[OPINION] No #TotalShutDown for toxic masculinity

Women’s month is a month of contention, questioning, deliberation. It should be a month of celebration, but with gender violence rates in South Africa that keep climbing, there is little the country has to celebrate. Women remain the brutally murdered, the raped, the abused and the discarded, used remnants of a patriarchal society.

And so the first of August was not marked by a party but a protest, a countrywide protest where women, children and gender non-conforming individuals could picket.

“Two experiences while marching I will never forget, I was a marshal bringing up the rear, as we walked passed a tavern, young men heckled us, the women at that point were chanting, ‘No means no!'” says Elray David, a member of the Total Shutdown collective. “‘This is bad what you’re doing. Who will we rape now?’”, the men taunted.

David says the group alerted the police to the harassment but they remained unfazed. “At that moment I knew women were alone, and that today was just another day in South Africa, marching ‘freely’ in the realm of patriarchy.”

“My body, not your crime scene,” the official slogan of the #TotalShutDown organisers is one that shouts louder than many seen in recent times. And just like the certified payoff line, the stakes and signs among those in the marches asserted messaging just as valuable, powerful and engaging.

Among them: “I don’t just cook for you. I work full time and pay the bills”, “We’re all made in vagina land, so respect” and another among the many that read, “Public cervix announcement: f*** you”. If #TotalShutDown proved anything, to me, it was this: One thing is clear, femininity, or womanhood, or woman’s rights are no longer the things of patriarchal orthodoxy and perpetuated stereotypes. No, they are the things of real human beings, with warm hearts, warm blood and clear, intelligent minds. They are the things of hard fights, long battles and major wars. And the protesters were there to do just that – protest. No subtleties, no window-dressing, no curtseying to the man.

The marches took place nationally, but the point of the protest was to occur in Pretoria, where the organisers sought to deliver an urgent and necessary memorandum on the crisis of gender-based violence in the country. President Cyril Ramaphosa was reported to be out of the country on Wednesday evening when the collective arrived but is said to have scheduled collection the next day.

There, of course, were other men to receive the protesters and those were the men in blue. Those we refer to as the ones who protect and serve. Those whose only job it is is to secure citizens and prevent crimes – whether they fall into the violent, torturous or threatening categories – in a nutshell. But toxic masculinity is systemic and does not escape the genetics of our police force. There was proof of this when several live tweets and reports starting alerting timelines to the fact that cops were harassing protesters.

David says a second experience stands out to her that she will never forget: “Police officers were so ready to violate women at an anti-violence march. They sprayed us with pepper spray, I was not as affected as I had my back turned. But pepper spray in the face of innocent women?”

David strongly feels that the march was “a metaphor for our lives”. That the 1st of August 2018 was a day when the system won. A system steeped in patriarchy.

Yes, South Africa, this is the country you live in. The official law enforcement officers are so poisoned by their own masculinity that women have to face the culture of gender-based violence and the threat thereof at the very protest where they are trying to change the mindset. So tell me this: when will toxic masculinity be shut down? Totally.

Haji Mohamed Dawjee is a South African columnist, disruptor of the peace and the author of 'Sorry, Not Sorry: Experiences of a brown woman in a white South Africa'. Follow her on Twitter.