Government Has A Sorry History Of Protecting Abusive Men – And Manana Is No Different

The chasm between what government says and does is demonstrated by Manana’s work on gender violence on university campuses.
21/08/2017 15:19 SAST
Lisa Vetten PhD Fellow at Wits University


A distinctive feature of South Africa’s democracy is the way it has sought to make the state a vehicle for women’s advancement. No clearer expression of this goal exists than Nelson Mandela’s very first State Of The Nation Address in May 1994:

“It is vitally important that all structures of Government, including the President himself, should understand this fully: that freedom cannot be achieved unless the women have been emancipated from all forms of oppression.”

Mduduzi Manana’s assault of Mandisa Duma, and the conflicted state responses it produced, only underscore the distance between that ideal and present realities.

In his capacity as the Deputy Minister of Higher Education and Training, Mduduzi Manana had been leading dialogues around gender-based violence with university and college students. Yet his violent actions at the Cubana Club point to a significant disconnect between his public utterances about masculinity and violence, and his private conduct.

Indeed, it speaks volumes about the importance of gender in the greater political scheme of things that Manana’s suitability for this role was not assessed carefully beforehand –- especially in light of the mistreatment, his female staff have alleged.

Between 1998 and 2001 Mthimunye repeatedly harassed Esther Mahlangu-Mathibela, a municipal clerk employed by the Dr JS Moroka Municipality.

Manana is one of a minuscule minority of senior political leaders to resign as a result of his abusive conduct, but it seems that he too, like Marius Fransman and Mbulelo Goniwe had to be pushed before he went. All three men must count themselves unlucky in comparison to George Mthimunye though.

Between 1998 and 2001 Mthimunye repeatedly harassed Esther Mahlangu-Mathibela, a municipal clerk employed by the Dr JS Moroka Municipality. Her refusal of his demands for sex led to the denial of job opportunities and the institution of disciplinary proceedings against her –- averted only by an urgent court interdict.

Eventually, deprived of her work and avoided by her colleagues, she spent her days sitting in the municipality’s kitchen. In 2012 the Pretoria High Court awarded her damages of R1.3 million. The council, however, saw no reason to pay Ms Mathibela-Mahlangu and it was only after the sheriff arrived, locked the gates and began attacking the mayor’s vehicles, that the council made its first grudging payment in 2013.

George Mthimunye, by contrast, prospered during this period. He successfully sued Naspers in 2007 for, amongst other things, describing him as ‘lecherous’ –- a word that left him feeling ‘shocked’, ‘hurt’ and ‘confused’ –- and went to work for the Emalahleni municipality. He was suspended in 2013 and the council placed him under section 139 administration.

Still, George did not stumble and in 2014 he was awarded the position of executive manager of corporate services in the Mpumalanga Provincial Legislature. Some months later he was elevated to the National Council of Provinces where he remains, untroubled by his conscience or the inconvenience of public opinion.

Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma falls into the category of those who protect exploitative men.

That George could do so illustrates the political protection he was afforded. In the case of Mduduzi Manana, it is Bathabile Dlamini, Minister of Social Development and president of the ANC Women’s League, who largely attempted to play this protective role.

Hinting darkly at a political plot, she asserted that there were other men in the ANC who had committed far worse than Manana and that singling him out for disgrace was mere political factionalism.

Dlamini did not, however, consider it her duty to reveal who these men are and so it was left to Julius Malema to decipher her coded reference. In a radio interview, he suggested that Dlamini’s claim represented the first seed of a smear campaign against presidential hopeful Cyril Ramaphosa.

This was intended to portray Ramaphosa as a wife-basher who beat his former partner, Hope -– an insinuation she strongly denied in subsequent radio interviews. If this was indeed Dlamini’s aim, then it represents the most cynical manipulation, for political ends, of an issue high on the public agenda.

This expedience is however entirely consistent with the Women’s League’s choice of Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma for future president -– for she too falls into the category of those who protect exploitative men.

As this litany of misbehaviour implies, profiting dishonestly from the state does not only derive in exploiting position and connections for personal financial benefit.

