  3. I also cannot locate any information on the role of the African male esp as it pertains to household decision making. Papers and urls are too old and not current.

  4. We need to start discussing and dissecting the roles of women in African marriages (particularly South Africa). Some men think that in this day and age, a woman’s role is to do household chores (whether they work 8-9 hours or not). If a woman works and brings home the bacon as well (sometimes even getting paid more than her husband), what is a man’s role? If a woman helps a man with his traditional and religious role of providing for the family, why is it such a problem for a man to help a woman in her traditional and religious role?

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