Dear Men of South Africa*

south african man braaing

I love you. I really do. With your PT shorts from matric, your weird relationship with fires and your insistence on drinking brandy and coke because someone told you it’s what real men do, you are my uncles, my cousins, my boyfriends, the first guy I kissed playing Spin the Bottle when I was 11. I know you, and there’s a comforting familiarity in your Boy Speak (‘howzit, bro! My China!’) and the way you view the world. But (you knew that ‘but’ was coming, right?), I feel like the time has come to clear up a few things. In terms of gender stuff, you are just not getting that memo. You know, the one they seem to have sent out in most other parts of the world about it not being the 50s anymore. I know that change is hard and that as human beings we’re inclined to repeat old patterns, but the world is a different place now and it’s time for you guys to catch up. So, I’m going to take the time to explain a few things to you. Like our ostensible leader, a truly South African man says, ‘listen properly now.’

1. We Don’t Like it When You Pay Us Sexual Compliments

We might smile and say thank you but that is because we were brought up to be polite and we don’t want to make you uncomfortable. But that doesn’t mean we like it. It is an objectification: what you are telling us, in essence, is that we have no value over and above our physicality. Those well-intentioned ‘compliments’ make us feel demeaned and irrelevant and, frankly, a little bit dirty. Like you’re having thoughts about us we’d rather you didn’t have. We know you mean well, but unless we are in a relationship with you, stop it already.

2. We Can Open Our Own Wine, Thanks

Last weekend at a lunch a man offered to open the bottle of champagne I was holding. When I said, ‘thanks, I’ve got this,’ and started to peel off the foil, he tried to wrestle it out of my hands. Sometimes I just hand the bottle over because I can’t be bothered. This time, I didn’t feel like it and I stood my ground. He looked confused and a bit offended, like I was breaking some unspoken rule. I am certain he was oblivious to the nuances of the situation; what the unconscious message is when men do stuff like this to women. And I’m sure he was perplexed about why I was being so ‘stubborn’. I don’t have the energy to go into the whole thing now, so just take it from me. We can open our own wine.

3. Chivalry is Cool as Long as We can Repay the Compliment

You want to open the door for me? That’s really nice. And in return I will pay for dinner. Or buy you flowers. Or pour your beer. Treating people with consideration and respect is a beautiful thing, but it goes both ways. As women learn very early on in the dating game, there is no such thing as a free lunch. If you insist on paying for our evening out, that’s fine, but please don’t think that means I owe you anything. We are equal players in this game.

4. We Are the Same as You, Just with Different Details

So, look us in the eye when you speak to us. Ask us about our lives and listen when we answer. Something I learnt in my years in Scandinavia is that women and men can actually talk to each other at social gatherings without anyone getting antsy or beaten up. There, it’s normal to make conversation with members of the opposite sex. Here, there is total apartheid of the genders, and when I insist on going outside and standing by the fire I get funny looks. I’m not hitting on you, I swear. I’m here with my partner and children. I’m just making conversation. And please – don’t talk exclusively about yourself. I know you find your job in finance fascinating. I’ve been listening politely for an hour. I also have an interesting job. Why don’t you ask me about it? Maybe we could even find a common area of interest. If not, at least we tried.

5. Stop Insisting Your Wife Takes Your Name

You married each other. Why should she become Mrs You? It’s such a weird norm. Two adults get married and the one has to sacrifice her identity because she has a vagina? This country is totally in the dark ages when it comes to that stuff. The amount of times I have had to explain to my bank and Home Affairs people why I have a different surname to my husband is beyond. Again, to use a foreign example – in Denmark and Sweden when two people get married it’s up to them to decide if they’re going to adopt the husband or the wife’s name. The better name wins. It’s equal and democratic and how it should be here too. It’s time we moved on from that patriarchal rubbish.

6. No Woman Ever Needs a ‘Good F?ck.’

Some months ago a man who was driving too fast in a residential area smashed into a parked car outside the home of a friend. When she went outside and pointed out to him he was driving recklessly he told her she needs a ‘good f?ck.’ The violence and misogyny implicit in a statement like that defies belief, and reflects the rape culture that permeates our society. It’s a shame that this young man driving an expensive car grew up without somebody to teach him about what it means to be a man. To show him how to treat and speak to women, and to help him out of the adolescent emotional state he somehow got himself stuck in. He is like those young male elephants which get kicked out of the herd and align themselves with older, bachelor elephants who teach them how to be behave. Only, there is seemingly nobody to teach the lost men of our society. Instead, they get jobs as investors and bankers and are rewarded handsomely with fat salaries and fancy cars. They have no incentive to reflect on their attitudes and behaviour. Any man who says this about a woman is a product of a very sick society.

