What does it mean to be a man? Living with AIDS # 322
The manner in which some men conduct themselves in relationship matters has led to questions being asked, such as: What does it really mean to be a man? Their actions have resulted in many women using words like unfaithful, abusive, sexually reckless and immoral to describe the male species in general. A Johannesburg varsity lecturer has made this question a subject of research.
KHOPOTSO: For just over two years, Malose Langa, a lecturer in Psychology at the University of the Witwatersrand has been tracking a group of teenage boys from Alexandra township, north of Johannesburg. This is for the purposes of his own studies towards a doctorate degree in Psychology.
MALOSE LANGA: The question that we need to ask ourselves, which is part of my research with young boys touches on issues of: What does it mean to be a man?
KHOPOTSO: From his university office, in Braamfontein, the young bespectacled psychologist tells us that his choice of topic stems from the rising phenomenon of the
MALOSE LANGA: As an adult man, why would you go for young kids? Is it about what people say, ‘ah, it’s status’¦ it’s like my little trophy’¦ it’s all about power, it’s all about domination ‘ that with this young one, I can tell her what to do ‘ it’s all about having that control over this child’. And I think these are some of the issues that we need to openly confront. As a nation, we need to discuss issues like this because some of these sugar-daddies are not your ordinary men on the street. (They) are your CEOs, executives and career men. And what they are doing is really killing the future of this country.
KHOPOTSO: So, what does he intend to achieve with the research?
MALOSE LANGA: In my study, I’m trying to understand what does it mean to be a boy in the new South Africa. If you look at the so-called sugar-daddies, they have, in a way, imbibed the hegemonic norms of what it means to be a man. And those norms are the ones that are being promoted at a community and even at a societal level. And’¦ with my research, it’s to say: Are there options? And if there are options, let’s then promote that there are boys who are not indulging in the risk-taking behaviours; there are boys who believe that ‘you know what? I can abstain and not feel pressurised that I need to be sexually active’¦’
KHOPOTSO: Research into the social aspects of AIDS shows, among other things, that because of their mostly uninhibited sexual behaviour, men are largely responsible for spreading the epidemic. It is against this background that Langa believes that if men’s behaviour could be influenced at an early age, it would be giving more strength to the effort against AIDS.
He speaks of boys in his study cohort who have kept their virginity, but laments the way society that reacts to boys who choose to abstain from sexual activity.
MALOSE LANGA: In the community these boys are not celebrated. These boys are ridiculed. These boys are ostracised. These boys are seen as sissies because they are not following your hegemonic norms of masculinity. So, I’m saying at a government level, at a community level, at a school level, these are boys that we need to promote. These are boys that we need to give attention. And if we are now giving those boys special attention, they will serve as role models’¦ because they would have imbibed alternative norms of being a man’¦ It’s like, I have a steady partner and I need to be honest and faithful to this person.
KHOPOTSO: What’s needed, says Langa, is to break the pervasive notion that men have to behave like their lives depended on sex.
MALOSE LANGA: The whole issue around sexual drive – we can’t control our sexual urges ‘ this is what the boys are being taught. And now you feel that pressure – that I need to follow that. I need to comply with this. And if I don’t follow this, I’m going to lose my status as a man.
KHOPOTSO: Turning to the issue of teenage pregnancy, he acknowledges that the number of young girls becoming pregnant is increasing alarmingly. But he cautions that in trying to address this, focus should not be on helping the girls only, but should also include the boy children.
MALOSE LANGA: The discourse around teenage pregnancy has neglected teenage fathers. We are only looking at teenage mothers. And for me that has been my research interest because it’s not always the case that they are being impregnated by sugar-daddies. They are also being impregnated by boys of the same age. And for me, the current discourse is like, ‘the poor girl, a victim’. But we are not saying anything about the teenage father.
KHOPOTSO: Langa’s research involves almost 30 boys between the ages of 12 ‘ 18.