GENDER POLITICS

Feminist. But not anti-men.

Kamogelo Rachel Modise
Kamogelo Rachel Modise

By Kamogelo Rachel Modise

Although I was raised in a quiet, well-off and private community that lacks many of the socio economic issues faced by a lot of blacks in townships as a young black woman I understand the impact of how society and the way it has socialized women contributes to the inequality of our sex. This major problem is also rooted in our culture and traditions and is passed from one generation to another; making it come across as an acceptable norm, and a way of life.

Perhaps this is the reason why feminists are seen as trouble makers set on disturbing a man’s world and its order. Feminism rattles all the wrong feathers, not just for men but for women too (mostly heterosexuals if I may add). This is a sad reality, one I wish I could change because as a feminist who is not anti-men or set to change this “man’s world” but to instead create an equal world on every grounds for women; I must admit I need straight men and women’s contribution.

I don’t like the idea that feminism is a movement.  For me, feminism is or should be a common holistic and healthy attitude that every woman should have of self. So much that we free ourselves of the subjective labels, prejudice opinions and inferior notions attached to our womanhood. Feminism is an identity we were robbed off and must claim back in order to heal women’s issues. If we use feminism, we can destroy the “pull her down” syndrome amongst women. We can successfully restore a much needed comprehension, sisterhood and support among women.

I am a proud feminist and I am pro-women but I am not anti-men.

Societies need men, good men: men who do not fear free minded women that acknowledge and embrace their being completely and shamelessly. We need men who respect a woman’s choices, abilities and lifestyle without gender role projections.

Personally I believe men create a healthy balance because in general two women are a crowd and I do not mean two women as lovers. A feminist as I am, and a homosexual as I am, I need men. Life needs men, women need men as do men need women but we also need equality on every ground. We do not need a superior sex.

Yes I am a feminist. I am proud of what and who I am. I celebrate this everyday by being loud and proud but I mean no harm in my quests to emancipate women. I am not an enemy to the opposite sex nor do I desire to be. I pose no threats but good intentions that I believe will change the lives of women for the better. Many women are still in need of liberation. A liberation so hard to attain because of a “man’s world” that insists on being superior.

I am a feminist; I am pro-women but not anti-men. I am only against the subtle sanctions set against women and gender roles that demean females. I do not mind that it is a men’s world, let it be. I do mind that women can’t have their world too.

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CULTURE, CURRENT AFFAIRS, GENDER POLITICS

Speak less, show more.

Liza van Soelen
Liza van Soelen

By Liza van Soelen

“I only want friends who are less pretty than me, so I can get a boyfriend.” This is what one of my brightest middle students in South Korea told me. When I did a Dreams lesson with the 14 year-old students every one of the girls listed “Get Married” as the most important goal. In this country gender stereotypes are more ingrained, more conservative than I am used to. But the source of statements like this is a very different culture than my own, where being the same is more important and respected than standing out. Sometimes hard to fathom, but more understandable considering the cultural norms here.

What is more shocking to me is sharing dinner with other native English teachers from first world countries and having them tell me that they aren’t feminists. That really men and women just aren’t equal. That they are not really interested in woman’s issues. It physically hurts my brain to understand how this range of independent, educated women can be so blasé about the issue.

Women who are scared to confront the issues or are ignorant of the issues because ‘feminist’ is such a terrifying word for them is a huge challenge for the feminist movement. This resistance hinders our ability as feminists to reach many women who would otherwise be assets.

My daughter will be 16 in about 2035. For those of you who are quick at maths you will realise that I don’t have a daughter yet. But in some senses, that is how I choose to live on a practical level. I choose to make decisions about my own life, the actions I take and the expectations I have, to create a better world for my daughter as a representation for all the women in my life and country. I want to ensure that I will be a positive role model in the midst of negative mass media representations of women. I employ this tactic to encourage women to be part of the feminist movement giving them examples that will make sense to them. In speaking about the practical applications of improving situations for women and by speaking about situations that can directly influence someone they might care about (friends, daughters, sisters, themselves) I show them how feminism is relevant for them.

