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'Manning up' towards less toxic masculinity

During Women's Month when so much attention is on the high levels of violence against women in South Africa, the focus should also be on the mitigating role that education can play.

Education is about more than facts and figures. Ideally, education should provide the ‘toolkit’ for a graduate to earn a living, cope with the challenges of life, and be a productive member of society.

Hence, it was the suicide of successful young rap artist Riky Rick some months ago, and the increasing number of young men ending their lives that prompted the Tsiba Business School male community to reflect on the issues of masculinity: Why do men battle with being vulnerable? Why do so many men inflict gender-based violence? What drove a young white male student to urinate on the personal belongings of a fellow black male student? What fuels male bullying, road rage and gangsterism? These questions are complex, but highlight the scourge of toxic masculinity that plagues so many of our communities.

Death by suicide is a sad indictment that someone’s cry for help has gone unanswered. The deceased has lost all hope in society and that being dead is a better option than the pain of being alive!

For too long, many men experienced their vulnerability as a weakness. This was then compensated with the belief that becoming aggressive is part of ‘being a man’ and that having any emotions other being happy, angry or abrasive are not masculine. These beliefs often contribute to a ‘toxic masculinity’ culture because it impresses on males to ‘bottle’ their emotions and act out physically (in anger) rather than speak about their feelings and find better, healthier coping mechanisms.

The ‘normalising’ of violence through corporal punishment; parental ‘hidings’; ‘win at all costs’ sport culture, has recycled violence and aggression into the next generation of perpetrators. Hence, without awareness and if left unaddressed, the impact of these dystopian behaviours will continue to have far reaching impact across the social and economic spheres of our society.

Causes of male aggression in South African society are many, contentious and are located in historical and current contexts. These include the uprooting of traditional societies through forced removals during colonialisation, the brutalisation of men by the apartheid system, the ever increasing rate of divorce (‘missing father syndrome’), violent deaths of men due to crime, and more recently the dire economic challenges which leave many men unemployed.

Addressing toxic masculinity therefore requires a concerted and multipronged approach starting with acknowledging, without ridicule nor judgement, the ‘woundedness’ that many men carry. It then requires men to be educated about the cause(s) of their ‘woundedness’ and how to reframe it through new notions of identity.

As the custodian of hundreds of male students, Tsiba Business School has harnessed its ‘Purpose-lived’ educational model to nurture ‘healthier men. Besides addressing student development through active reflection and a ‘Rites of Passage’ process, the realisation that the status quo requires a broader intervention prompted students to establish the ‘Brother’s Code’, a student-based support group that brings men together in a curated circle of solidarity and support. It offers a space for men to speak about mens’ problems and it allows for men to learn from each other's personal experiences and to unpack complicated or intense thoughts and feelings in a safe space.

By creating bonds between men from different backgrounds, not only is empathy nurtured, but the gap between men and their emotions is also reduced. Ultimately, Tsiba aims to enlighten and assist men to find their purpose and inner strength, as well as develop them to shape a better society and a better future for everyone.

15 Aug 2022 17:09


About the author

Neal Sassman and Rudi Kimmie (PhD) are with the Tsiba Business School. They write in their personal capacities.

TSIBA Education trading as TSIBA Business School is registered as a non-profit and public benefit organization with the Department of Higher Education and Training as a private higher education institution under the Higher Education Act, 1997. (Registration certificate no. 2007/HE08/001)