By Mal Perrett
I read Jen Thorpe’s editorial and got inspired. And maybe that’s what is needed here… a little inspiration. Now I don’t claim to speak for all young women, nor am I an expert- these are just my feelings and views on young feminism today.
Today I see more pregnancies, escalating occurrences of domestic violence and shocking rapes that have me reaching for much needed hugs from those around me. Every year at Rhodes University we hold an anti-sexual violence protest. I was in one of the earlier ones where there were only 300 people in attendance, this year there were close to 1500 people taking part. Something that should have been such an amazing spectacle however, personally became disgust as some women taking part treated the entire event as a fashion show or missed the point completely when pointing at a rape survivor and saying “She just wants attention”.
I log onto any news website and I’m assaulted by articles of men in power doing stupid things on a daily basis, and where a rape case would be covered for a week tops, Zuma’s penis draws international attention and spectacle. I go onto a “women’s news” website and the headlines scream Kim Kardashian, hotties and weight loss. Hardly inspiration for a youth day inspired blog post.
I think back to what youth day meant, back in 1976, when an entire nation united behind a common cause. Men and women were in solidarity against racism, against apartheid and working for a common goal. It wasn’t a black person’s fight, it was every human being’s fight. Today, it’s a feminist’s fight. It’s not like the fight for equality is a common goal for everyone, it’s not like all women are behind women’s equality for all. So have we gotten it wrong? Are the issues us feminists are fighting for not the same issues that the majority of women in South Africa want? If they were, wouldn’t they be joining our cause?
This may not resound well with everyone but the feminists I see, the feminists I imagine always fall upon the same stereotype: white, middle class and angry. I’m sure it wasn’t intended this way, but alas, that is a major perception of feminism today. This assumption of course is generalised, however this stereotype links feminism to it just as how ANC is considered a ‘black’ party. The problem with it, is not if this stereotype is accurate or not, the problem is that this perception, if it is seen as accurate, has little consequence, little influence in its ability to affect change within South Africa. Such a stereotype marginalises a large majority of women within South Africa, particularly those who are disempowered by their socio-economic status. These women may not respond to calls because they feel they are being dictated to, forced to be ‘liberal’ forced to be ‘independent and individual’- rather than being offered a space to seek what they want, on their own terms in their own manner.
I don’t claim to be the perfect feminist. I know I can use my feminine wiles to get what I want, and I like my mini-skirts, and men, and both, especially whilst shamelessly grinding to those songs Gcobani Qambela was blogging about – you know music about bitches and ho’s. This is obviously hypocritical of me – I mean how can I call myself a feminist and not fight against patriarchy in music right?
Well the truth is that a part of me is tired, tired of fighting. When I say “fighting” I am talking about going in, fists waving, being angry and shouting words like “discourse” and “paradigm”. I like to consider myself a “happy feminist”. Is that so bizarre? That I can campaign for women’s rights, burn my bra and still rock a smile and a cheerful demeanour.
When I first declared myself as a feminist at my very private, highly liberal and wealthy school, I was met with horrific reactions as if I’d openly declared myself a communist or supported the ANC. I was bombarded with questions, “are you going to get married?” and “why do you hate men so much?”. To them, both guys and gals, I was the epitome of everything Not-suburban and obviously a man-hating-bordering on lesbian. Well they were half right.
The feminism that was, is hardly accessible. The youth don’t want mantras of disempowerment shoved in their faces. Despite all our angst behaviour, the youth don’t want to hate – they seek positive action, positive change. That is how we should shape our movement, not by being anti-The Man, but being pro-The Woman, pro-Solidarity and pro-Community.
Anger has its uses. It gets people’s attention; it shows the true measure of passion and other emotions at play. It shows that someone can mean business. However, anger is also exhausting, draining and many activists burn out and then just gives up on the revolution. Anger isn’t accessible. If you walk into a situation angry, people will either fear you or be dismissive of you. I’m not saying I don’t get angry, of course I do, but the youth are way too young to get angry all the time.
This is why I advocate “Happy feminism”. It’s something that ‘hard core’ feminists don’t take too seriously claiming it to be a weak form of activism. In some instances, happy feminism isn’t appropriate, but in the long run… isn’t there a saying about catching more flies with honey?
Perhaps if we show the youth hope, positive and realistic ways in which to change the world, we may inspire more feminists out there. Feminists who use compromise, not as a way of surrendering, but a way of strengthening the community, feminists who aren’t saviours but diplomats. Feminism should be grounded in love; our activism should be inspiring hope. Let the youth see that, see that they can find the positive change within themselves.