GENDER POLITICS, Uncategorized

Women’s worth is not in their reproduction – a response to Jay Naidoo

By Jen Thorpe

Jay Naidoo’s recent article I thought I was a feminist – until I heard their stories’ requires a response.

Whilst Naidoo’s article starts out with considered space being given to the stories of the women who shared accounts of their abuse, and is positive in its reflections on what men can do to support women, there is one paragraph in particular that gets under my feminist skin. I’ll unpack it.

August – Month of No Violence Against Women, a government-inspired programme, is a shocking indictment when those in power continue to abuse the trust of women with impunity. I am tired of platitudes. We need every day to be a day of respecting women.”

I am tired of platitudes too. We do need every day to be a day of respecting women.

August, aka ‘women’s month’ makes most South African feminists want to puke. It’s characterised by random events hosted by the Department of Women – a Department that has, since inception, rarely been able to meet its own targets to improve women’s lives, regularly spends irregularly, and is, in my humble opinion, a significant obstacle to gender equality within government programmes and departments.

Departments spend women’s month lauding their own excellence and launching reports, when what they should be doing is sitting down with treasury and allocating some money to implementing services for women. Those in government, we have seen time and time again, continue to abuse women, never mind their trust, with impunity. 

Whilst it’s clear from the general gist of his article that Naidoo is trying to give women the respect that he mentions in the previous sentence, I would like to challenge him on his explanation for the need for this respect.

Women are sacred.

I like the language of ‘women have human rights’ better, but that’s probably just personal preference. It’s the next bit that is problematic.

They give us life.

 Could this be the modern usage of the term, like I’ve seen the young feminists say ‘Zadie Smith gives me life?’ Perhaps. In which case, I agree. Women give me life too. Every damn day. But, the next sentence makes me think this statement is a bit more literal than this.

Where would we be as a human species if women disappeared? Extinct! It is our mothers who carry our children, who give birth to new life, who breastfeed our children and who nurture and raise our children.

 This might be biologically accurate (until scientists grow us in labs), but it is so politically problematic.

Women do perform these tasks, and they are hard and worthy of acknowledgement. But what if, perhaps, we thought about challenging the narrative that this is the only reason that women have value?

Women are not the sum of their reproductive abilities, and they are not just there to raise the kids while the men do all the ‘real work’. This passage also ignores the men who nurture and raise children, and who were part of the reproductive process too.

In addition, it’s clear that we as a society don’t really value these reproductive traits anyway. Whilst we do have maternity leave, it’s not compulsory for the employer to pay a woman during this time. Many mothers are at home on maternity leave stressing about raising human life and about whether they can afford to eat or pay the bills or have the health checks they need post pregnancy to ensure they are healthy.

We don’t have legislated paternity leave, which tells women that not only don’t we value their labour equally to men, but we want them to raise the children all on their own because it is their sacred job and men have real work to do.

This narrative is not helpful. It is harmful and it reinforces an unequal burden of care, and the undervaluing of women’s work and of the many roles that women play in society outside of motherhood. It’s not feminist. Not even a little.

Unfortunately, the rest of the paragraph also lets us down in many ways.

Women are the heart, the love, compassion, generosity and peace that we want in the world.

There are many women I know that are as nice as this makes us sound. But, there is also a problem with socialising and endorsing women as ‘nice’.

First, it means women are afraid to speak up during abusive situations, like those Naidoo describes, because they don’t want to be seen as ‘not nice’. This narrative of women’s niceness is especially harmful for young women, who are told to say yes and be polite and never to say no. Not to unwelcome hugs and kisses from family members. Not to their sexual partner’s advances. Not to sex. Not to harassment. Not to their teacher dismissing them.

Second, too often we teach girls to be peaceful, and kind, and nice and compassionate and those are such valuable characteristics to have in life. But we don’t teach boys the same thing. We teach them to be brave, and fierce, and determined, and never to take no for an answer. We don’t support kind boys and we don’t support fierce girls.

We teach girls to accept and boys to keep trying until they make it. Can you see how this links to a culture of violence against women?

By violating women, we as men violate ourselves.

I agree that violence involves dehumanisation both of the victim and the perpetrator. Gender inequality is bad for both men and women. If I’m reading this right, Naidoo is trying to speak to men here, and tell them that respecting women allows a healthier and more equal reality. But any essence of this potential reading is diminished by the next sentence.