In 2004, in her capacity as the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Dlamini-Zuma cleared Norman Mashabane, the then-ambassador to Indonesia, of all 21 counts of sexual harassment he had been found guilty of in 2001, as well as another conviction in 2003.

The courts overturned Dlamini-Zuma’s decision in 2006 by upholding the original convictions. Mashabane stepped down as an adviser to the premier of Limpopo but was appointed to the Limpopo Provincial Legislature in 2007, a position he held briefly before dying in a car accident.

Manana is thus far from unusual in thinking he is exempt from promoting the state’s gender equality project [and space doesn’t permit an exhaustive cataloguing of the many others who also share this view]. Indeed, this disregard for gender equality extends from the state and into its shadow formation, as the allegations of sexual harassment against Tony and Ajay Gupta unearthed by the #GuptaLeaks suggest.

As this litany of misbehaviour implies, profiting dishonestly from the state does not only derive in exploiting position and connections for personal financial benefit. It is equally manifest in the sense of entitlement to sexual favours, as well as the expectation -– and provision –- of protection from the consequences of sexist or violent behaviour.

It’s time to incorporate and address this dimension of the state’s corrosion into our public discussions around reclaiming the state. To not do so is to relegate a founding principle of South Africa’s democracy to the periphery of our political struggles for the state.

Source: Huffington Post

LRC Press Release: Court finds marital status is irrelevant when adjudicating on application to alter sex description

For Imme­di­ate Release: 6 Sep­tem­ber 2017

Court orders that mar­i­tal sta­tus is an irrel­e­vant con­sid­er­a­tion when adju­di­cat­ing on an appli­ca­tion to alter sex descrip­tion in terms of the Alter­ation of Sex Descrip­tion Act

Today, 6 Sep­tem­ber 2017, the West­ern Cape High Court handed down judg­ment relat­ing to trans­gen­der spouses who are mar­ried in terms of the Mar­riages Act 25 of 1961 and have sub­se­quently applied to the Depart­ment of Home Affairs to alter their sex descrip­tor in terms of the Alter­ation of Sex Descrip­tion and Sex Sta­tus Act 49 of 2003.

The Depart­ment of Home Affairs refused to amend the sex descrip­tion of our clients, argu­ing that the exist­ing civil mar­riages, which are het­ero­sex­ual, pre­cluded the Depart­ment from amend­ing the sex descrip­tor as it would amount to recog­ni­tion of a same-sex mar­riage under the Mar­riages Act. One client’s mar­riage was deleted from the National Pop­u­la­tion Reg­is­ter, while two of our clients were advised to get divorced in order to give effect to their gen­der iden­tity rights.

The LRC wel­comes the judg­ment handed down by Judge Binns-Ward who declared that the con­duct by the Depart­ment of Home Affairs in refus­ing to alter their sex descrip­tion because of their mar­riages in terms of the Mar­riages Act infringed on the appli­cants rights to admin­is­tra­tive jus­tice, equal­ity and human dig­nity and was incon­sis­tent with their oblig­a­tions in terms of the Con­sti­tu­tion.

He empha­sised that the Direc­tor Gen­eral of Home Affairs is autho­rised and oblig­ated to deter­mine appli­ca­tions sub­mit­ted in terms of the Alter­ation of Sex Descrip­tion Act by any per­son, irre­spec­tive of whether that person’s mar­riage or civil part­ner­ship (if any) was solem­nised under the Mar­riage Act or Civil Union Act. [Own empha­sis]

The Court reviewed and set aside the Direc­tor Gen­eral of Home Affairs’ rejec­tion, alter­na­tively, fail­ure to decide the appli­ca­tions made by the appli­cants in terms of the Alter­ation of Sex Descrip­tion Act and ordered him to recon­sider the appli­ca­tions within 30 days of the date of this order.

The Court also found that the dele­tion of the mar­riage of the fifth and sixth appli­cants con­cluded in terms of the Mar­riages Act in order to alter the sex descrip­tion of the fifth appli­cant was unlaw­ful and the Direc­tor Gen­eral is ordered to rein­state this mar­riage on the national pop­u­la­tion reg­is­ter within 30 days of this order.

