Too often criticism of movements has been equated to denial of the issues that they purport to address. This is cheap, fallacious and hopefully university students can see through this. When the morality of movements are assumed because they purport to tackle sensitive issues or function in an ecosystem of larger similar movements, it becomes almost impossible to offer constructive criticism without being lambasted and hung out to dry in public.
This is why it is easy to dismiss critics of modern feminism as immoral fellows from the stoneage that are against women’s rights. You are either a fourth-wave feminist, or you are anti-women (it reminds of the dichotomy that you either support the paper straw, or you are a climate change denier).
Acknowledging that tragically many women in our country suffer from a rape culture where their rape is normalised and even justified afterwards, but saying that our campus is not one of those cultures, is not enough. You must unvaryingly submit to every ideological disposition, else be thrown to the wolves. Investigating a contrasting approach or disagreeing in good faith with academic conflations and certain aspects of approaches to solving issues no longer makes you a dissident – you are a bad person. “Agree with us, or you are immoral”. Bad people must be dealt with by the mob and social media hunting packs with their faux supporters. This is not about tackling issues. This is about power and hegemony. This brings me to the new Anti-gender based violence movement on campus with its memoranda that have enjoyed considerable response from management and residences. Gender based violence is a real and troubling issue in South African society. I have no doubt that many participants of the movement are rightfully deeply concerned about this issue. This is encouraging and commendable.
Troubling, however, is the fact that the movement is now gravitating towards an inclination to prescribe acceptable culture and define taboos that often do not relate to gender-based violence, and to impose them on campus structures. Their morality assumed on the backdrop of the broader nationwide spike in gender-based violence awareness, their sense of power and entitlement to dish out demands and impose cultural change derive from knowing that those with a lacklustre attitude to their demands can easily be devoured by the mob, named and shamed, and mindlessly dismissed as being indifferent to gender-based violence. Asking of men’s residences to ban certain traditions and concede to ideological positions and prescribing them to institute specific portfolios and hosting compulsory sessions – couched in the language of “transformation”, “heteronormativity” and “patriarchy” – points to the reality that this is about submission and power.
On the backdrop of real and important issues in society, the movement has secured an iron grip over men’s residences and can easily and without real moral resistance pressure them into submitting to demands that often have little to nothing to do with the real initial issues. It will be interesting to see how men’s residences will respond to some of these fallacies.
If men’s residences were really adamant to effect these changes in the first place, they would have done so on their own terms in the absence of the social coercion that they now face. Any submissions at this point would not only appear to be insincere, but also indicate that they are open to social and moral coercion in the future.
Ignoring the demands will subject them to labelling and false character imputations. They can’t win, but they shouldn’t try to.In the end, even if all these demands were to be satisfied by men’s residences, it wouldn’t be good enough. The very fact that they are men’s residences in the first place is the problem, and it doesn’t require a lot of insight to “taking down the centres of patriarchy” (the slogan of the recent march) to its logical conclusion.
While men’s residences have an important duty to nurture a culture of responsibility, internal accountability and respect for fellow citizens and to dispense promptly with sexist behaviour and violence where it occurs, caving in to the demands of an externally organised movement will do little to further the exercising of this duty. Of course, it will take courage for student leaders and those in men’s residences in particular to stand on their own terms and principles in the wake of name calling and social pressure.
Engaging constructively with those that are also serious about gender based violence, and arriving internally at solutions on own terms is patently a better alternative to caving in to externally constructed demands to avoid missing out on the bandwagon.