And we crush our real role – of being protectors of what is sacred.

 What this sentence does to the previous one is important. It says that men violating women are doing the wrong thing, not because violating another human is wrong in and of itself, but because they aren’t sticking to their gendered responsibilities of protection.

Women as the protected, men as the protectors. A million theses written in a million gender studies courses worldwide have already dealt with the harm that this narrative causes in rendering women the weaker category of person, requiring men’s help and protection in order to live their lives.

This is patronising and sexist. If you yearn to protect then spend time talking to men about sexism and patriarchy and get them to stop being so violent. Protection doesn’t change the status quo, it maintains it.

Naidoo adds later in his piece,

We men have to learn to listen, with empathy. We have to respect sacred spaces where women can tell their stories. Just listen. Feel. Understand. Not to drown out the voices of our Mothers, Wives, Sisters and Daughters. Just shut up and change

Agree. And as someone who is not a mother, wife, sister, or daughter to Jay Naidoo, I’d like to ask, as the current president might, listen properly.

If women deserve respect, then we deserve that respect for our humanity, our abilities, and our resilience, not simply for our biology or our importance or relationship to men. We are so much more, we always have been.

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GENDER POLITICS

Why the casual sexism at UCT matters

Dela Gwala
Dela Gwala

By Dela Gwala

“The girls here are all sluts man, is it any better at Rhodes?”. I overheard this question on Jammie plaza last year. The unidentified dudebro essentially ruined my lunch and made me vow to continue hiding out in the postgraduate corners of this institution.  Against my better judgement, I continued to take tea breaks on those pigeon-infested stairs. One day, I came across a poster promoting UCT’s netball team. It was basically a full-blown shot of several pairs of disembodied legs with the catchphrase “UCT netball team revealed”. Strange I thought, whenever I see a poster that concerns the rugby team their legs are attached to the rest of their bodies. A few days later, walking back to the dingy postgrad labs, I noticed another poster. This one was advertising a College House party. In the bottom right corner it said ‘R 20’ and underneath that ‘Puss ‘n Pint.’

I’m not the only one that continuously bumps into UCT’s culture of casual sexism. The First Year’s introduction to life in a campus residence seems to be a training ground for misogyny.  A recent Facebook post that popped up on my timeline spoke of the questionable war cries sang by members of some of the male residences. Apparently, in recent years, the Smuts Hall boys sang that they could go to Fuller House and get some free vagina…And they sang this to the Fuller girls. Also, the Kopano boys had been heard listfully wishing that women’s buttocks were like buns.

Opening up the latest edition of SAX appeal, the editor started his letter with the sentence “Nabeel you’re going to get all the bitches”. It’s satirical social commentary they said. Sian Ferguson, UCT alumnus and current Rhodes student, tweeted “good satire should make the oppressor feel uncomfortable, not the oppressed”. The common denominator in all of the above examples is that a group of people that are often socially, politically and economically marginalised due to their gender are thrown under the bus for the sake of humour.

“When we live in a world where street harassment is just a normal part of life it sets up a culture where even worse things happen behind closed doors.” These were the words attached to a piece of street art whose image made its way around social media a couple of months ago. The same goes for casual sexism. When you create an environment that is accepting of gross objectification of women then you are fuelling a culture that will ignore the violence committed against them. If we’re all just skanks, sluts, hoes and bitches then what happens to us is inconsequential – we had it coming anyway.

I wonder if the unidentified dudebro from the beginning of this article is aware that the language he uses comes straight out of the mouth of a sex offender. Words that demean women because of their sexual past/activities are always the first port of call to rationalise what they’ve done. Policing women’s sexuality allows for a social space where they get blamed for sexual crimes committed against them. If you think our worth or respectability is determined by how much sex we are or aren’t having or the amount of clothing we wear then those will be the first questions that come up when you’re trying to determine whether an act of sexual violence has happened or not.

Being on a campus where judging women’s sexuality is part of everyday conversation means we don’t ask important questions. We don’t ask why we’re not sure of the procedure/policy of reporting sexual assault and sexual harassment on campus. We don’t ask why we don’t know the statistics of how many of these incidents occur on campus. We don’t ask why DISCHO, the body in charge of dealing with these cases, is underfunded and understaffed.  We don’t ask these questions because we’re too busy blaming women for going about their lives the way they see fit. We don’t ask because we don’t really care. When women are only vaguely human – owners of body parts we mock and objectify – then why should we?