We are encour­aged by the Court’s deci­sion to ensure that the Alter­ation of Sex Descrip­tion Act, a law that is cru­cial in real­is­ing the right to iden­tity and equal­ity of trans­gen­der per­sons, is imple­mented in a man­ner that com­plies with the Con­sti­tu­tion of South Africa and that is respect­ful of the lived real­i­ties of trans­gen­der per­sons in South Africa. As the LRC, we cel­e­brate our clients’ courage in stand­ing up and fight­ing for their rights to iden­tity, bod­ily integrity and equal­ity.


Source: Legal Resources Centre

Breaking! Jon Qwelane is guilty of hate speech

After almost a decade, Jon Qwelane has been found guilty of hate speech and of violating the Equality Act.

On Friday, in a case brought by the SA Human Rights Commission (SAHRC), the Johannesburg High Court ruled that Qwelane’s 2008 Call me names, but gay is not okay article amounts to hate speech.

The court found that his statements were “clearly hurtful and harmful and had potential of causing harm”.

In a major development, Qwelane’s attempt to challenge the constitutionality of the Equality Act’s hate speech provision was also dismissed, with costs.

He was ordered to make an unconditional apology to the LGBTI community, negotiated and settled between the parties in 30 days, which must be published in the Sunday Sun.

Activist Melanie Judge, who was at the judgment, said the court’s decision “is a victory against all forms of hate speech in South Africa”.

In his article, published in the Sunday Sun, Qwelane suggested that homosexuality was similar to bestiality, said he supported Robert Mugabe’s homophobia (which includes calling gays and lesbians “worse than pigs and dogs”), and urged politicians to remove the sexual orientation equality clause from the Constitution.

A cartoon alongside the article depicted a man marrying a goat in church, further enforcing the idea that same-sex relationships are akin to bestiality.

During the trial, the Psychological Society of South Africa (PsySSA) led evidence on the nature and extent of the harm caused by homophobic hate speech and its impact on LGBTI people and society at large; and on the importance of the hate speech provision of the Equality Act to curb verbal and physical violence.

In 2011, an Equality Court ruled that the article “propagates hatred and harm against homosexuals” and ordered Qwelane to apologise to the gay community and to pay damages of R100,000 towards an LGBTI rights group.

He, however, had the ruling rescinded on a technicality. The SAHRC re-filed the charges, leading to today’s ruling.


The WLC requests President Zuma to dismiss Mduduzi Manana

WLC Media Release
The WLC requests President to dismiss Mduduzi Manana, failing this, an urgent application will be launched before the courts. Cape Town, Wednesday 16 August 2017; The Women’s Legal Centre (WLC,) in a letter sent today to the Presidency, has requested President Jacob Zuma to dismiss Deputy Minister of Higher Education and Training Mr Mduduzi Manana, who has admitted publicly to physically assaulting at least one woman at a nightclub in Fourways, Johannesburg, on 6 August 2017. Mr Zuma, as head of the Executive, and President of the country, appointed Mr Manana as a Deputy Minister. He has the power to dismiss him in terms of section 93 of the Constitution.

Says Advocate Bronwyn Pithey from the WLC; “It is our view, on our own behalf, and in the public interest, that the President’s failure to dismiss Mr Manana constitutes a clear violation of the Constitution in a number of respects.”

Mr Manana’s conduct in committing a serious assault of a woman, is clearly criminal. By perpetrating such an act of violence his conduct breaches the Constitution, his oath of office and the Executive Ethics Code. He has further acted in a manner that is inconsistent with the integrity of his office and the government. He has acted contrary to the commitments of the government to not tolerate violence against women. Even if Mr Manana is not found guilty in court, his conduct, on his own version, makes him unfit to occupy the office of a Deputy Minister. It is crucial to the Constitutional project, which includes the reduction in violence against women, that the government, and in particular the President, send a clear message to the public that violence against women will not be tolerated at any level. The failure to take any action against Mr Manana, notwithstanding the fact that more than a week has passed since he assaulted a woman, cannot be regarded as anything other than irrational given the information that is before the President.

