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Challenging violent masculinities : a critical feminist investigation of the relationship between domestic violence and religion.

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When something is about masculinities it is not always about men. Kosofsky-Sedgwick (1995 :12) Any society that is lauded for its exemplary National Constitution that asserts and affords their citizens basic human rights is accountable for how those rights are translated into the "lived experiences" of its citizens. In South Africa, a pronounced and violent identity has become notoriously established by the blatant disrespect for women's rights, a reality predominantly present within the marital dyad. Unfortunately, even after eighteen years of political liberation and some fourteen years after the promulgation of the much-lauded Domestic Violence Act No. 116 of 1998, the culture of human rights has not demonstrably translated into women's rights as countless women continue to be challenged in their marriages by the dictates and privileges of hegemonic masculinities that their husbands subscribe to. In order to engage with this prevailing and destructive state of disharmony and abuse in marriages, this study concentrates on a simple yet logical question of "why do men do what they do?" centred as it is within the compass of their violent relationships with their wives. This exploratory research project afforded an in-depth understanding and examination of seven married men who were afforded an opportunity to engage in four focus group discussions to describe and detail their subjective narratives of their violent relationships. This research provided spaces for men's reflective accounts of their violence, thereby offering insightful interpretations of the contours of the contradictions contained in the social construction of masculinities which in South Africa is multi-faceted. The sample frame comprised of men who reside in Phoenix, a large township, north of the city of Durban. According to racial profile, all were South African Indian. Their ages ranged from 34 to 61 years, while their wives were between 35 to 60 years of age. Years of marriage ranged from 3 to 35. Three respondents were in their first marriage, while four were married for the second time. Five respondents had matriculated; while one possessed a post-matriculation qualification and one had completed Standard Six (present High School Grade 8). Concerning their religious affiliation, six of the respondents were Christian and one was Muslim. Utilising critical, freminist and masculinity theories, the 'authoritative discourses' offered by the respondents were meaningfully interrogated, examined and analysed. In particular, the study paid careful attention to the inextricable links between the constructions of masculinities, domestic violence and the sociology of religion. Emergent meta-themes that emanated from the extensive narratives of the men on their violent relationship with their wives included the priveleges of patriarchy; religion and male privelege, and finally the clash between religious belief and the South African criminal justice system. It is within the acknowledged space of the "web of associated factors" which contribute to domestic violence, that conclusions were reached. The study logically concludes that a deliberate, coherent, sustained, and spiritual ethos is needed in South Africa so as to ameliorate the damaging and destructive effects that are presently and overwhelmingly dictated by the presence of hegemonic masculinities.


Thesis (Ph.D.)-University of KwaZulu-Natal, Pietermaritzburg, 2012.


Feminist theology., Sex role--Religious aspects., Family violence--Religious aspects., Masculinity--Religious aspects., Theses--Religion., Theses--Gender studies.