Legislating sexual violence: policing the female body

By Ritsie Mashale

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?



2 thoughts on “Legislating sexual violence: policing the female body”

  1. If we are going to discuss these issues rationally we need to understand the distinctions between ‘rights’, ‘freedoms’, ‘responsibilities’ and ‘consequences’.

    We are all FREE to do whatever the hell we like – whether it’s run down the street naked, jump off a cliff, become an accountant, live in a flat with 8 cats etc. But so often these days people seem to want to attach onto their FREEDOM to do whatever they please the RIGHT to be allowed to do it.

    In other words, they want to be excused from the RESPONSIBILITIES associated with their FREEDOM and somehow be made exempt from any potential real world CONSEQUENCES of their actions. Or better yet they want to be made exempt (shielded from) from any NEGATIVE CONSEQUENCES – yet still be allowed to to enjoy any and all of the POSITIVE CONSEQUENCES.

    Basically, they want all of the benefits of freedom and none of the pit falls. And as happy shoppers living in a consumer utopia this does not seem an unreasonable set of demands at all! 😉

    But it gets interesting when you realise that expecting to have the RIGHT to be allowed to do something without having to deal with any negative CONSEQUENCES automatically recognises the existence of some entity with the power and authority to grant us that RIGHT and to shield us from those negative CONSEQUENCES.

    That all powerful, authoritative entity is of course ….. (drum roll) … our parents (and to some extent the whole family).

    As grown ups we are encouraged from kindergarden to eventually transfer the parental role onto the state (onto governments) and to remain essentially dependent on the state to look after us (IOW to remain as children throughout our whole lives).

    We are also encouraged to transfer that parental role onto organised religion too (with its ‘Fathers’ and ‘Sisters’ and the ultimate father figure – ‘God’ himself!) although this is no longer accepted quite so widely, in the way it once was.

    In fact, being ruled by our authoritarian government ‘parents’ is also becoming less acceptable these days. There just seems to be less and less need for a centralised and authoritarian organisation of society now that we all have the internet and other technologies which make us quite capable of self-organizing all aspect of our lives without the need for violent centralised rule from a central ‘parental’ authority. This is becoming even more apparent as we all start to realise our government ‘parents’ are actually a little bit dysfunctional, psychopathic and abusive!

    We are – as a society (and even as a civilisation) – reaching a point rather similar to adolescence. We are too grown up and independent to want to be controlled by our government ‘parents’, we are starting to see all of their flaws and reject them….. but we are not quite grown ups yet either, not quite capable of organising our own lives and taking full responsibilities for our actions.

    We are torn between having temper tantrums, slamming doors and hating the abusive control they exert over our lives …. while simultaneously begging our government ‘parents’ to fix everything and make life better for us! (Classic example: Occupy Wall Street).

    So what has all this got to do with miniskirts?!

    Welllll, our government parents know that their time is up – their free lunch is over – and that their, ahem, ‘services’ will no longer be required in the 21st century. In fact they are currently holding humanity back big time! They know we are all beginning to outgrow and reject this violent centralised cabal who decide how half our earnings are spent and how we should all live our lives. (ie ‘on wars’ and ‘as tax slaves’)

    And they know that their promises to serve, organise and protect us (make life generally better) have all been exposed as ridiculous lies which can never be realised and that such things were only ever promised to us as bribes anyway, so that we’d support them and keep them in power.

    And so as abusive, tyrannical and parasitic parents who are used to having their children around as all-round-slaves, our governments know that the only way they can stop us collectively rejecting them and leaving home to create a more sane, peaceful and voluntary society is to ensure that we never do fully grow up, never figure out that we are being abused and never become fully aware, independent and self confident.

    They NEED to keep us all as squabbling children so that we keep looking to them for protection and guidance. They need us to feel we have to stay at home and do all of the chores and pay all the bills – even if we hate it – because (in our dependent helpless state) we have no alternative way of living.

    And so in order to keep us dependent on them they dumb us down and indoctrinate us in schools, they paint a picture of society full of crime, ‘terror’, hate and intolerance so that we will always be in fear of the big bad world (and of each other) and they divide society in as many ways as they can think of (sex, race, religion, class, earnings, appearance, gender, sexuality etc) to try and get us all fighting and competing among ourselves so that we then look to the government to sort out all our arguments and disputes and issues with yet more laws and more regulations and more of this authoritarian parental mindset known as RIGHTS.

    To be clear, the RIGHTS I am talking about here are the ones granted us by an authority, rather than inalienable rights which are there by virtue of our very existence. You see RIGHTS which are granted can also be revoked or limited in some way. And therein lies the paradox – and the danger – of becoming obsessed with demanding such RIGHTS.

    It’s all very simple when you step back and look at it objectively.

    ‘govern’ = control
    ‘ment’ = mind
    ‘govern-ment’ = control over the mind (mind control)

    By encouraging us to see ourselves as separate, incompatible, competing individuals all demanding our own separate and competing RIGHTS they cleverly force us to demand more and more government control over what we can and can’t do and say.

    Political correctness is in this way a method used to divide society, not unite it. PC supposedly teaches ‘tolerance’ of others who are different to us – but that automatically implies that:

    (a) we are all different ie it defines us all by our minor differences – not our overwhelming similarities
    (b) it implies that other people are intolerable by default, and that we must learn to somehow tolerate them (through government regulation and legislation).

    PC is in so many ways a self fulfilling prophesy of intolerance. PC sees the world through the eyes of intolerance and then demands we all become intolerant of such intolerance! LOL It’s a way of teaching us that we humans can’t possibly live together without constant supervision and interference from the state (from our ‘parents’).

    The madness of such PC orientated RIGHTS is exposed when you apply some of the ideas we have about social/ personal issues to other less sensitive and personal areas.

    For example:

    I am FREE to leave my doors and windows wide open. I also have property RIGHTS and therefore I should be able to expect and demand the RIGHT to go on holiday for two weeks and leave my doors and windows open and have my computer, stereo and TV still there when I get back.

    On one level all of this is perfectly fair enough. We really do have these FREEDOMS and these RIGHTS. But we also have common sense too! In reality we would never leave our house wide open when going on holiday.

    But what if the RIGHT to leave our houses unlocked was promoted in society as somehow essential to our FREEDOM … such as freedom to ‘express ourselves’, to live ‘un-oppressed lives’??

    Then we might start demanding to have that RIGHT protected and enforced, right?

    The ‘ultimate’ property RIGHTS (all the positive CONSEQUENCES of exercising our FREEDOM to leave our house wide open but none of the negative CONSEQUENCES) would have to require some kind of authoritarian parental (government) intervention. Perhaps a CCTV network monitoring all of our houses at all times overseen by the government together with a government security task force on each street so we could all go away on holiday and have our homes watched over (our property RIGHTS defended to the absolute).

    This would obviously be madness.

    But so is expecting to have the RIGHT to be able to wear what you want and get all of the positive CONSEQUENCES and none of the negative CONSEQUENCES. It’s the same thing. The same expectation – the same demand being made to our ‘parents’.

    And out ‘parents’ (the government) are only to happy to enforce such RIGHTS because they will always lead to more government laws, power and our continued reliance and dependence on them to be in charge of our affairs.

    The bottom line is that we all have the FREEDOM to abandon all common sense if we want to, when it comes to going about our daily lives – including the choice to wear whatever we choose.

    But maybe – just maybe – retaining some measure of common sense and acting RESPONSIBLY is actually more preferable (more enjoyable) than compulsively demanding one’s RIGHT to transfer all personal responsibility on such matters of clothing and personal safety onto some parental authority (especially a dysfunctional authority desperate to cling on to power!).


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