7. You Are Not the Kings of the World Because of Your Unsurpassed Brilliance

You run the show because, since forever, society has favoured your maleness. You’ve been pushed, promoted and encouraged purely because you have dicks. Time and time again, as the world changes at its snail’s pace, women are proven to be better at many things than their male counterparts (flying planes, doing maths, investing on the stock exchange) but biology – combined with the deeply entrenched patriarchy into which we are born – continues to be a major obstacle to our achieving success on the same levels you do. In many parts of the world we are still denied an education. We get overlooked for promotion because at some point we’ll probably breed. Despite having better qualifications and higher levels of competence than many of the men we will compete against, the Old Boys’ Club otherwise known as the western world still means that the guy who played rugby with the boss will get bumped up the corporate ladder. And it’s a given that we’ll be paid less for doing the same job. Even Scandinavia, with its so-called gender equality, has very few women running its big businesses, never mind running the country. We don’t blame you because it is what it is and we’re ready and willing to fight this system. But don’t be too damn smug about the fact that you live in an expensive apartment and have piles of disposable income. You were given leg ups. That’s all. Be humble, be nice. Promote the women on your team. It’s the very least you can do.

8. You Are Not Raising Your Boys Right

So many times I have stood in my kids’ school playground and listened to dads telling their 4-year-old sons to ‘man up’; to not be a ‘girl’, to ‘stop crying like a sissy,’ and I cringe as these tiny children try to be something other than what they are. Something dies in little boys when you don’t allow them to feel. They become dull, blunted men who grow up to say things like the guy who crashed into the car. Your 4-year-old is not a man, he is a baby with feelings and worries and fears. Stop telling him not to have emotions. You, as his primary role model, need to create a safe space for him to be what he is. Only then will he grow up to be healthy, happy man who has good, fulfilling relationships with the people around him. Whatever he is, let him be that thing. He doesn’t like sport? That’s okay, give him books. Let it be good enough for him to be himself. Love him just the way he is, and maybe he’ll grow up to teach you things you didn’t even know.

*Disclaimer:

There are men in my life who are more passionate and eloquent about gender equality and vocal in their promotion of feminism than I dare to be. And there are men who choose not to make a noise about it, but quietly and determinedly love and support the women and girls in their lives. This was not written for you.

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44 thoughts on “Dear Men of South Africa*

  1. Sometimes, it would be nice to be able to treat a woman to the various social niceties without there having to be a battle because it offends their feminist sensibilities.

    I had the same thing when I opened the door for a woman the other day. Actually I open the door for everyone, if it’s appropriate to do so, and it really pushed me off that her impression was that I had opened the door for her because she was female.

    So, get a grip and allow manners to play their very much needed role in society.

    For my part, I am in subscribing from your blog.

    >

    1. What a loss – a man who thinks that this blog post was about feminism being about who opens doors for whom, and who can’t even spell unsubscribe before he does it. One (well, everyone) wonders how he came to be reading an intelligent, thoughtful blog like this in the first place.

  2. Well observed and to the point!
    I struggled a lot with all this in SA…
    I wish my WASP wife had your clarity.
    Maybe in another 3 years life in Europe.

    Regards from Germany, Jan

  3. Valid comments, nearly all of them. Okay practically all of them. My only beef is that I find feminism problematic. I am all for equality. But feminism is often tantamount to chauvinism. Yes that word that is associated only with males (misused like racism). There is no need to demean the opposite sex to promote a particular gender. Equality, thats where we must aim

  4. I’ll start this discussion by saying I have four daughters and a loving wife. I like to make them feel special, I like to open doors, offer to pour drinks, offer to do the Sunday lunch, walk on the road side of the pavement, stand up when they walk into the room, fix stuff when they want me to. I like to be the man in the house. I hope one day they will base their relationships with men on the character of our relationship. If I had four sons it would be different, I would make sure that they respected their mother and the women in their lives. Much of what you say above I entirely agree with, but there is a dynamic between male and female that is not the same as between male and male or female and female. The ‘feminist’ argument misses that, very often, sadly, when it suits.

    1. Absolutely. Carry on doing that for your girls. I have a husband who does all those things for me (and I love it), all the while respecting me. The two aren’t mutually exclusive. Don’t patronize women but good manners never go amiss (not in my house at least!)