“It is also our view that to have taken no action in these circumstances constitutes a breach of South Africa’s international obligations contained, inter alia, in the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women,” says Pithey.

For Mr Manana to continue to serve as a Deputy Minister in government undermines and makes hollow those commitments. The conduct of government officials, such as Mr Manana, must reflect the obligations of the Constitution and national legislation. Mr Manana has failed to comply with both.

“We request that Mr Manana be dismissed by 25 August 2017, failing which we intend launching an urgent application in the Western Cape High Court for the appropriate relief,” concludes Pithey.


For more information and interview requests please contact Bronwyn Pithey on 084 702 7305 or Alternatively you can contact Angie Richardson on 083 397 2512 or

Overcoming hate through relationship building

Accredited training to improve access to services for the LGBTI community in Kroonstad, FS

Kroonstad, Free State, South Africa – In response to the aftermath of the brutal rape and murder of lesbian activist Nonki Smous in Kroonstad earlier this year, and the subsequent threats made to many of the local LGBTI community members, Enza Social Research set up and rolled out a crucial, accredited training intervention from 2-4 August 2017 at the Moqhaka Local Municipality in Maokeng, Kroonstad.

This training was not only aimed at creating relationships between local LGBTI activists and police, health and social workers from the area, but critically sought to improve access to social, health and justice services for the LGBTI community in Kroonstad.

Significantly, the participants signed a pledge on the last day of training, committing to work together to provide safe and supportive environments for LGBTI persons who experience sexual and gender based violence.

Local activist, Nthabiseng Mokanyane, confirmed that the session created a starting point for further dialogue, saying that, “I think if we can change perceptions, and that’s what this training is doing, it is helping to open eyes to see that we are humans; we may be victims but when you treat me, treat me as a human, not as someone who … doesn’t deserve services from the government.”


“The session has created a platform where we can start the conversation with the LGBTI community beyond the training itself and discuss how community members can come on board” said a participant of the training. “We have also established the partnerships with other government departments, and one thing that binds us all is the Batho Pele principles which requires us to be professional … and help all people equally.”


“We have to sustain what has been started,” said another participant, “This training is the baseline – we must have communication with the community, and measure ourselves against this. We want to strive to serve all our people.”


Tracy Jean-Pierre, who facilitated the training, said, “working with all sectors and the community to begin to build relationships and address prejudice was an important first step in finding solutions. Enza will continue to roll out the model in efforts to prevent violence and ensure justice for lesbian women.”

Enza’s intervention targets capacity building and behaviour change among justice, social and healthcare workers who are first responders to sexual assault, enabling them to competently provide the necessary support to survivors to ensure access to healthcare services and improve prospects for positive health outcomes.

Enza’s vision is for a world where LGBTI people can live free of the fear of violence, access critical social, health and justice services and enjoy a full set of rights. Enza exists to provide cutting edge research and deliver programmes that shift attitudes and behaviours, through both systemic change and community development.


Picture credit: Vicci Tallis

Passing of Prudence Mabele last night

ENZA Social Research joins with activists across South Africa and the world in paying tribute to Prudence Mabele for her relentless and brave activism for the rights of women, lesbians and the LGBT community, women living with HIV. Prudence was at the forefront of many struggles,  and was never afraid to be vocal and visible and vociferous. She was crazy, vital, fun, caring and loving. We send our thoughts and love to her family and friends and fellow activists. We will never be silent and we will continue to carry on the work she was so passionate about.

Speak out against gender-based violence

“Life is sacred and violation of life is a violation against God the creator of life.”

Dr. Nontando Hadebe, theologian, Convenor, Circle of Concerned African Women Theologians, Southern Africa.

The Global Interfaith Network for People of all Sexes, Sexual Orientations, Gender Identities and Expressions (GIN-SSOGIE) wishes to express how saddened and horrified we all are by the recent spate of attacks on women and gender non-conforming people.

