The University of Pretoria has seen its share of student related activities centred on issues like rape culture and gender-based violence (GBV). These activities have ranged from marches to silent protests, and formal events over the years, as well as the creation of structures and programs like #SpeakOutUP or JustLeaders (facilitated by the Centre for Sexualities, AIDS and Gender). However, for the first time, a new edition to the university’ s leadership community has risen to the task of tackling rape culture and toxic masculinity from the perspective of young men.
ManDown was inspired by “the need to address issues of men’s mental health, sexuality, rape culture and toxic masculinity from a male perspective,” explained Masilu Moshabela, one of the eight members of the general committee that run ManDown. As a project of the Department of Student Affairs, ManDown is facilitated by Phina Sokho from Student Health Services. The name is inspired by the phrase “man up,” which implies that men should ‘toughen up’ or do what is considered ‘manly’ when facing adversity. When used as a response to striking examples like homosexuality or mental illness, the results can be particularly damaging. “ManDown challenges this phrase by telling the young men that you do not have to conform to society’s unfair expectations. You are free to be who you are,” says Lenka Malatji, another member of the general committee.
Malatji said that ManDown, launched in March 2019, seeks to incorporate “education around rape culture and toxic masculinity within student structures through a curriculum that will be shared among UP’s various student leadership structures”. In the long-term, however, Moshabela explained that ManDown hopes to “be part of a broader progressive and conscious student movement that seeks to address [these] challenges within the student community in all UP campuses”.
On 16 May 2019, ManDown hosted its inaugural event “MaleVictim MalePerpetrator.” The event focused on bringing UP students together to confront the issues of sexual harassment and gender-based violence. While the response was productive, Moshabela explained that the audience included fewer men than women.
Events focusing on gender-based violence often bring women together in solidarity, “but [we] seldom hear about events that bring men into the fold as stakeholders in dealing with the scourge of violence against women and our society at large,” says Malatji, adding that men most often being the perpetrators of rape or domestic violence “begs the question, what are we doing as men?”.
Part of the inspiration behind ManDown is to encourage the accountability of men regarding the perpetration of gender-based-violence and toxic masculinity. ManDown therefore serves as a vehicle through which to confront those issues and “develop much more responsible men for society,” says Moshabela. ManDown also partnered with the organization Heartlines for a series of workshops held within university residences and student structures in 2019 that focused on male oriented values. Heartlines is dedicated to helping people live out positive values and realise the impact that things like male oriented values have on South African communities, families and the collective nation. ManDown will see more events planned in 2020 in partnership with Heartlines, while the rest of their events will be announced on social media accounts like Instagram (mandown_up) and Twitter (MandownUP).
The relationship between masculinity and violence has been thoroughly examined in fields such as sociology and cultural anthropology, and the South African organisation SaferSpaces explains that “it is important to gain a comprehensive understanding of the role that masculinity plays in creating violent societies,” because of what is called the ‘victim-overlap’. This refers to the fact that both perpetrators and victims of violence in South Africa are usually men. Domestic violence and sexual violence are some of the effects of negative expressions of masculinity. SaferSpaces explains that because many instances of gender-based-violence happen at the will of male perpetrators rather than female victims, the tendency to focus almost entirely on interventions involving women cannot be as effective as initiatives that involve men. “Focusing on interventions involving boys could significantly decrease many other forms of violence as well,” says the organization’s publication on toxic masculinities.
ManDown’s intentions to engage with other men on such issues is not just new in UP’s community, but also necessary. “Men must be confronted and men themselves must confront each other about these issues,” says Moshabela. “This basically is a space for men to be vulnerable and also confront these issues that have grappled our society,” he explained, adding that while people have different responses to the project, ultimately “no one can afford to remain oblivious to the crisis we find ourselves in”.
Image: Promise Zulu