  5. Can you hear the can of worms opening?
    I had such a laugh at the “listen properly”. Well done to you for talking openly about this issue. I think we can’t disregard how men in South Africa, especially white men, have been marginalised in the past few decades. A man’s self worth is often tied up in how he can provide for his family, and when you take that ability away or make it very difficult for him to provide as he feels he should, you will get bad behaviour. I am very blessed with a modern South African man, who opens the door for me while I enter the job where I earn more than he does and cooks every night because I am hopeless and respects the hell out of his mother and sister. He tells our son every single day how much he loves him. Out loud. All I can do is raise my son to be a man the world can respect.

  6. Interesting read. I do agree that men have a lot to figure out. Not just South African men by the way. I also think that some of your “observations” are a little harsh and you generalise in a BIG way (despite your attempt to avoid this with your ‘caveat’).

    For me this conversation is much the same as the race conversation in SA. The answer is somewhere in between the extreme views.

  7. I’m inclined to agree with Steuart Pennington. I still like the man who is well brought up and knows how to treat his women and open a door for me. (besides, those shop centre doors are too heavy anyway). I taught my sons the same way. Can it be that the man who behaves badly, were brought up by a woman who didn’t do a good job.
    I dislike comparisons with other countries, because people can be good or bad all over the world. We see and read about it daily. Abuse, divorce, domestic beatings happen everywhere and I like our SA’n men more. Steven had a type-error, it happens. I do choose balance over extremities. SA or SA’ns are not perfect, but then which country or nation is.
    I do agree that the modern working woman wants to be heard too and there may be a bit of catching up to do with some, but I have met many men who are totally aligned and admire the successful woman.

    1. Agreed that there are good or bad people anywhere, but I can agree with Susan that after having lived in Germany, the US and South Africa for almost equal parts that more South African men are as described than elsewhere. I would have put it ineloquently as being ‘a bit more macho’. This is not about abuse and rape (and mind you, SA has a pretty horrid record here), but about male behavior in general.
      And yes, many men are different but a whole lot are not and feminism (as in women being equal to men) still has a very long way to go in SA. Definitely a longer way than in most European countries.
      I think the comment on men behaving badly have been raised by bad mothers is a cheap shot. As soon as women are more educated and self-empowered the lives around her change for the better – anywhere. But while the women are at home in patriarchic societies more often than not the education of the boys in is still in male hands so that argument doesn’t fly.

      1. There’s a difference between a bad job and a bad mother. SA is no longer the scapegoat for whatever is bad in other countries and that goes for it’s men as well. Watch Trump for starters and his male followers and watch him bad-mouth a woman in public. Don’t talk about the US, it’s a first-world joke now. German women are very different to SA’n women too. Each home has it’s own dynamics and identity, so generalising is only a perception.

  8. The gender equality train has left the station a while ago. No stopping it in my estimation, good thing too. Patriarchy is slowly but surely going the way of the dodo. That said, I think it will happen unevenly based on the resilience of honor codes built into conservative cultures.
    The GE train stopped first at the walled in people, living in their manicured gardens and found eager passengers. The carnival people will take their time to get on.
    So, no ad hominem waxing about the carnival people and trying to turn them into walled in garden people. You know better than that.

    I will remain a subscriber if you’ll have me.

  9. Susan this is a great piece of writing. Intelligent and lucid, pointing out some very self-evident truths. How any man can read this and be in the least bit perplexed or offended I do not know.
    I will also say, and no offence meant, that the guy in the photo looks like a total chop ;-)

  10. I love the apartheid of the genders point you make, my Australian looked quite aghast when they joined a few South African for dinner and all the women completely separated from the men! So typical and true!

  11. Real men are manned up. Real men open champagne bottles, change flat tires and take out the dead rats, Real men are sexually vibrant beasts. Real men fight fights and protect who they have to. So please don’t want to turn real men in to metrosexuals! It’s make them look pathetic.

  12. I love it love it love it. You have spoken truth to power.!!!! Give yourself 5 gold stars. Brilliant blog.

  13. As per usual the points pondered are irrelevant, narcissistic and poorly reasoned. A poor attempt at “Look at me! I’ve got an opinion! I’m a special little snowflake!”

  14. Oh… Susan, wonderful Susan. Today – when your blog pinged into my inbox – I thought: “I will not be distracted! I will not be distracted! I will not read Susan’s blog – because then I’ll get distracted and I’m supposed to be working on a script”…. but – as always – I feel as though you have stolen a piece of MY brain… and (as always) – it’s like you’re brave enough to say the things that conflict-avoider me just cannot say (but thinks, nonetheless…!)

