I was listening to the radio this morning and was shocked to hear that Minister Sbu Ndebele [Minister of Transport] has made a public speech yesterday saying:
“No miniskirts for women taking a driving test! They distract testing officers”.
Really? Why is the testing officer looking there in the first place? Why is he not looking at the road and the woman’s head to see that she is doing her observations correctly as per the K53 mandate? Is she observing with her legs and breasts that the police officer needs to have his eyes located there? I know there are women who rely heavily on their assets [body] to acquire their driver’s licence and it’s proven to work in some cases. The sight of a woman skimpily dressed also makes the testing officer’s day, in my view. This is a social dance that women and testing officers have had for years now. I have not heard of a story where a testing officer has then stalked or gone out of his way to inflict violence on a woman who came to the test dressed in a miniskirt. He may make unwanted advances on the woman during the test, however, the woman is still at liberty to report him to his seniors and or choose to go to another testing officer or ask for a female testing officer. The latter defeating the purpose of the miniskirt.
In the case where women choose to wear miniskirts to their driver’s license test, women are exercising choice to use their bodies as objects of desire to acquire a license to “freedom”. If the officer is naive enough to lose his judgement and issue the license to the woman, so be it.
However, I am concerned when the Minister decides that he can dictate what women can and cannot wear. Especially in light of the global Slutwalk movements happening across the world where women are reclaiming their right to wear what they please, without living in fear of violence.
I would like to draw on the work of Dr Nolwazi Mkhwanazi regarding women’s sexuality. Dr Mkhwanazi draws on the Zuma rape trial and the story of 25-year-old Nwabisa Ngcukanawho was sexually assaulted by taxi drivers at the Noord Street taxi rank in the Johannesburg CBD for wearing a miniskirt. Dr Mkhwanazi argues that culture has often been used to police and regulate women’s sexuality and more devastatingly to justify violence against women.
The Minister may not have used culture to justify his position, but his words are tantamount to the Canadian police officer who claimed that women should not wear skimpy clothing as they might be inviting “trouble”. My concern is who gives the Minister the right to dictate what women should wear when they take their driver’s tests? More importantly, why does he feel that he needs to police women’s bodies? Is he speaking for men in this regard? If so, which men? Rapists and perpetrators of violence against women? Are the police officers not able to control themselves or ask to be swap with a female officer if they see a woman dressed in a miniskirt coming for her test? Are testing officers so out of control that they need a custodian to safe guard their interests? I doubt this very much.
In my view, Sbu Ndebele’s comments are problematic for a number of reasons. My first departure point is to reaffirm and remind the Minister that women are free to dress as they please without being told by men, it is after all their Constitutional right.
Second, the Minister is assuming that he has the Constitutional right to mandate what women can and cannot wear when taking their driver’s licence tests, or more broadly when performing other tasks in their daily lives.
Third, the Minister is making the assumption that men are not able to control their urges and need to be safeguarded against “temptation” brought on by women in miniskirts.
This last assumption is problematic for me as it relinquishes individual responsibility for men’s behaviour. It serves to justify and reinforce the notion that women who wear miniskirts invite violence.
Surely, we know this is never the case?