Perhaps as feminists we need to do a marketing overlay. Let’s go for the magazine mantra if we must: INDEPENDENT, STRONG, INTELLIGENT. Use words that the majority of women do want to live up to. Then use those words to encourage women that it is necessary to become more involved in their communities. Instead of challenging them to speak to someone about women’s issues, we could challenge them to:

  • find an organisation that works to aid women or girls and get them involved in it;
  • encourage them to help to put together a scholarship for one girl who needs it; or simply
  • encourage them to live bigger dreams, to expect better treatment from life and treat other women with more respect.

If ‘feminist’ is such a scary word then we would be better off involving resistant women in the practical application and allowing them to discover on their own that feminism is not a scary word, but a necessary action.

I want my daughter to be proud of me one day. I’m not going to get that right by saying all the right things, I’m going to do that by doing the right things. We can talk and we can shout, but our success as feminists lies in the wide majority of people taking the right actions to make positive change. So perhaps it’s time to speak less and show more.

CULTURE, HERSTORY

Reinventing Feminism: making the circle bigger

By Athambile Masola

The story of feminism in South Africa and the world has always been fragmented, conflicted and contested.  This has largely been the case because of the many different voices amongst women who identify with feminism for different reasons.  Understanding feminism in relation to race, class and sexuality highlights that there are many perspectives about why we still need feminism, and particularly, the kind of feminism we need. It’s important to investigate whether this is really happening, especially in a country like South Africa.

The current debates about feminism seem to happen in academic institutions where transformation still needs to happen as highlighted in Mandisi Majavu’s recent article. This is also happening within a context where race and class are also part of the transformation debate. Because of this, I am always unsettled when feminism seems to become the concern (and dare I say, the monopoly) of privileged, middle class (mostly white) women in South Africa. Spaces such as this blog and the Johannesburg tweet highlight this complexity. When reading the blog or watching “vag mag”, I still can’t help feel that the conversation needs to shift.

The missing perspective has to do with the (south) African narrative of feminism, or whether such a thing exists at all. When we talk of rebranding feminism we’re still talking about it from a white middle class perspective, why is that? And much of that is cloaked in American white feminism’s route of rebranding feminism. The onus always seems to be on those who have experienced feminism from different perspectives to highlight the need for understanding the complexities within feminism.

I have an understanding of ‘white middle class’-ness through my complex education(18 years in former white institutions), but my primary experience of feminism has been through stories of women like my Grandmother,  womanism, black consciousness and how these have affected the reinvention of feminism. Whose responsibility is it to talk about bell hooks, Alice Walker, Nomboniso Gasa, Pumla Gqola, Amina Mama and the endless list of black feminists who have contributed to this debate before? Mary Sibanda’s work, Long live the Dead Queen is another example of understanding the different tropes to the story of women in this country. I am not suggesting that her work is feminist or that she is a feminist (I would hate to appropriate my perspective upon someone I don’t know), but her work is an opportunity to understand that the conversations we have about feminism might have an implications for other women in this country who have a different life experience beyond the walls of academia and the safe circles of middle classness. How do we reinvent feminism in order for these stories to emerge as well? The stories we never read, about the black working class single mother feminist who has no voice nor access to blogs such as this but the conversations we have about feminism and the extent of the hard work of economic transformation that still needs to be done, have an impact for how she lives her life. Whose story are we telling in this debate and how can we “make the circle bigger” for others to start reflecting on the middle classness of feminism? Is it possible, or even necessary, for feminism to represent all women?

The need to reinvent feminism is not a new debate. In isiXhosa we say, Inyathi ibuzwa kwabaphambili (In order to know something, ask those who have experienced it before you), which highlights the need for all feminists to keep going back into the history of this debate, while trying to take this forward in order to understand the relevance of feminism for our future. We need to constantly ask ourselves, who are we reinventing feminism for if feminism is about “making the circle bigger”?

