CULTURE, SEX AND SEXUALITY

Culture, Women and Respect

Masutane Modjadji
Masutane Modjadji

By Masutane Modjadji

I had an interesting morning debate with a friend. And it hit me why I don’t have real genuine regard for what many would like to refer today as “African culture”. That me, a black woman from a dusty village in one of African’s most known monarchies , is not bounded by cultural might sounds extreme. Just hear me out first.

This friend was reprimanding me for dating outside my culture and saying how shameful I have become. Another friend went as far as to say that I have a low self-esteem.

I didn’t argue for it shocked me that I was having such a debate with two men my age group in the year 2012. So I gently asked my friend who has a couple of kids out of wedlock and is not in a relationship with any of the mothers what is an “African thing” to do when a man makes a woman pregnant?  The response was to shift to being defensive and say it’s not the same. I was expecting that kind of response, but in this case I was hoping to be wrong. Another thing cultural characteristic I find hard to get my head around is to say a man is right even if his faults can be fatal.

Most African cultural norms that are emphasized are those practices that protect men. In this argument between my friend and me, when my friend couldn’t rely on logic he moved to culturally blackmailing me as a woman, by reminding me that in African culture I shouldn’t be even talking back to him. I should just listen and agree that he will always be right and I should stay ignorant.  For men today culture is only good when it suits them.  They are the very same African men take to podiums and deliver good speeches about women economic empowerment when they are doing their best to drown women’s voices in their personal capacities.

There are so many South African single mothers raising children alone and not by choice, me being of them. The African culture that my friend was preaching to me about gives women little choices and sometimes none at all.  For instance in Sepedi culture when a woman gets pregnant out of wedlock she has to tell her parents and reveal the identity of the father. The girl’s family would then go with her to the father family to report the pregnancy to his family, if he has not taken the first step by telling his parents and making necessary arrangements to reach out to the girl’s family first. Usually this is when the man is willing to take responsibility and if agreed by both parties, marriage arrangement would most likely follow. This is an ideal situation and it rarely happens like that.

On more than one occasion I have witnessed man denying that they have fathered children in front of their parents and the girl parents not even understanding the consequences of their denials. If it doesn’t suit him the man simply denies he’s the father or even knowing the girl. When this happens the man would slip back to his life of no responsibility and woman is left a single parent and an embarrassment to her whole family. Where such stories are rampant like in many rural communities, the women neither have the necessary means to prove paternity or they are left too helpless to do anything about it. What about embracing that aspect of culture where men take responsibility and take care of their children and protect women.

My friend went on to insinuate that he knows for sure that my parents cannot be proud of the choices I make. Quite to the contrary, my own father had defied the rules that barred him from marrying my mother because she was from a different class. And when he made her pregnant, he married and enrolled her to school where she studied teaching.

The only culture that reigned supreme in my house was that of respect. If you have respect, even as an African man you would know better than calling a grown man a boy because it is not his culture to go to the mountains for initiation. The best love I ever experienced was borne out of respect.

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2 thoughts on “Culture, Women and Respect”

  1. Rock on Masutane!!

    I recently had a conversation about labola with a peer, a black male of same age and progress in his manner, not seeming closed to contemporary dynamics. I am a white single mother and he and i get a long well, with no regard for each other’s class, race or postion in society.

    However, it blew my mind that he saw no fault in the gathering of men at suh a gathering – the woman’s male family and the proposing male’s entourage – that they were negotiating on her worth based on her virginity, she lost value if she had borne a child out of wedlock (as opposed to honouring her status as a mother) nor did it matter that he could bring himself to admit any number of those males negotiating her worth were guilty of robbing her and any number of other woman, of that prize!!

    I find it to be a big elephant in the room. I don’t have a race issue, I DO have issue with what men say versus what they practice, as you have said in the reference to great speeches versus terrible life choices.

    When i want to speak about it, I know for sure i will be called racist for disregarding the respect owed to cultural tradition, when in fact, is it not a blister on the very face of time honoured traditions when they hurt those who honour it?

    I don’t have a strong sense of obligation to any cultural traditions. if any, i am more motivated to question and do away with many redundant ones. So it always amazes me how high principaled people will compromise their convictions in honour of a degrading and dishonourable tradition.

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  2. these issues are all interlinked:race, gender,sexuality and class.and when you add the proverbial culture cherry on top,the conversation can become a minefield!the crazy thing about experiences such as yours masutane is that in jettisoning your “culture”, you run the risk of being too modern and bordering on being a coconut.it seems that women cannot think for themselves without being accused of being “the other” and rejected from the safety net of their “culture”.you’re lucky to have a father who has modelled rejecting culture and embracing what he believes as an individual.if only more (black) men realised that women who think for themselves is not an anomaly.

    i take comfort in women like noni jabavu and nontsizi mgqwetho who lived in the 1920s and 1950s but lived as they wanted to and said what they wanted to say.read drawn in colour by noni jabavu and you’ll realise that questioning culture has always been possible for women.

    thanks for sharing!

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