    Yes, amen – to your post!

    PS: I’ve been married (for 11 years now) to one of those quiet supportive feminist-guys who has always treated (all) women with respect. Also – I took his surname (not because HE insisted upon it)… but because… (since Greeks usually don’t marry non-Greeks) – I am the ONLY Heather Costaras on google (helpful with my work). Whereas there are zillions of Heather Pattersons. Tee-hee…! Of all the strange, random reasons to pick a surname… I chose “Costaras” because it makes me easy to find. Although, that said – I DO like the *sound* of Heather Patterson more…

    Okay. Enough rambling from me. I’m now going to get back to doing some actual WORK. X

    1. I’m the opposite. I changed from a Greek surname of 12 letters to a simple English one of 5 with pleasure. Now all I have to say when people need to write it down is “with an ‘e’, not an ‘a’ “.
      Ah, so nice! :-D

      1. I hear you! VERY rare is the occasion when folk pronounce our Greek surname correctly (or spell it correctly). It’s either Costiris… Costaris… Costris… but seldom – Costaras. Maybe it would make it easier if I explained to people that if they remember the words: Co-star AS… as though they’re watching screen credits on a movie… and Nick and I are co-stars and I’m co-starring “as”… (whoever). Maybe that’s an easier way. Because people usually hear the “Costa” bit… but then aren’t sure what to do with the last bit. hehe! At least we don’t have the super-long Greek names like Constadopoulos, etc (and I think there’s even longer ones out there too!)…

        1. Heather, I just spotted your reply now!
          Try:
          Hadzikyriakoupapakonstantinogeorganopanadinopoulos.
          Or
          Paptheodorokoumountourogianakopoulos. From a news article. :-) https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=897&dat=19410911&id=vDpPAAAAIBAJ&sjid=Bk8DAAAAIBAJ&pg=5290,4554210.
          Eish.
          Also, and I’m not sure of people still do this to their poor kids, but there was a trend in my parents’ day to pick the kid’s first name to match the surname. I have a cousin 5.6382 times removed called Christakis Christodoulou.
          Better yet, I had an uncle called Haralambos (accent on second A) Haralambos (Accent on third A). :D

  15. A courageous Blog topic! I agree with many point especially moving forward – but I also believe in compromise and understanding. S.A is a young country compared with many others, and there is still maturing and growing needed, in so many ways…Blessings, Ashtara

  16. Look. The guy is podgy, evidently shaves his chest / has not reached puberty, is wearing a choke-chain, has better styled hair than you (his opinion, not mine), has zero friends (if they are not standing next to him at the braai where are they then, huh?), and he has the smallest pair of braai tongs ever.

    The guy is drinking a Peroni. That should be your key to exit right there. Considering you consider “that””a South African man, I thiink I have identified your real problem right there.

    Based on the length of time most people stay married in SA I am also confused as to why a person would bother changing their name legally when they will most likely (statistically) have to go through the serious bother of changing it back again.

    Seriously though, I hope some eloquent oke comes along and writes a “rebuttal”of some sort. I hope it includes something like:

    Dear Women of South Africa

    8. You Are Not Raising Your Daughters Right

    Teaching girls that they are beautiful princesses and that “the boys only tease you because they like you” has raised generations of South African women who mistake abuse for love.

    I think South African abuse against women and divorce statistics might support this argument.

  17. There are three things that I find insanely sexy in a woman, and they are (in order, thank you):
    1. Intelligence.. If I can’t have a meaningful conversation, even a debate with you. I’ll be bored and move on as soon as its polite.
    2.Independence. . I’m looking for a partner, companion, fellow-warrior, not a pet or some kind of trophy.
    3. Strength Both mental and physical. Wimps are boring.
    4. Confidence. . Kind of comes from the above, but please know who you are, be happy within your skin.

    If a lady has those, the rest is undoubtedly in reasonably good shape too.

  18. This is such a sensitive subject not just in SA but all over the world and you nailed it! I, in particular like the part where you urge dads to be gentle and humble with their sons. Reading the comments it surprises me that a woman feels proud in writing that her husband tell their son that he loves him. Out loud, every day. In my world all fathers tell their sons (and their daughters) that they love them. Out loud, several times a day. So raising our boys to be gentle strong and humble and telling them we love them (note: out loud!) is a start and all the other things you describe will eventually (in about 200 years!) disappear. And it doesn’t matter if you live in South Africa or Sweden (like me).