GENDER POLITICS

The other half of the conversation: Osrin and daily violence

Dela Gwala
Dela Gwala

By Dela Gwala

Last year, Tim Osrin made the Southern Suburbs of Cape Town infamous by attacking Cynthia Joni because he thought she was a sex worker. Five UCT students cemented this new found infamy by assaulting Delia Adonis on the pavements of Claremont. “ Racially-motivated” attacks is what the headlines cried. But in both these cases that was only part of the conversation. Adonis’s attackers were reported to have called her a “coloured cunt” and Osrin seemed to have drawn his conclusion about Joni simply because she was black, female and standing on a street corner in Kenilworth. The gender politics of both these stories just about got a cursory mention.

If walking is how you make your way around the streets of Cape Town, then open air incidents of gender-based violence are often a part of your daily commute.  During the weeks that accusations of racism dominated discourse about Cape Town, I walked into three incidents of physical and verbal violence taking place on the pristine pavements of the Southern Suburbs.  In Newlands, I watched a man grab a woman around her throat and scream threats at her as she walked away. Back in Claremont, I saw a man drag a woman down the street by her braids. Further along main road, I witnessed a gaatjie (taxi door operator and fare collector) pull a knife on a woman for talking back to him.

There is no headline here – no newsroom would ever report on these incidents. We live in a country where rape is calculated per minute and femicide per hour, but gender has still not quite made the national agenda. The furore around the racist attacks last year collided with 16 days of activism against violence against women. Parliament was in the spotlight as the country’s new source of entertainment but not even that brought eyeballs and eardrums to the 2 hour joint sitting when gender-based issues were debated.

To give a quick recap:  ANC MPs complained about opposition MPs taking photos in parliament. Then MP Mandla Mandela complained about a DA member chewing chappies then later on mockingly referred to another DA MP as “ Miss South Africa”. After that Opposition MPs accused the Chairperson (Deputy Speaker Lechesa Tsenoli) of not being consistent because MPs took pictures of EFF members last time. Later on, DA Chief Whip complained that Minister of Women in the Presidency Susan Shabangu had called him “mad”. A he said, she said ensued. Then the DA Chief Whip said that another ANC MP had called him a liar. Between eruptions of laughter, calls to retract statements and heckling, the chairperson called this grown up playground a “disgrace”.

Where are we now? Tim Osrin is expected to skip off into the sunset thanks to a plea bargain – it’s likely that he will take part in a community programme instead of serving jail time. On a national scale, there is still no comprehensive plan of action to tackle gender-based violence. There is basically no national policy or programme to fund even though it’s costing the country R 28.4 billion  to R 42.2 bilion to ignore this issue.  In Johannesburg, a restaurant manager has been accused of being racist for shouting at two black female patrons and telling them they need a “good shagging” or a “ fuck”. Barely anyone noticed or acknowledged that these statements were also deeply sexist.

Gender issues have been treated like an unwanted add-on to the national conversation since the TRC days.  Statement takers who were on the frontlines of uncovering truths about apartheid era abuses often didn’t think that incidents of sexual violence or any other form of gender-based violations were even worth recording. These issues were not considered politically significant or worthy of a spot in the national dialogue. Two decades later, It’s why no one flinches when the department of women in the presidency suggests prayer and candle vigils as the plan of action to combat a pandemic that ruthlessly claims the lives of women. It’s why police vans can simply drive past while women are being assaulted on the streets of the Southern Suburbs. It’s why South Africans hardly notice sexism and misogyny even when it’s the not-so well hidden subtext screaming at them from national headlines.

 

Dela Gwala is a full-time feminist and post-grad student at UCT. She has an honours degree in International Relations but has jumped ship from the politics department to take on an MA in Creative Writing. She spends a ridiculous amount of time on social media moderating a Facebook page called Guerrilla Feminism South Africa. Find her on Twitter @indie1activist and read more of her writing on her blog https://genderspecs.wordpress.com/.

