South Africa can be a real morass of paradoxical inequality.
Here we have parallel worlds: one in which parts of society are frequently victims of gruesome sexual and gender-based violence and another where pockets of relatively safe and secure society occasionally feel the urge to come together in collective hand-wringing and admonishing social commentary, that usually takes the form of open letters, opinion pieces published in editorials unlikely to be read by victims or perpetrators of brutality reported in the news, and solidarity marches.
The latest contribution to the communal furor on the scourge of gender-based violence in South Africa is none other than the editor of Playboy Magazine South Africa. I don’t read this magazine but the March 2013 edition was brought to my attention by a male colleague who wanted my opinion on it. Somewhere between the big, bold headline “SA SEX SURVEY” and a photo of a woman’s butt on the magazine’s cover, is the overused cliché “No means no”, a rather trite platitude on the bandwagon of condemnation. You know things are bad when established magazines that peddle images of semi-naked women for profit and men’s entertainment feel compelled to speak out on sexual and gender-based violence (but with a careful layout that doesn’t compromise the obvious purpose of the magazine or spoil the profit margin). Alas, it didn’t end there.
The editor, clearly outraged at the dismal state of gender relations in South Africa, boldly goes above and beyond his mandate as purveyor of images objectifying women’s bodies and spews sanctimonious rhetoric about respect for women. In his quest to make a point and inspire his readers to change their ways, be proactive and behave respectfully towards women, he is seduced by the opportunity to blame our pathological society on the failed leadership of an unscrupulous and philandering President Zuma. The editor thwarts his noble intention self-indulgently using the editorial platform to air his personal ire towards the president.
In all fairness, and given the magnitude of gender-based violence in South Africa and the fact that there appears to be a revival of citizen activism opposing violence against women, the editorial committee of Playboy South Africa has a right to voice their opinion. However, considering the nature of the publication, I do believe there is a more sensitive, self-aware, informed and realistic way of expressing solidarity with women and indignation towards violence against women.
One could start by acknowledging that the problem in South Africa is out of control and that saying (shouting or screaming) “NO” means nothing when rapists punch their victims in the face, drug their drinks or disembowel their bodies. Sometimes it feels as if we’re a country at war with itself. I don’t believe that standing on a soapbox, self-righteously wagging a finger in the air is going to make a difference, that’s the reserve of politicians. I want to see less clichés and more direct action, less talking and more doing, especially from those who have the means and resources to make a difference.
Perhaps the editor of Playboy Magazine could have given the editorial space to a woman to speak on this issue? He could have at least researched the problem a bit better instead behaving as if he knows what the causes and solutions are and inadvertently re-enforcing the fact that we really do have long way to go.