What feminism means to us in 2011

By Tammy Sutherns

In conversation the other day another woman called me “a bit of a female chauvinist”. She was joking and I laughed and said, “I’m not sure I would use that term.”

But later I realized how shocking it was that feminism can be passed off so glibly and so inaccurately.

We’ve long past the days of not being able to vote or being treated blatantly badly, discrimination sown into the seams of the fabric of society. Our ancestors have set the tone for a far more aware society, politically correct if you’d like.

However it’s the hidden values and understandings that are still entrenched and a huge lack of understanding about what feminism really means. Some people these days, including strong and independent women; roll their eyes at the term, picturing man-hating bitches who want to dominate the world, irrationally controlling while they reel from PMS.

Feminism became part of my identity when I realized the huge discrepancy between rape occurring and men thinking they had done nothing wrong. There is an alarming problem in South Africa with the meaning of masculinity and unfortunately alcohol, drugs and mob mentality combined with this can be devastating.

In my third year of university, we held a Truth and Reconciliation hearing. Our Vice-Chancellor stood up and called our university “liberal”, his opening speech trickled with pride and honour.

As one by one victims of sexual abuse – women and men – came forward, his face fell. Their stories left the hall cold. His closing statement gave away only shock and disgrace.

A fellow-feminist once said, “I don’t know how anyone can be a South African woman and not be a feminist.”

A lot of women in our society do not have voices to speak out against sexual, physical or emotional abuse. Our justice system has left many women quiet about horrors that have happened to them, unwilling to face to trauma of testifying against a man that will possibly sit right in front of them, the agony of a case that will possibly go on for years.

And a lot of our young men believe that to be man you must dominate and control.

I don’t think any woman would disagree that these things need to be spoken about and understood. Not so we can crush masculinity, but so we can understand what it is that is lacking and be aware when raising our own sons. So we can pinpoint why so many women are being raped in South Africa every single day.

Our country is becoming more liberal, yes, and we have made huge strides in all meanings of democracy. However there is still a huge gap in understanding what feminism means and I have found the reaction mostly negative.

We need to explain to the women and men in our lives what it is that feminism stands for and what it is that we are trying to do. “Female chauvinist” is not an accurate description.


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