On the 13th of May Matiisetso Aletta Taylor Nonki Smous, a black lesbian woman, was buried in Kroonstad in the Free State, South Africa. She was raped and burned to death in the first week of April, but only buried in the second week of May as the DNA results were delayed.

On the 14th of May reports began circulating on social media that another black lesbian woman had been killed on Saturday night in Soweto. Her name was Tambaai Lerato Moloi, her body was found in Naledi, Soweto, and she had been raped and stoned to death. She was buried last Saturday in Naledi, Soweto.

Two days before, on the 18th of May, it was reported that a gay man, 26-year-old Stephen Nketsi was found dumped in a hole in the township of Botshabelo, 45 km east of Bloemfontein, also in the Free State.

These violent incidents against LGBTI people are playing out in the context of a country where women, particularly those who are poor and black are not safe. In recent weeks there have been multiple cases of murder of (mostly black) women.

Those who have been following the news in South Africa, will have heard of the brutal killing of Karabo Mokoena by her boyfriend. On the same weekend on which Tambaai Lerato Moloi was killed in Soweto, three other women, Bongeka Phungula, Popi Qwabe and 15-year-old Nombuyiselo Nombewu were also killed.

The Interim Steering Committee (ISC) and Southern African members of GIN are united in condemning these attacks on women and LGBTI and gender non-conforming people and decry what Rev. Jide Macaulay (member of the ISC, House of Rainbow) laments as ‘the dangerous silence of the church’:

“When churches fail to speak out against the violence that is meted out to lesbian, gay and gender non-conforming people, they are failing in their duty to protect and affirm all life.”

Rev. Nokuthula Dhladhla, pastor of the House of Prayer and Worship, Soweto further points out,

“As Psalm 24:1 says ‘The Earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it.’ That to me says that we all have a right to be here – and all means ALL. No one has the right to take someone else’s life because of the fact that they are different because God created us to be different. No one has a right to rule over anybody’s life and take a life of anyone because they’re not same. I believe that as churches and especially as religious leaders we have a mandate to stop preaching these hateful messages that are harmful to LGBTI people, that create the hate that is out there – the hate that leads others to take life and use the hateful messages that they hear from their leaders to justify killing others.”

Rev. Judith Kotze, part of Inclusive and Affirming Ministries (IAM), notes that it is important that we create spaces to lament the violence so that our rage does not fill us and cause us to become like those who perpetrate the violence.

Ms. Thuli Mjwara, Process Facilitator for IAM, articulates the pain of watching daily the killings of our black lesbian sisters due to intolerance, prejudice, and homophobia.

“What cuts deeper is knowing that often in cases of “corrective rape” and gruesome murders of lesbians, the offenders are not strangers but persons known to the victim. This goes to show how unsafe we are as black lesbians. Despite that, we will not be silent or hide. We are part of our communities and refuse to be silent whilst being preyed upon. The violence on our bodies will not be swept under the carpet as we demand justice for the victims and safety for the living.”

Londiwe Xulu, also from IAM, notes: “They will not finish us.”

The Global Interfaith Network, therefore:

Decries the violence which is meted out to LGBTI, and gender non-conforming people, and women and children in general;

Calls upon the churches to immediately cease the promotion of homophobia, transphobia and the patriarchal understandings of gender that underpin, sponsor and promote this violence;

Urges the authorities in South Africa to speak out against the patriarchal norms and values that underpin, sponsor and promote this violence, and to prioritise the putting in place of systems and strategies to protect LGBTI, and gender non-conforming people and women and children from the scourge of patriarchal violence.

Requests the members of the Global Interfaith Network to join in prayer and solidarity with all South Africans;

Encourages the members of the Global Interfaith Network on the ground to join together with others to campaign against this scourge.


Agenda 2030 For LGBTI Health & Well-Being

This briefing paper illustrates how Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 3, Ensure Healthy Lives and Promote Well-Being for All at All Ages, is relevant to the specific health needs of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) people. The paper highlights existing data pertinent to the health and well-being of LGBTI people across seven targets within this Goal, as well as relevant data gaps. The paper then makes a series of recommendations regarding what type of data and indicators Member States should report in order to effectively monitor progress on LGBTI health needs and ensure implementation of SDG 3 is truly universal and in line with the SDGs principle of “leave no one behind.”

