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Get rid of the butch thing: “Me Tarzan, you Jane”


The damage and loss of productivity is never mentioned in the empowerment from which this attitude excludes women

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AS CHILDREN, we were taught to sing Polly put the kettle on. Within the text of that seemingly innocuous little ditty lies a major block to gender equality in a post-colonial South Africa.

It contains the offensive seed of androcentric gender role assignment. It is assumed making tea is a woman’s job.

It is assumed that the situation is not negotiable; women have babies, do housework, feed and please men, and make tea when required.

The damage and loss of productivity is never mentioned in the empowerment from which this attitude excludes women.

During my six decades in the teaching profession, I was pleased to observe the tendency to appoint more women as heads of schools.

The same is true of some areas of industry.

And the government tries hard – with some dire results – to address the gender inequity.

When I get a chance during a speech, I often throw in a catchphrase which says: “I grew up with six sisters, all girls.” It invariably gets a few titters.

As does my other feminist dig (borrowed) with which I reassure my audience: “Don’t worry. Like Elizabeth Taylor said to her husbands, I won’t keep you for too long.”

That one invariably gets a good response. But it hides my own unadmitted reservations in this debate.

In my 57 years of marriage, which ended, sadly, a few short months ago, I always enjoyed making tea for my wife. I even made tea when she had lady friends. I did not feel reduced.

And I rode over remarks about being house-trained. It made my marriage a partnership rather than a contest.

I also delivered my wife of our third and last child, who is now a beautiful 51-year-old. In fact, marriage guidance suggests strongly that men are present when their wives give birth. It gets rid of the butch man-thing: “Me Tarzan; you Jane.”

The sticky areas in this debate start with faith-based precepts. We are taught to pray: Our Father. And most prophets were male. And battles for justice were a man thing.

The women who intruded were given bad reputations and names, like Amazon or lesbian. And our language is still male-centred.

When we are told: The doctor/chief executive/judge/surgeon/principal will see you now, we still expect a male.

My youngest grandson pointed out to me that we sing “hymns” and not “hers” during worship. And there are many other digs about gender differences.

My intention is not to launch a wave of drastic reversals.

Rather let us men become more sensitive to our partners.

Acknowledge them as our equals.

Admittedly, there are areas where role exchange isn’t possible. But where they are, let us tap into this powerful potential called the opposite sex.

You won’t be sorry.