OPINION: Gents, we need to rewire our thinking of women

In many cases, the path to a woman's grave starts with loose talk by and among men in the absence of women. Sexual harassment and intimidation often start with mean and hateful things that men say to women, writes Tshepo Sefotlhelo.

The violence perpetrated by men against women over the past few days has been a lot to bear. It must be more so for women in South Africa, which is one of the leading femicide capitals in the world.

The World Health Organisation in its last report in 2016, ranked South Africa fourth (behind Honduras, Jamaica and Lesotho) among the countries where women are more likely to be murdered.

According to the 2017/18 crime statistics, 2 930 women were murdered in South Africa over that period. Africa Check, the fact checking agency, reports that 15.2 of every 100 000 adult women were killed.

Though the agency does not say and the police statistics do not reveal the sex of the killers, it is not unreasonable to expect that the vast majority of the murders were committed by men. Men killed women. Men continue to kill women.

Despite all this, it is important that we keep in mind that while murder might be the final act against women, it is hardly ever the first time that a woman is violated.

In many cases, the path to a woman's grave starts with loose talk by and among men in the absence of women. Sexual harassment and intimidation often start with mean and hateful things that men say to women. Many times it ends, as it has to many women who have dominated the media space in the last few days, with murder.

While many men feigned surprise and even indignation when a tape recording of US President Donald Trump came out with him being heard saying: "I don't even wait. And when you're a star, they let you do it. You can do anything. Grab them by the pussy. You can do anything."

The unfortunate truth is that far too many men are part of such conversations that demean women and stoke the fires of toxic masculinity.

What is more, we are willing and enthusiastic participants in such conversations. We worry more about how we would be accepted by other men if we showed our disapproval of such language being used in our presence.

Many men have been part of conversations that referred to women as stock; talked about a sexual encounter as "having smashed" or "chowed her". Many of us even use alcohol just so that she "is easier".

Women are viewed as objects in society

Listening to ourselves and looking at ourselves through this lens means we only see women as objects designed for our own pleasure or of service to us.

To many of us men, women's bodies exist for our pleasure like a piece of steak on a plate. We detach them from their owners and strip them of having their own senses and emotions.

Women who dare to demand higher standards from men, risk being called unflattering and hurtful names aimed at putting them down and making them second guess their own sense of worth.

This has allowed us to see them as objects who cannot say no or must be had when we want to get our rocks off. We see them as our victims to be conquered.

We have to want to think better of them, because they are and deserve so much more from us. For me personally, I find it difficult to carry on as if nothing is wrong, I am disturbed and shaken to the core, because we are hurting and killing our wives, girlfriends, sisters and daughters.

For far too long men and society have placed the burden of change on women. We have told women what to wear, how to interact with men, where to be and what time they should be there but hardly ever said anything about how we (men) speak about women and, importantly what we do to women and their bodies.

To be clear, it will demand a lot more than talk to break the endemic cycle of violence and murder against women, talking, I believe, is an important starting point.

Since none or few of us are going to admit that we physically harm women, hopefully we can confess to being loose with our tongues or a willing and thus encouraging audience when men talk their way to being abusers of women.

We must have the conversation in the same places where we have traditionally felt secure to demean women. We should have new conversations that demand change and accountability.

These conversations must include younger men and boys. We (men) must stop being cowards and confront other men who speak disrespectfully about women in our presence.

Gents - if that shortened version for gentlemen still applies considering how we treat women - we seriously need to rewire our thinking, how we see women and treat them. It simply cannot be business as usual.

Hopefully as we talk as men, we will come to a sense of collective shame and change for the better. The women of our country deserve no less.

 - Tshepo Sefotlhelo is the CEO of Vuma Reputation Management

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