CULTURE, SEX AND SEXUALITY

Your bits do not define you

By Claire Martens

I love people watching. My favourite people-watching place is the University of Cape Town campus outside the arts block. I love to look at what art students are wearing. Their jeans are tight, their t-shirts are tighter and they spend more money on hairstyles than they do on shoes. I think that a person’s look can tell me something about that person. However, I also know that if I got to know any one of those art students, I would also realise how much their look doesn’t tell me about that person.

Art students tend to flirt with the boundaries of androgynyFor me, art students can really mess with your brain if you are not open to new experiences of how to define and describe masculinity and femininity. They can send mixed signals via their clothing or look, even to the point where it becomes difficult to know what sex they are; never mind their sexual preferences. Art students tend to flirt within the boundaries of androgyny. If being masculine or feminine means that you are straight, then all art students would be labelled bisexual, which they are not, of course.

 

Another great example is the metal head. Both male and female metal heads exert this image of toughness and brutality, yet the women love lace and the men could be models for shampoo advertisements. Metal heads, despite their manliness, can also have a soft spot for Eric Clapton and I won’t go into the glam metal bands of the 80s. They too exist within an amorphous zone where anything goes.

Before I drown us in some more stereotypical examples (the metrosexuality of jocks, anyone?), I must get the point of this article. Well, the point is this; “masculinity” and “femininity” are not singular notions. Both are defined by the current cultural and social norms of the day and can fluctuate and change within different countries, communities and even spaces. This is why there are many ways of being masculine and being feminine. These terms are very closely linked to sexuality and the relationships within and between genders.

Unfortunately, the University of Cape Town campus outside the arts block is just one of the few safe spaces in South Africa where people can explore these with little cost to their integrity. They are also free to do so without people having preconceived ideas about their sexual preferences. Their masculinity and femininity is very fluid to the point where there is a mixing of both.

The trouble with this country, and I have said it before, is that we are very confused by what the norms are because of the radical changes that occurred post-1994. In South Africa, sexual and gender norms are different across ethnicities, races, religions and income levels. Although the Constitution is supposed to be guiding our behaviours towards others, by affording them bodily and emotional integrity, we still have some of the highest levels of violence in the world.

The level of sexual and gender based violence is linked to masculinityThe level of sexual and gender-based violence is indicative of how wrongly we have allowed masculinities and femininities to be defined in certain cultures. In fact, I think that the confusion created by progressive versus traditional roles of men and women are driving some of the violence. The problem with this is that all genders suffer, not just women. Men are expected to be tough, funny, sexually driven and strong, and if they don’t live up to these societal expectations, they are subject to brutality from other men, and even from other women. Personally, I could define masculinity as being able to satisfy a woman sexually every time you have sex. But then that definition would exclude all men and include all lesbians (just joking).

One of the biggest issues I have with masculinity and femininity is that we tend to view them as polar opposites. Even the aspects of each are polarised: strong, hard, ambitious men; nurturing, soft, sensitive women. What utter rubbish. Of course there are differences between men and women, but they don’t have to be so dissimilar. People are people; every person has different attributes and character traits. Both progressive and traditional notions of what it means to be a woman or man should be able to be attributed to every person without creating confusion and violence. Unfortunately, these are often incompatible.

When babies are born they are slowly gendered by their parents and society until they take on certain attributes of their sex. But your bits do not define you. My vagina does not make me soft and nurturing, or predetermine my career, or make me prefer flowers and men and shoes. In fact, I am terrified of babies, swear like a sailor, find flowers utterly pointless, love chocolate, wear big, black boots and love men with long hair. Am I a feminine woman or a masculine woman? I guess that depends on your definition. Me, I think that I can be both!