Data regarding LGBTI health needs are inadequate and incomplete across the globe, but the data that is available suggest that LGBTI people’s health is consistently poorer than the general population. Discrimination, violence, criminalization, and social exclusion are the social determinants for poor health outcomes. While LGBTI people share common experiences of marginalization based on sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, and sex characteristics (SOGIESC), many also face intersecting forms of discrimination based on gender, age, race, ethnicity, ability, class, socioeconomic status, migration status, and other factors that drive exclusion.

Of particular concern is the disproportionate burden of HIV among gay and bisexual men and transwomen, and across LGBTI populations: poor mental health, higher prevalence of alcohol and substance abuse, lack of access to sexual and reproductive health services, and inadequate funding for effective interventions. In addition, health workers often lack technical capacity and sensitivity to effectively address the needs of LGBTI people, making access to needed services exceedingly difficult.

Collecting accurate and complete data disaggregated by SOGIESC will allow for the formation of evidence-based laws and policies that serve to promote and protect LGBTI people’s right to health. Community-based and LGBTI-led organizations are crucial in collecting these data. Community-based organizations are also best positioned to provide safe, non-judgmental health care to LGBTI people. Improving the health and well-being of LGBTI people must be grounded in human rights approaches that respect autonomy, bodily integrity, and self-determination. Laws, policies, and practices that directly or indirectly criminalize consensual same-sex behavior and self-determination of gender identity must be repealed to eliminate barriers to LGBTI people realizing their right to health.

Civil society, UN agencies, and Member States must work together to ensure accurate and comprehensive reporting on LGBTI health and well-being in development programming. This is necessary to fulfill State obligations to the principle of “leave no one behind” in Agenda 2030.

Download the full report here.

Download the full fact sheet here.



Understanding Patriarchy

Patriarchy is the single most life-threatening social disease assaulting the male body and spirit in our nation. Yet most men do not use the word “patriarchy” in everyday life. Most men never think about patriarchy—what it means, how it is created and sustained. Many men in our nation would not be able to spell the word or pronounce it correctly. The word “patriarchy” just is not a part of their normal everyday thought or speech. Men who have heard and know the word usually associate it with women’s liberation, with feminism, and therefore dismiss it as irrelevant to their own experiences. I have been standing at podiums talking about patriarchy for more than thirty years. It is a word I use daily, and men who hear me use it often ask me what I mean by it.

Nothing discounts the old antifeminist projection of men as all-powerful more than their basic ignorance of a major facet of the political system that shapes and informs male identity and sense of self from birth until death. I often use the phrase “imperialist white-supremacist capitalist patriarchy” to describe the interlocking political systems that are the foundation of our nation’s politics. Of these systems the one that we all learn the most about growing up is the system of patriarchy, even if we never know the word, because patriarchal gender roles are assigned to us as children and we are given continual guidance about the ways we can best fulfill these roles.

Patriarchy is a political-social system that insists that males are inherently dominating, superior to everything and everyone deemed weak, especially females, and endowed with the right to dominate and rule over the weak and to maintain that dominance through various forms of psychological terrorism and violence. When my older brother and I were born with a year separating us in age, patriarchy determined how we would each be regarded by our parents. Both our parents believed in patriarchy; they had been taught patriarchal thinking through religion.

At church they had learned that God created man to rule the world and everything in it and that it was the work of women to help men perform these tasks, to obey, and to always assume a subordinate role in relation to a powerful man. They were taught that God was male. These teachings were reinforced in every institution they encountered– schools, courthouses, clubs, sports arenas, as well as churches. Embracing patriarchal thinking, like everyone else around them, they taught it to their children because it seemed like a “natural” way to organize life.

