Lizl Morden
GENDER POLITICS

‘Ladylike’ is bullsh*t

By Lizl Morden

It’s not ladylike, they say.

Men don’t like women with short hair, they say.

Guys don’t like girls who drink beer, they say.

Guys don’t like girls who do…, guys don’t like girls who wear…, guys don’t like girls who like…, that’s all they ever seem to say. Heteronormativity aside for the moment, I say: so what? How true is that? Did you do a worldwide survey? Am I supposed to care what men are supposed to like or not like?

What If I don’t want to be ladylike? Or a lady? What if I just want to do things that make me happy? Things that aren’t harmful to anyone. Unless you define harm as making people uncomfortable about gender roles and I don’t.

Why do I have to look and behave in a way that is pleasing to guys in general? Am I trying to attract all the guys; hypothetical, imaginary guys who all like the same things? Or am I trying to attract one guy in particular? Or a type of guy. The type who does not give an ever-loving fuck what I drink, seeing as how it only stays with me for a short amount of time anyway. Or, just maybe, a guy who actually likes the way I look and behave. Most of it, anyway.

What if I don’t care what ‘men’ and ‘guys’ like? Must I present myself in such a way that all men find me appealing? It is statistically impossible. Anyone who’s ever  tried deciding on what to do/eat with a group of friends knows that it’s damn near impossible to make everyone happy. Let alone all straight men who roam the earth. Saying “men do/don’t like…” implies that all men like the same thing, which is, surprise surprise, untrue. Same goes for what women like and don’t like.

Yes, some women like men who tell them how beautiful they are, how special they are. Men who are ‘gentlemen’, who open doors and pull out chairs and offer jackets. (The reaction to swapping the genders for these things is interesting. Once, in high school, I offered a guy my jersey because he was getting cold and I wasn’t wearing mine. He declined my offer pulling a face like I just asked if he would like to eat a bowl of cold garden snails covered in mayonnaise – how could I even think of doing such a thing.)

Well, guess what. I, like Cristina Yang from Grey’s Anatomy, believe that “if you want to appease me, compliment my brain”. I know I’m special and also that I’m not. Everyone is special, so no one is. I have hands and am perfectly capable of looking after my own damn self, opening my own damn door and sitting on a chair all by my damn self. This last one is key – I am graceless enough as it is, somebody trying to scoot me onto a chair would just emphasise my awkwardness and that I can also do perfectly well on my own. If I require assistance,  I have the ability to ask for it. I also have my own clothes, including jackets. I’m not going to attack anyone who does any of these things – if it makes you happy, whatever. At the most I’ll politely decline. But it’s not exactly going to make me swoon either. For me it’s not about how well you treat ladies, but how well you treat people. Not how chivalrous you are you to women but how kind are you to those around you. Not would you keep the door open for me, but would you keep the door open for someone who really needs it?

What  I want to know is: what is the point of pretending to be someone to attract guys, according to standards set by “them”, who won’t even like who  you really are? Keeping up the charade is just going to make you miserable. Everyone is special. Everyone is different. Everyone likes different things, including qualities in a partner – man or woman. Just remember that someone tells you what women/men like/don’t like or you read it in some magazine article. Opinions are subjective and there is absolutely no accounting for taste.

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GENDER POLITICS, POLITICS

Dear John

The following letter was submitted anonymously to FeministsSA

Dear John,

It is with sadness that I write this letter to you today following your comments in the Parliamentary debate this week. In case you are uncertain which comments I’m referring to, it’s this one in particular:

 “…while the Hon Mazibuko may be a person of substantial weight, her stature is questionable”.

Your comment says so little and yet so much, so I’d like to point a few things out. But first let me say, Dear John, that it’s your stature that is questionable.

Point 1: Attacks of this kind are a very weak form of argument. I’m sure with your justice training that you will be familiar with latin, and understand the term ‘Ad Hominem’  when used in the context of an ‘ad hominem fallacy’. For the uninitiated it goes like this. Person A makes an argument, Person B makes an attack on person A (unrelated to the argument but related to their character, or in this case, body), Person A’s argument is thought false. The reason why an Ad Hominem is a fallacy, and a really bad form of argument, is that the character, circumstance, or actions mentioned don’t have a bearing on the truth/falsity of the original argument. What this indicates, John, is that the best you could do to challenge Ms Mazibuko was to comment on her looks. It says way more about you and your argument, than it does about hers.

Point 2: Verbal attacks of this kind assume, if intended to be insulting  (if you had another intention John, by all means, share it), rest on the assumption that there is an acceptable body type for parliamentarians that would lend them credibility. It assumes that somehow if your body type doesn’t match this ideal, you should be embarrassed, and thus that commenting on someone’s body would be a legitimate criticism of their occupation of a seat in Parliament. I think a quick camera pan around the room would reveal that parliamentarians come in all shapes and sizes, and that a particular body type is thus not relevant to a parliamentary debate, especially not one as critical as the budget debate of Parliament itself.