 

OPPORTUNITIES

Call for Papers: Women, Gender and Sexualities: An Anthology

Call for Papers: Women, Gender and Sexualities: An Anthology

Co-Edited Dr. Rujuta Mandelia (Temple University) and Moiyattu Banya, MSW (Temple University)

Papers are invited for an anthology that provides the historical foundations of diverse feminist discourses on gender, race, class, sexuality and disability vis-à-vis nationality, citizenship, and post-colonialism, the critical understanding of how women live their experiences in diverse cultural, geographical, and religious, worlds, the fundamental construction of sex, gender, sexuality and class as social constructions and how they are enacted within respective societies. In other words, how is gender perceived and enacted in different societies? This anthology  also provides the integral intersections of sex, class, gender and sexuality as social groups and how they work within systems of patriarchy, and the foundational understanding that global affects the local in multiple ways just as the local affects the global. It will also focus on women as agents and subjects of change. In other words, how women/genders negotiate and bring change through activism? This anthology will provide foundational readings,personal narratives and essays.

Topics solicited include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Sexualized Bodies

  • Violence Against Women and LGBTQIA Communities

  • Transnational Activism

  • Women in STEM

  • Immigration

  • Labor Movements

  • Nationalism and Citizenship

  • Law (both local and international) and Its Impact on Women

We are looking for personal narratives as well as essays not more than 1000 words.

All submissions must be final and fully edited. Please submit your work with a brief author bio of 100-150 words no later than February 15, 2015.  Please submit your work as an attachment in Word doc or docx. Authors must have a record of academic/activist writing, have experience in women’s issues, women’s human rights work, and a sound understanding of feminist theories relevant to the anthology. Kindly note that only authors whose work are chosen for the anthology will be notified.

Please forward your submissions to Rujuta Mandelia (rujuta@temple.edu) or Moiyattu Banya (moiyattu.banya@temple.edu)

OPPORTUNITIES, RESEARCH

Special Issue of the *Journal of Lesbian Studies*

“Lesbian”/Female Same-Sex Sexualities in Africa

Deadline for proposals: January 1, 2015

The *Journal of Lesbian Studies*, a peer-reviewed academic journal
published by Taylor and Francis, invites proposal submissions for a special
issue on the subject of “Lesbian”/Female Same-Sex Sexualities in Africa.

The multiple configurations of same-sex practices and relationships across
the African continent, alongside the problematic notion of homosexual,
“lesbian,” and “queer” identities in the African context, have been
addressed by various scholarly publications in the past couple of decades.
Yet same-sex interactions, relationships, and politics between African
women have not garnered significant attention either in feminist/queer
studies or in African studies, and remain largely unrepresented in academic
writings. This special issue of the *Journal of Lesbian Studies *proposes
to fill this scholarly gap by exploring this topic from a variety of
cultural and disciplinary perspectives. Contributions by scholars on the
African continent are particularly welcome.

The *Journal of Lesbian Studies* is an interdisciplinary journal; hence,
multi- and inter-disciplinary approaches are encouraged. Such approaches
include, for example, cultural studies, literary studies, cultural
anthropology, sociology, geography, social movement studies, political
science, psychology, and public health. Contributions from the perspective
of gender, queer, and sexuality studies and/or postcolonial or subaltern
studies will be given particular consideration.

Potentially relevant questions include, but are not limited to: how do
women who engage in same-sex sexual interactions and relations represent
themselves in Africa, both socially and discursively? How do they relate to
Western concepts of lesbianism or homosexuality? How do they relate to
culturally specific concepts of gender and sexuality in their respective
ethnic groups? How do they theorize and negotiate the intersections of
religion, racism, sexism, compulsory heterosexuality, and discrimination in
their respective societies? How do they position themselves in relation to
postcolonial and neocolonial politics? How do women respond to gender
diversity and transgender experiences within lesbian and “queer”
communities? How do these issues influence their identity formation or
their negotiation of subjectivity and agency? In what kinds of local and
global activism do they engage? What partnerships have lesbian movements
forged with feminist movements in African countries and across the global
South and North?

Ashley Currier and Thérèse Migraine-George are the guest editors for this
special issue. Please submit a one-page proposal, together with a two-page
CV, to either Ashley Currier (Ashley.Currier@uc.edu) or Thérèse
Migraine-George (Therese.Migraine-George@uc.edu) by January 1, 2015.

The guest editors will respond to proposals by February 1, 2015. Complete
manuscripts of approximately 7,500-8,000 words will be due by May 1, 2015