By Yerushka Chetty
Trying to stop people, irrespective of gender, from relating to each other in violent ways once they reach adulthood, is an almost impossible task.
Whereas the amount of resources required – being money, time and people power – to attempt the exercise of actually changing behaviour patterns in adults is huge, positive results in this respect is pitifully minimal.
As adults we are stuck with each other’s toxic perceptions. We will require huge infrastructural changes that manifest stricter laws and economic equality, at the very least, to be able to navigate around each other and feel respected and safe.
The question is, can we give our children a chance from birth to develop healthier ways of relating to others and if so, how can we go about doing it?
Primary school kids are raping each other because this is an expression of what our society as a whole is teaching them. These children are not crazy. There is nothing wrong with them. They are in fact just reflecting a society that celebrates rape culture. They are just being normal kids picking up unhealthy habits from adults in their communities, and from media as a whole.
Kids raping kids is at once an extreme, normalized and covered up behavior. All kids are socialized to believe that the bodies of black children, of all genders, are there to be exploited for short term gratification.
If we are to tackle gender based violence – which in fact includes violence on all genders and perpetrated by even females on males – we, including the state, need to start taking responsibility for how children are conditioned in our society from birth.
All children born in South Africa (SA) should be our collective responsibility. The reality is that an abused child, to various degrees, will very likely become an abusive adult. And abuse simplified is someone having unhealthy coping mechanisms when relating to others in stressful situations. This includes instances when one is being challenged and in this context how one views her/his worth in relation to others. Such a person may think, I’m important or I’m safe if I’m in control; or I’d rather be the bully first than be bullied by another; or women/men are trash and can’t be trusted.
We are conditioned from birth to relate to other genders in toxic ways. By the time we act out from this foundation of conditioning, it becomes very difficult to change our behaviour patterns because society celebrates, perpetuates, protects and rewards us for this behaviour. And so we begin to see toxic behaviour as the foundation of our identity. In this context some men are unable to imagine manhood without it being connected to controlling women, whereas women can’t imagine manhood without it being attached to financial stability and control. Both genders accordingly believe masculinity is the ability to command, and femininity is the ability to submit.
Additionally as the media glorifies violence and exploitation, children find it difficult not to mimic what we celebrate. Rape, if we look at it, entails the imposition of power via violence by the perpetrator on the chosen victim. We are conditioning children from birth to become rapists, and emotional, physical and sexual abusers.
It’s proven that the foundation of how we relate to each other is created in the first seven (7) years of our lives as children. We unwittingly take the development of children as an afterthought while we fight for the rights of adults. But we do need to understand who we are as adults and that the way we relate to each other is due to our experiences during childhood. On this note our education system is creating rapists, and abusers. It ignores the fact that we are an extremely traumatized nation. It looks at black children as future cheap disposable labor instead of human beings that need to be educated on how to break the burden of generational trauma that’s steeped in every single black household.
If we are to stop violence in all its manifestations, we need to start with taking responsibility for all children born in SA. We must stop turning a blind eye to the suffering of children.
We ignore every single trauma a child experiences because we think that the child is too young to remember such experiences later on in life. This very child is likely to grow up to reenact the same trauma on others, over and over again, and will not stop because s/he has not been given healthy coping mechanisms to process the trauma. A good example is that of Robert Sylvester Kelly (R. Kelly), who was sexually abused as a child by his 14 year old sister and who subsequently as an adult had sexually abused and controlled 14 year old girls.
Lastly we must not underestimate the power that the media – including film, video and television (TV) – has in conditioning the child. Children are likely to reenact the trauma they consume via the media as they grow towards and into adulthood.
We are who we are today, because no one cared about our rights as black children. We are the generation that was meant to be seen but not heard. We are now the adults that abuse each other and who are having children that abuse other children.
We don’t know any better but as Maya Angelou says, when we know better we have a responsibility to do better.