South Africans have an alarming tendency to condone and deny wrongdoings that are antithetical to the values and principles of our Constitutional democracy. Our reluctance to acknowledge fault is remarkable. This national quirk rears its ugly head every time some sort of disturbing incident breaks.
The controversial polygamous marriage television show Mnakwethu is an exemplary of how hesitant we have become to condemn wrongdoings. This tendency has chronically become a defining feature of our existence and inescapably become part of our psyche.
It is as clear as crystal that Mnakwethu show is not good for our democratic society which continues to suffer from horror of gender-based violence. Like it or loath it, Mnakwethu perpetuates and sustains patriarchy – a system that has been unequivocally captured by Gender Activist, Mbuyelo Botha as a political and social system that treats men as superior to women and a system where women are constantly at the mercy of men as men joyfully reap the rewards of a system that favours them while women are violently falling like dominos.
The production has power to galvanise our consciousness to such great zeal as it invokes patriarchal features of male dominance and female subordination in a very demeaning and patronising way.
Though polygamy has been historically practised and constitutionally recognised; it gets a bad rap more often than not, especially in the context of gender equality; often gives rise to very diverse reactions from within society about treatment of women in our democracy and raises disturbing questions about powers and privileges possessed by men is now the topic that simply cannot go away.
As we keenly watched the episodes of Mnakwethu on the dare challenge of abuse faced by women in our country, it has become vividly clear that content of this production is at its entirety misogynistic, condescending and denigrating women. It does not pioneer conversation around polygamous marriages as we have all anticipated, instead it purportedly portrays women as nothing but commodities that can be used by men in the name of culture.
We have seen some episodes where women got humiliated and made them feel powerless into disorientation during the conversation towards polygamous marriage. We have witnessed men taking a preponderant role without women’s consent as means to exercise patriarchal power and sustain privilege of being men.
Maltreatment of women in Mnakwethu show is a grim reminder of how patriarchy has gained its hyper-normative status as it continues to manifest itself in a very narrow stereotyping and disparaging manner – treating women as intellectually inferior and influencing them to internalise patriarchal practices so that may oppress each other.
The fact that this show depicts an incorrect practice of polygamous marriages and gross violence of women’s rights, is in itself a strong invitation for the government to intercede against the oppression of women.
Patriarchal system remains one of the divisive societal fault lines that has not only derailed the advancement of gender equality but also subverted the fundamental basis on which Constitutional democracy is based. Despite government’s attempts to implement policies on gender equality and in spite growing awareness of the wide extent of violent behaviour and its causes, the system perpetuates to create major misconception and misinterpretation of constitutional democracy.
Out of the corner of our eyes, now and again, we fail to take vigorous action and embark on serious conversation on how to detoxify toxic masculinity, chauvinism and misogyny that are structural and systemic. We still fail as nation to examine the negative social and cultural impacts and complexity of patriarchal practices that are deep-seated within the structures of society in understanding the democratic future founded on constitutional values and human rights, and that is why we currently experience immense contradictions when we attempt to correlate constitutional democracy with our cultures
As the society is rapidly changing before our eyes; we are obliged as men to pursue new ways to participate in social system by forging alternative paths of least resistance; for the system does not simply run us like hapless puppets. It may be larger than us, it may not be us, but doesn’t exist except through us. Without us, patriarchy doesn’t happen. And that’s why we have a power to do something about it and about ourselves in it.
Such paths indicate a shift in a form of patriarchal mindsets. We need to engage in conversations that would enable us to disentangle ourselves from diabolic system of patriarchy and most importantly to reserve the scourge that has been succinctly characterised as morass, long existing and divisive societal fault line.
Since men commit the overwhelming majority of violent acts against women, efforts that solely focusing on women will not totally halve the scourge, but engaging with men and boys at the grassroots level is vital in addressing gender disparities and root causes patriarchal tendencies in our society.
At the large-scale of social change, the conversation across the social spectrum should take crucial steps in developing us as men so we can see ourselves as part of common citizenry and shape us to become catalysts for change towards the goal of achieving gender equality and sexual diversity.
Combating patriarchal tendencies is not an occasional event; it is rather a constant process through meaningful and constructive engagements in transforming the behaviours and patriarchal tendencies in order to demystify myths around cultural practices some of which tend to jeopardise women and young girls.
As long as Mnakwethu show is still on our TV screens, the vicious cycle of objectification directed towards women will continue to proliferate at an exponential rate. Without sincere engagement and collective action in addressing and dismantling the ideological status of patriarchal behaviours and practices, denialism of women abuse in our communities will become a norm we witness and the cracks in the foundation of society will grow perilously
Stanley Ncobela is a lecturer and columnist.