CULTURE, CURRENT AFFAIRS

Shake off the labels

By Julie Nxadi

I despise the label: Victim. I find it dismissive and weakening. It brings with it an air of unwanted fragility and a sense of dependence. When someone, anyone, is labeled a victim, those around that person feel the sudden urge to pick them up and hold them or say that word that drives me insane: “Shame”.

It is due to the above (amongst other things) that I absolutely resent and despise rape. I could write a long winded explanation of how I hate rapists and the act that is rape is barbaric. I could emphasize how animalistic it is to force oneself on another, but unfortunately our jaded souls would find that all just too redundant. So allow me to explain what enrages me:

On the 22nd December 2010 the body of an 18 year old girl was found in the Tantyi Township of Grahamstown. The young woman had been raped and killed and left in some stranger’s back yard. It is horrible. It is horrible that she was on her way back from work and was attacked that way. It is horrible that she died before she got to see how well she did in her Matric exams. It is horrible that while everyone else was screaming “HAPPYYY!” at the top of their lungs as the clock struck 12 on the 31 December; her family was blanketed by grief. It is horrible. But here’s the thing about rape. The sorrow…the horror…the shame does not end in that household.

It affects that home and all the homes on that street; it affects the house where the body was found and all the houses on that street. Every woman, little girl and especially mothers, who knew her; knew of her; had seen her once or twice; were served by her at the restaurant she worked at; or even just read about her  in the local paper were affected. All of them, including me, feel like they dodged a bullet. From the moment they put down the paper, disembarked the taxi where the horror was being whispered or switched off the radio where the story was being announced; something changed.  A small part of their confidence shifted, and ducked slowly into a shadowed part of their soul to hide. Or maybe it’s just me.

Here’s the thing about Rape and all violent crime…but I think Rape especially: the literal victim is not the only victim. I don’t know much about Post traumatic stress in victims of violent crimes; so I wont pretend to be an expert. The most accurate information that I can put on the table is what I felt and what every woman that I spoke to felt: Scared.

Being a woman is tough, now I am not asking for a pat on the back or a piece of paper with a gold star and the word “Excellent” written on it, I’m just making sure everyone is on the same page. We are haunted by the sad notion of being needy and unable to do anything ourselves.

And in the event that any woman dares to stand out and be independent…it seems that someone (not always a man) comes along and forces her to be needy and robs her of the ability to do anything herself. You can be at the top of your game, a doctor who is taking life by the horns one moment and then a victim raped in the very hospital you work in the next.

We roam the streets followed by darkness. Is there an act more personal, more vindictive? Every time I hear one of these stories, I feel like a kid who just found a bag of poo in their lunch box and everyone else is laughing. It’s not embarrassment, it’s not shame either it is a giant WHY?! Why does this keep happening?

Women feed whole families from nothing. Hand wash every stitch of clothing in a house, out in the blazing sun and then go inside to see who’s hungry. Women wear tattered and torn clothes so that their children, and sometimes children that aren’t their own, can proudly sparkle amongst others. Women are beings of a loving, nurturing kind…yeah there’s the odd pain in the ass monster who will leave their new born baby on the side of the road, but generally woman are the thread that holds communities together.

So WHY?! Why do we constantly have to fight for the very society that we hold together, to give us a freaking break! I don’t have the answers.   I have complaints, I have queries and I have a mountain of horrible stories, but I do not have answers.  But here’s the thing that everyone keeps forgetting about women: we don’t quit.

Women are well aware of the amount of responsibility that rests on their shoulders. Their self sacrificing nature is what holds them together in a time of crisis. If I had jelly bean for every time I heard my aunt say: “If I cry what is there left for children to do?” I would be a very happy woman. Our mothers (especially black mothers) have never been romantic about life and its challenges.

Life for a woman is hard, but life for a victim is a nightmare. Its time to shake off the labels.

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