The rape and murder of Uyinene Mrwetyana in a post office, just a stone’s throw away from a police station, has caused shock and outrage across the country. Uyinene is one more woman that has become a statistic in the war zone of gender-based violence in South Africa.
Let’s be clear, this is not an isolated case. South Africa has femicide rates four or even five times the global average. 20% of women in the country have experienced physical violence and astoundingly, the SA Medical Research Council has also found that 40% of men assault their partners daily. Over 40,000 rapes are recorded each year (over 100 a day) and this when studies show that only 25% of rapes are actually reported.
However, due to news and social media coverage, this particular crime has heightened awareness and led to some ‘hefty debate’ in classes and schools up and down the country. As Christian teachers, it would be wrong of us to stay silent on this issue while girls are asking the question #AmINext and boys are confronted with the statement #menaretrash. It would be wrong, as salt and light in our schools not to ask ourselves, and our students, some difficult questions.
In Zaron Burrnett’s “A gentlemen’s guide to rape culture” he opens with a statement “If you are a man, you are part of rape culture. I know … that sounds rough. You’re not a rapist, necessarily. But you do perpetuate the attitudes and behaviours commonly referred to as rape culture.”
This is without a doubt a provocative statement. It is also representative of the current sentiment in the country. Is it true?
Burrnett’s point is a simple one. A culture that demeans women, or allows misogynistic attitudes and behaviours, creates a climate for sexual harassment, abuse and rape. So you are not a rapist just because you laugh at sexually inappropriate comments about women, but you are part of rape culture.
If you teach boys, ask them these questions compiled by Olwethu Hugo, an educator in an all-boys’ school. If you teach girls, ask them how much they witness this type of behaviour. Check yourself too.
Have you ever…
- Trivialised inappropriate behaviour by men towards women with the saying ‘boys will be boys’?
- Laughed at, or condoned sexually inappropriate jokes about women?
- Remained silent in the face of sexually inappropriate jokes about women, without calling out the men that are involved?
- Catcalled or wolf-whistled?
- Used sexual slurs to refer to women for sexual exploits that men themselves are just as privy to?
- Defined your manhood through aggression?
- Put pressure on other males to get with as many women as possible?
- Taught women to avoid getting raped instead of telling men not to rape?
ARE MEN TRASH?
Given that many men and boys will have been part of such behaviours is it then true that men are trash? From a Christian viewpoint, I think we can say this.
1. Firstly the scriptures are clear that women and men are created equal and created in God’s image. Any argument that one gender is superior to the other is flawed. Just because the Bible was written at a time when the rights of women were not recognised does not mean that God somehow condones patriarchy.
2. Secondly, the Bible has lots to say on our attitudes, language and behaviours. Jesus (Matthew reminds us) came to fulfil the law and hold us to the highest standard: “But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” (Matthew 5:28). Likewise, it’s not enough to say ‘I don’t abuse women’ if our thoughts and attitudes contribute to a culture of abuse.
3. Men and boys need to repent for behaviours that are not in accordance with God’s law. Repentance means a ‘turning away from’. This implies a deliberate shift in behaviour, a speaking out and standing against, as opposed to just a passive silence or inactivity.
Given the first point, we cannot conclude that men are trash. Our boys are fearfully and wonderfully made. However, that goes hand in hand with recognising the same of women.
A TEACHER’S ROLE
For me it behoves Christian educators to hold and explore a tension for the young people in their schools. On the one hand, when it comes to #menaretrash we want our boys to know, with humility, that they are not. Simultaneously, on the other hand, they must understand the depth of hurt that fuels this statement. We want our girls to continue to valiantly express their pain while we as adults validate their voice.
Yes, it would be wrong to say that schoolboys are trash. But it would also be wrong to excuse behaviours that they may witness, or participate in, that are trashy. Neither can we absolve them of their responsibilities to learn to stand with us against sexual violence.