As their daughter I was taught that it was my role to serve, to be weak, to be free from the burden of thinking, to caretake and nurture others. My brother was taught that it was his role to be served; to provide; to be strong; to think, strategize, and plan; and to refuse to caretake or nurture others. I was taught that it was not proper for a female to be violent, that it was “unnatural.” My brother was taught that his value would be determined by his will to do violence (albeit in appropriate settings). He was taught that for a boy, enjoying violence was a good thing (albeit in appropriate settings). He was taught that a boy should not express feelings. I was taught that girls could and should express feelings, or at least some of them. When I responded with rage at being denied a toy, I was taught as a girl in a patriarchal household that rage was not an appropriate feminine feeling, that it should not only not be expressed but be eradicated. When my brother responded with rage at being denied a toy, he was taught as a boy in a patriarchal household that his ability to express rage was good but that he had to learn the best setting to unleash his hostility. It was not good for him to use his rage to oppose the wishes of his parents, but later, when he grew up, he was taught that rage was permitted and that allowing rage to provoke him to violence would help him protect home and nation.

We lived in farm country, isolated from other people. Our sense of gender roles was learned from our parents, from the ways we saw them behave. My brother and I remember our confusion about gender. In reality I was stronger and more violent than my brother, which we learned quickly was bad. And he was a gentle, peaceful boy, which we learned was really bad. Although we were often confused, we knew one fact for certain: we could not be and act the way we wanted to, doing what we felt like. It was clear to us that our behavior had to follow a predetermined, gendered script. We both learned the word “patriarchy” in our adult life, when we learned that the script that had determined what we should be, the identities we should make, was based on patriarchal values and beliefs about gender.

I was always more interested in challenging patriarchy than my brother was because it was the system that was always leaving me out of things that I wanted to be part of. In our family life of the fifties, marbles were a boy’s game. My brother had inherited his marbles from men in the family; he had a tin box to keep them in. All sizes and shapes, marvelously colored, they were to my eye the most beautiful objects. We played together with them, often with me aggressively clinging to the marble I liked best, refusing to share. When Dad was at work, our stay-at-home mom was quite content to see us playing marbles together. Yet Dad, looking at our play from a patriarchal perspective, was disturbed by what he saw. His daughter, aggressive and competitive, was a better player than his son. His son was passive; the boy did not really seem to care who won and was willing to give over marbles on demand. Dad decided that this play had to end, that both my brother and I needed to learn a lesson about appropriate gender roles.

One evening my brother was given permission by Dad to bring out the tin of marbles. I announced my desire to play and was told by my brother that “girls did not play with marbles,” that it was a boy’s game. This made no sense to my four- or five-year-old mind, and I insisted on my right to play by picking up marbles and shooting them. Dad intervened to tell me to stop. I did not listen. His voice grew louder and louder. Then suddenly he snatched me up, broke a board from our screen door, and began to beat me with it, telling me, “You’re just a little girl. When I tell you to do something, I mean for you to do it.” He beat me and he beat me, wanting me to acknowledge that I understood what I had done. His rage, his violence captured everyone’s attention. Our family sat spellbound, rapt before the pornography of patriarchal violence. After this beating I was banished—forced to stay alone in the dark. Mama came into the bedroom to soothe the pain, telling me in her soft southern voice, “I tried to warn you. You need to accept that you are just a little girl and girls can’t do what boys do.” In service to patriarchy her task was to reinforce that Dad had done the right thing by, putting me in my place, by restoring the natural social order.

I remember this traumatic event so well because it was a story told again and again within our family. No one cared that the constant retelling might trigger post-traumatic stress; the retelling was necessary to reinforce both the message and the remembered state of absolute powerlessness. The recollection of this brutal whipping of a little-girl daughter by a big strong man, served as more than just a reminder to me of my gendered place, it was a reminder to everyone watching/remembering, to all my siblings, male and female, and to our grown-woman mother that our patriarchal father was the ruler in our household. We were to remember that if we did not obey his rules, we would be punished, punished even unto death. This is the way we were experientially schooled in the art of patriarchy.