  19. Going where angels fear to tread!! I so enjoyed this post….I have NEVER understood the whole separation of men and women at a “braai” …its weird and anti social…personally I don’t actually want to sit and natter with the girls all night as though we’re delicate Victorian flowers…I feel perfectly capable holding down a conversation in mixed company thank you!
    I live in the Middle East and the ” habit” even rears its ugly head here when South Africans gather…on the other side, I love being treated like a lady and I thank and appreciate every man who opens a door for me or stands back at an elevator. Men in the Middle East are incredibly polite to women and it does not offend my feminist side at all.They also never ever compliment women in a sexual way either…its culturally just not acceptable. That has been somewhat refreshing to live with I have to say.
    I have just realised that I may well be a fence sitter when it comes to the whole feminist issue…why can’t we have both independence and be treated well by men? The problem comes in when men treat us with condescension and I know a lot of that does go on .
    Great post and as usual, brilliantly written.

  20. I agree with a lot of what you’ve said here. In fact, I think you’ve been rather nice about some of the things – a lot of men deserve a harsher verbal lambasting for the way they act. One thing I don’t quite agree on, however, is “we can open our own wine, thanks”. When I offer to do something for a woman, like open a jar of pickles etc, I’m not doing it because I don’t think they can do it. I’m doing it because I’d like to offer my service as a show of respect. As in, let me struggle with it, so you don’t have to. If you’re keen to do it yourself, that’s totally okay, but I’ve been raised to treat women well, and that includes opening the car door for them, letting them step through a door before me, or getting up when they walk into a room etc. And doing so, shouldn’t be seen in a negative light. And again, to reiterate, just because I want to show women that they deserve to be treated ‘extra-special’ doesn’t mean I think they can’t open a bottle of wine by themselves, or walk through the door after me. And it’s not just women I do it for. I’ll take off my cap when I greet anyone of any gender. It’s just manners and courtesy. Personally, I think the world is a made a better place when men treat women like this – it’s not because we see you as weak or unable, it’s because we see you as something special. And it certainly doesn’t mean I don’t want you to come stand at the braai and chat just like all the guys – my wife does this all the time and I’m only too stoked she’s out there with us and not in the kitchen with the other women. Note, though, that it comes at a cost to her. The woman in the kitchen chatting about their nails and makeup resent her for chilling by the braai with us, as if she’s somehow too good for them, and sometimes the guys around the braai get uncomfortable that my wife is there – their language changes, their tone shifts – it makes them act weirdly, which is bloody ridiculous. So yeah, there are a lot of areas we need to treat women like we treat men in, but I just can’t help but want to be chivalrous. It’s my way of showing a woman that I respect her and would physically protect her from any harm. At the end of the day, physiologically, women and men are different. I’m twice the height and weight of my wife and it gives me great comfort knowing that – like opening the car door for her, or walking on the inside of the curb – I can protect her from any threat. And offering to open a champagne bottle for you is so much more than just opening a bottle. It’s a guy’s way of saying if shit hits the fan, I’ll step up to the plate. At least in my book it is.

  21. I loved loved loved this blogpost and the comments below debating it either way. Living in Scotland i see the so called metro sexuality more and more and i have to say it saddens me as much as the male chauvinism that still exists in some blokes in my beloved country. I think the word what we are looking for here is respect. i have an 11 year old boy. i like that he opens the door for me. i like that his dad pour me a glass of wine and open a wine bottle for me. i open a wine bottle and pour him a glass some times. it is all equal. but the sadness is the pendulum here have swung too much the other way. there is a male bashing in the UK – that saddens me as much as the female bashing of some of my fellow country blokes. Cause i have a son. And he is a male. And i do not want him to be bashed around by feminist or chauvinist views. I just want him to become an adult that love being a bloke, love and respect his partner if he is so lucky to find a partner and to not have to deal with any of this bashing business.

  22. I’ve just been introduced to your blog by a South African friend and I must say – I love it! You write magically about so many topics close to my heart so thank you.

    I’m a South African living in London for 21 years and I can categorically say that I will never again date a (non-traveled) SA man. The misogyny; the machismo; the ‘i am the head of this house’ reminds me of living with my father in the 70’s.

    Fear not though – misogyny exists in the London investment banking world and patriarchal is a good way to describe most of Italy, but there are pockets of good, decent men who embrace equality – they’re worth waiting for!

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