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Subduing an ancient beast the male privilege factor.


Everywhere one looks it is evident, to those who know where and how to look, that Namibian society remains largely soaked through with the incidence and effects--benign and/or malignant --of male privilege. And it probably is that male privilege remains un-confronted because most people probably do not recognise it for what it is and thus the occurrence of this phenomenon manifests as normalised socio-cultural and institutional behaviour and practices which allows it to find expression, to a greater or lesser extent, in all or most avenues of the average Namibian's life, irrespective of who they are or what social class they belong to.

So, in a sense, we are arguably blinded to seeing male privilege precisely because it is ubiquitous. Despite the marked and stark evidence of skewed power relations between the genders in the Land of the Brave, many will nonetheless dispute the existence of male privilege. In households with brothers and sisters where girls alone wash dishes they may complain about unfairness but chances are their own sons won't be required to do dishes. And this is the point: we do not see such "harmless" chores as instilling a culture of male privilege.

The challenge with addressing male privilege lies precisely with its pervasiveness, which evinces this phenomenon as having been accepted as normal for too long. Namibia certainly is not the only country that needs to be woken up on this issue. This last point cannot be emphasised enough that our society now needs to be woken up.

But just so we're clear about what we're talking about, for an introductory definition consider the one provided by online encyclopedia Wikipedia: "Male privilege is a concept used to examine the social, economic, and political advantages or rights that are made available to men solely on the basis of their sex. A man's access to these benefits may also depend on other characteristics such as race, sexual orientation, and social class".

The definition intrinsically implies that it is a given that men enjoy "social, economic, and political advantages or rights" purely and primarily on the basis of their sex. For the uninitiated, the question probably is what are these "advantages"?

Without being anywhere near exhaustive, these "advantages" include the following and appear to be universal:

* Men traditionally have better access to education opportunities from an early age;

* Men generally have better access to employment and economic opportunities;

* Men generally earn more than women;

* Men are disproportionately represented in positions of wealth, power and decision-making;

* Men are traditionally perceived as more authoritative than women, by both sexes it has to be said.

* Men are generally judged far less for their external appearance than women and therefore put less pressure on themselves and are bombarded less by advertising to buy, buy, buy in order to look better in pursuit of unachievable beauty.

* Men, for the most part, can move about without fear of harassment, assault or rape.

The long held beliefs and practices that underpin norms of this kind have over the eons become solidly embedded in cultures and traditions of peoples around the world, with exceedingly few escaping the incipience of patriarchy. For the most part history really is his-story with women for the longest time relegated to passive and anonymous bit-part roles in the sweeping male-centric dramas of the human narrative from everywhere and from earliest times. In these tellings the exploits--in all the often-ness of their brutality, destructiveness and misguidedness--of masculinity are exalted and celebrated and the man-sex positioned at the pinnacle of all natural forces and wonders--the "Master" of everything on the land and in the seas and skies,--and the woman-sex positioned at the fringes as an actor witnessing masculinity's greatness and ultimately becoming one of its rewards.

At its basis then, male privilege as we have and confront it today, is thus the logical product of the monumental psychological edifice that is the age-old enthralling veneration of what has been labelled "dominant masculinity".

Steven Farough, in his essay The Negative Consequences of Male Privilege", provides a set of characteristics that resulted from this unchallenged culture of "dominant masculinity". Characteristics include:

--Men are expected to be physically powerful;

--Men are obliged to hide their emotions;

--Men are supposed to excel at competition;

--Men are to be in control of their lives and the situations they inhabit;

--Men are expected to earn incomes to support their families comfortably;

--Men are not to act feminine;

--Men should not be gay.

The maintenance of these characteristics do not only put men under pressure but has also been the source of frictions between the sexes. Because men hide their emotions, communication between couples are often problematic. Where both men and women place the sole burden of financial provision on the man--sometimes specifically excluding women from the market place and at other times driving men to unsound financial behaviour that could ultimately land their whole family in a financial crisis--both parties suffer while it would benefit both sexes to share the burden and the advantages. These two examples are intended to show that the downside of male privilege includes pressure and severe restrictions on men to live up to sometimes impossible expectations. But just as women are discriminated against when men enjoy the "positive" consequences of their privilege, so women and men experience the negative consequences when men are held hostage to "being a man" --especially when they cannot live up to these expectations and turn physically violent, emotionally abusive, financially controlling or simply abdicate their responsibilities.

It is against this universal backdrop that we stand confronted today in Namibia with the legacies of prevalent, historical male privilege. And yet many of our cultures fail to recognise or outrightly deny that traditional male privilege is at the heart of many of the social ills--i.e. intimate partner violence, HIV infection through transactional sexual relations, women's generally weaker economic positions and standing, etc.--and could be one of the factors why we, as a society, have yet to really start talking about male privilege in any substantial way.

For the most part we tend to talk around the issue, choosing to rather address "women's issues" or engaging in "gender mainstreaming"--all safe and coded language that sounds unthreatening to dominant masculine sensibilities without directly confronting male privilege and the customary practices that continue to breathe life into what must surely and increasingly be outdated notions of manhood and womanhood within our communities.

In today's world liberal values of equality and equity have infiltrated and permeate many cultures and underpin contemporary understanding of human well-being. Have these values infiltrated Namibian discourse and behaviour sufficiently? I think not. Male privilege will not simply disappear from amongst our social norms, but rather needs to have the spotlight shone on it. For things to change substantially in our society, it is imperative that we look this beast squarely in the eye.


photograph Shutterstock
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Title Annotation:BROTHER: NAMIBIA
Author:L., Angus
Publication:Sister Namibia
Article Type:Column
Geographic Code:6NAMI
Date:Jul 1, 2016
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