Men can change, break vicious cycle of violence

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Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

Fellow men,

It is the French philosopher Jean Jacques Rousseau who said that man is born free but everywhere, he is in bondage. Have you ever thought that we, men, are the ones in bondage?

Here is why you should – with regard to violence. As global statistics show us, we are the majority perpetrators of violence, especially against women. Not exactly flattering. But did you know that we can actually reverse that dubious distinction by understanding what makes us violent? Michael Kaufman, founder of the White Ribbon Campaign against gender-based violence, is at hand to help.

Let us begin with a familiar scenario. Do you remember the feeling that we can do whatever we wish with our wives, girlfriends, other men or ourselves? If yes, this is because patriarchy tells us that we were made to be dominant. This is what Kaufman calls patriarchal power, characterised by pre-eminence. This is the primary foundation of our violence.

Administer a slap

Then there is that feeling that we must always get what we want. Suppose you return home late and find your wife already asleep? Do you go to the kitchen and warm up your food or wake her up to do it and wait upon you? How about that feeling that you have a right to administer a slap her if she fails to do so? Kaufman calls this male privilege e – that we are trained to be entitled, consider that things are ours by right and that we can claim them aggressively.

Well, things could be better if our despicable behaviour was not tolerated and accepted even by the very targets of our violence.

The Kenya Demographic and Health Survey done in 2014 shows that, 42 per cent of women and 36 per cent of men considered it justified for a husband to batter his wife for one reason or another.  Maybe you also come from a community which says that you must beat up your wife to show your love for her. Kaufman tells us that we are suffering from the disease called permission – that the society gives us license to be violent and we exercise it with impunity.

However, are we really as powerful and strong as we are made to believe? Is there not a deep-seated fear, insecurity and desperate attempt to reclaim by violence what we deem to be slipping away from us? We are in a quandary, what Kaufman calls the paradox of power, where our perceived strength is actually a weakness.

Failure of morality

Just think about it – when we gallivant all over, are we showing strength of virility or failure of morality? Is promiscuity a demonstration of achievement or vain search for validation out of weakness? Maybe I am engaging in polemics. But the point is that as we run towards something (imperialist pursuits and dominance), we are also racing away from another thing (fear and vulnerability).

I guess all of us have gotten heartbroken in these pursuits. But since when were we allowed to display our emotions? Will we not make ourselves laughing stocks by breaking down and weeping? Real men do not do that, do they? We are compelled to present a guise of toughness.

As my Luo community puts it, teeth remain white even when mother is dead. In Kaufman’s parlance, we are steeped in a psychic armour of manhood, bound to wither at one time or another.

But just like we choke under the heat of the armour, like Goliath facing David, we bottle up our emotions to a point that we can no longer sustain the pressure because we are trained to suppress our emotions.

A small trigger punches that false balloon into a massive explosion of violence. According to Kaufman, we are experiencing the psychic pressure cooker phenomenon characterised by sadism, rage and outbursts.

Childhood experience

As Chinua Achebe would put it, where did the rain start to beating us? Kaufman posits that our violence is rooted in childhood experiences where we were brutalised or saw it being used so often that we internalised it as the norm for resolving disputes. In other words, we are products of our past experiences.

These Seven Ps of Men’s Violence, as Kaufman calls them, remind us of the alpha character Okonkwo in Achebe’s Things Fall Apart who, blinded by the fear of failure, became ultra-aggressive even to the extent of slaying his adopted son Ikemefuna. In the end, he was vanquished by his own misjudgements.

Are we going to follow the example of Okonkwo and the proverbial Luo ferocious buffalo whose hide makes the shield? Or can we take that bull (pun intended) by the horns and free ourselves from this bondage?

I think we can.