If violence in our society is to be eradicated, men as the leading perpetrators and victims of violence must take the lead. The list of what qualifies men as ‘trash’ must be expanded.
Imagine the scenario: A man hits a person with a jug over the head. The victim sustains multiple lacerations to the head and neck. They also have a deep gash to the temple which requires stitches.
The man who did this gets arrested, convicted and sentenced to a custodial term in prison.
Is he to be called trash, or does he only gain this title if it turns out that the victim is a woman?
For many, if the victim is a woman, then the answer is easy. He is trash. If the victim is a man, specifically a fellow heterosexual man, then the assailant is but another ruffian in everyday life. The discussion usually ends with that.
I think that this really shows the shortcomings of the #MenAreTrash movement.
As a movement, it has perhaps focussed too much on defending the rights of women with regard to bodily and psychological integrity instead of addressing the behaviour of men in general, which includes how they engage with other men and their environment.
Statistically, men are more likely to be violent towards other men than they are to be violent towards women.
While recent high-profile cases involving the murders of women have caused some to argue that women in South Africa are an endangered species, numbers show that men stand an even higher chance of being murdered than women do.
Research and fact verifying agency Africa Check, has quoted SAPS spokesperson Major-General Sally de Beer as saying that of the 14 333 murders between April and December 2016, 1713 were women. This means that 12 620 men were victims of homicide.
There are crimes that affect almost exclusively women – rape is one such example. According to police statistics for 2017, 49 660 cases of sexual offences were reported. The list does not differentiate between rape and other sexual offences.
Furthermore, the things that make men trash are not always defined as criminal and even if they were, they can still be very difficult to prove. Objectification of women’s bodies; unequal pay for equal work, the unfair burden of domestic duties in the common household and unfair discrimination of women, should add to why men are to be considered trash.
Men are not any less trash when they again appear as the dominant factor in other crimes such as hijacking cars, bank robberies, cruelty to animals or being ‘guns for hire’ in the taxi industry.
Returning to the scene set at the beginning of this article: ANC Eastern Cape leader Andile Lungisa has been found guilty of assault with the intent to cause grievous bodily harm and has been sentenced to two years’ imprisonment.
Video evidence presented in court showed how Lungisa smashed a glass jug over the head of Rano Kayser, a former member of the mayoral committee, during a Nelson Mandela Bay council meeting in October 2016.
Despite this, there are growing calls to have Lungisa freed on the basis that his sentence is too harsh. The ANC Youth League in the province has called the court’s decision racist.
“We firmly believe that sentence by Magistrate Morne Cannon was too harsh and stinks of racism,” said the league in a statement.
Those arguing in Lungisa’s favour do so on the unsaid understanding that hitting another man is more acceptable than doing the same to a woman.
Those who excuse Lungisa’s crime and punishment reveal the limited way at which many view the alleged trashiness of men.
If Lungisa’s victim was a woman, there would be a greater sensitivity about dismissing the magistrate’s decision as “racist”. Chances are that the decision would have been either praised or criticised for what it said about gender justice. At worst, they would be shy to say what they now say, with ease, publicly.
Which brings me to the key issue: Make being trash independent of the sex of those who are victims of the trashiness.
Let the facts speak for themselves and not be diluted by the sex of the victim
Lungisa should be called trash for resorting to the violence he did. There is no doubt that assault with the intention to do grievous bodily harm is a serious offence. What is more, it is a prevalent crime.
Official police crime statistics for 2017 showed that 170 616 cases of these crimes were reported.
Anecdotal evidence suggests that many of those involved in violent crimes, whether as perpetrators or victims, are men.
If South Africa is to turn the corner in the fight against violence as the preferred method of settling disputes, the criminal justice system must play its role in finding, prosecuting and jailing those who are this way inclined.
Men must not leave this fight to women alone but be united in the calls for justice for victims of all violence – including violence against men.
If as men we remain defensive instead of proactive in shaping fellow men’s attitudes towards violence and the tendency to impose their will on others, chances are that we can and will easily find ourselves – or our loved ones – victims of the trash we try to explain away or to justify as acceptable behaviour between men.
Images: Mike Nelson, Flickr