There is nothing unique or even exceptional about this experience. Listen to the voices of wounded grown children raised in patriarchal homes and you will hear different versions with the same underlying theme, the use of violence to reinforce our indoctrination and acceptance of patriarchy. In How Can I Get Through to You? family therapist Terrence Real tells how his sons were initiated into patriarchal thinking even as their parents worked to create a loving home in which antipatriarchal values prevailed. He tells of how his young son Alexander enjoyed dressing as Barbie until boys playing with his older brother witnessed his Barbie persona and let him know by their gaze and their shocked, disapproving silence that his behavior was unacceptable:

Without a shred of malevolence, the stare my son received transmitted a message. You are not to do this. And the medium that message was broadcast in was a potent emotion: shame. At three, Alexander was learning the rules. A ten second wordless transaction was powerful enough to dissuade my son from that instant forward from what had been a favorite activity. I call such moments of induction the “normal traumatization” of boys.

To indoctrinate boys into the rules of patriarchy, we force them to feel pain and to deny their feelings.

My stories took place in the fifties; the stories Real tells are recent. They all underscore the tyranny of patriarchal thinking, the power of patriarchal culture to hold us captive. Real is one of the most enlightened thinkers on the subject of patriarchal masculinity in our nation, and yet he lets readers know that he is not able to keep his boys out of patriarchy’s reach. They suffer its assaults, as do all boys and girls, to a greater or lesser degree. No doubt by creating a loving home that is not patriarchal, Real at least offers his boys a choice: they can choose to be themselves or they can choose conformity with patriarchal roles. Real uses the phrase “psychological patriarchy” to describe the patriarchal thinking common to females and males. Despite the contemporary visionary feminist thinking that makes clear that a patriarchal thinker need not be a male, most folks continue to see men as the problem of patriarchy. This is simply not the case. Women can be as wedded to patriarchal thinking and action as men.

Psychotherapist John Bradshaw’s clear sighted definition of patriarchy in Creating Love is a useful one: “The dictionary defines ‘patriarchy’ as a ‘social organization marked by the supremacy of the father in the clan or family in both domestic and religious functions’.” Patriarchy is characterized by male domination and power. He states further that “patriarchal rules still govern most of the world’s religious, school systems, and family systems.” Describing the most damaging of these rules, Bradshaw lists “blind obedience—the foundation upon which patriarchy stands; the repression of all emotions except fear; the destruction of individual willpower; and the repression of thinking whenever it departs from the authority figure’s way of thinking.” Patriarchal thinking shapes the values of our culture. We are socialized into this system, females as well as males. Most of us learned patriarchal attitudes in our family of origin, and they were usually taught to us by our mothers. These attitudes were reinforced in schools and religious institutions.

The contemporary presence of female-headed households has led many people to assume that children in these households are not learning patriarchal values because no male is present. They assume that men are the sole teachers of patriarchal thinking. Yet many female-headed households endorse and promote patriarchal thinking with far greater passion than two-parent households. Because they do not have an experiential reality to challenge false fantasies of gender roles, women in such households are far more likely to idealize the patriarchal male role and patriarchal men than are women who live with patriarchal men every day. We need to highlight the role women play in perpetuating and sustaining patriarchal culture so that we will recognize patriarchy as a system women and men support equally, even if men receive more rewards from that system. Dismantling and changing patriarchal culture is work that men and women must do together.

Clearly we cannot dismantle a system as long as we engage in collective denial about its impact on our lives. Patriarchy requires male dominance by any means necessary, hence it supports, promotes, and condones sexist violence. We hear the most about sexist violence in public discourses about rape and abuse by domestic partners. But the most common forms of patriarchal violence are those that take place in the home between patriarchal parents and children. The point of such violence is usually to reinforce a dominator model, in which the authority figure is deemed ruler over those without power and given the right to maintain that rule through practices of subjugation, subordination, and submission.

Keeping males and females from telling the truth about what happens to them in families is one way patriarchal culture is maintained. A great majority of individuals enforce an unspoken rule in the culture as a whole that demands we keep the secrets of patriarchy, thereby protecting the rule of the father. This rule of silence is upheld when the culture refuses everyone easy access even to the word “patriarchy.” Most children do not learn what to call this system of institutionalized gender roles, so rarely do we name it in everyday speech. This silence promotes denial. And how can we organize to challenge and change a system that cannot be named?

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