Point 3: Verbal attacks of this kind are targeted primarily at women. Whilst male MPs are hardly a source of visual splendour it is rare to hear anything about their beer boeps, long hairy ears, or receding hairlines. If comments like this were made, they would immediately be seen as irrelevant. Yet, there are frequent comments about women’s weight, wrinkles, botox, hair styles and voice pitches. These comments are routinely accepted, and indeed in this case, the Deputy Speaker did not rule on whether these comments were un-parliamentary saying she needed to study the record.

This is indicative of a political culture that on the surface invites women to participate (in fact South Africa has incredibly high numbers of women in Parliament) but at the same time rejects women and is a culture that promotes a patriarchal value system where women are valued according to defined standards of beauty, and where these standards are thought to have bearing on their work performance. If a similar attack was made on the credibility of a disabled person, or an attack based on an MPs race, would be immediately identified as un-parliamentary. Yet, when this and other comments are made about women, they are accepted. This was a profoundly gendered comment to make. In fact it was chauvinist. The fact that your party colleagues did not call you out indicates that this type of patriarchal swing at women is accepted. The fact that a broad outcry was not heard in the house is equally worrying.

So in short John, I’m sure you now realise that your comment was profoundly offensive and made you appear as though you are weak and sexist.

If you’re not sexist,

if you’re not a weak man who believes that insulting women based on their bodies is ok in the political arena,

if you recognise that politicians of all shapes and sizes are equally capable of representing the diversity of South Africans out there (including women who make up more than half of the population),

then I hope you apologise not only by saying sorry, but by calling for a debate within the house about the persistence of sexism, and the need to eradicate public support for a patriarchal value system that does so much to harm women and men in South Africa.

If not, well John, as I said, it says more about you than it will ever say about Ms Mazibuko.

CURRENT AFFAIRS, GENDER POLITICS, SEX AND SEXUALITY

Kenny Kunene’s comments on rape require investigation

Jen Thorpe
Jen Thorpe

By Jen Thorpe

NUMBER 1 – Transactional sex is not only really uncool, it is also really dangerous

Kenny Kunene went on Noleen last week with five of his fifteen girlfriends (who he only likes to be under the age of 24). Multiple concurrent partners are, as we all should know by now (yet a certain Simply Red song echoes), very risky in terms of the transmission of sexually transmitted infection and HIV. HIV tests as we know must take place regularly, which KK and crew say they do, but as we also know HIV has a window period where your blood does not reflect anti-bodies. Thus whilst KK sleeps with 15 people, and they sleep with 15 people, and they sleep with 15 people, a lot of sexual juices are being paid forwards. Because women’s vaginas have a larger surface area for exposure to the virus than male penises (especially very tiny ones) they are more likely to contract the virus. This is just plain stupid sexual behaviour in a country with such high HIV infection rates. I understand that, as adults consenting to sex, we make choices about whether we will practice it safely, but as far as I am ­concerned unsafe sex with multiple partners is not safe or sexy.

Why is this sex transactional? Transactional sex is defined as ‘sex with a partner which was primarily motivated by material gain, defined as provision of food, cosmetics, clothes, transportation, items for children or family, school fees, somewhere to sleep, or cash.’ It seems clear from the recent media coverage of the situation that these women receive numerous financial and economic rewards for being part of the group. In addition, those he favours are able to recruit others into the group. He has stuff, they don’t. It’s unequal for all the reasons that Lizl Morden spells out here. The emphasis on collecting women as objects of his desire clearly indicates that his masculinity is founded on problematic ideas of sexuality where men consume women, and where male virility and sexual prowess at the expense of narratives on women’s pleasure, and at the expense of women’s health. It means that his masculinity is only really as good as the number of women he can sleep with.

NUMBER 2 – Threatening someone’s wife with gang rape ignores the experience of rape survivors, and incites violence. Once again I am reminded, as I was with Durex’s cock up two years ago, that violence against women remains a joke to most South Africans, and that there is little understanding of the connection of social messages that sanction this violence (eg invite men to use their penises as a weapon) to the violence itself. Threatening someone with gang rape incites violence. Acting as if this is no big deal promotes myths that rape is not a serious crime. Something that I said back then sadly still applies:

Norms and myths sustain our social identities. They help us understand the expected interactions between ourselves and others. Norms are themselves sustained by our actions. It is a self-perpetuating cycle. Norms that say men’s most important attribute is their penis, and that a woman better celebrate that by taking what she can get, are part of rape culture, which I argue is bad for everyone.

South Africa has an incredibly powerful rape culture. This culture is sustained by many things: low conviction rates for perpetrators, an unpleasant criminal justice system that alienates survivors and reduces reporting, a history of South African violence, and inequality among the sexes. It is also sustained by our laughter at jokes that condone violence against women. Rape is not funny.

NUMBER 3 – Describing his own consensual sex fest as rape further illustrates his ignorance, and diminishes the experience of rape survivors

In one swift move his tweet undermines gang rape survivors trauma, pain and suffereing, and tries to suggest that they should have enjoyed it whilst they could. Saying you get ‘gang raped’ all the time and enjoy it reinforces problematic myths about rape that say that it is enjoyable for the victim. In addition, it ignores that a lack of consent is key in rape, and that a consensual sexual situation is not rape. According to Rape Crisis Cape Town Trust’s website, myths about rape have powerful negative effects for survivors that affect their healing and increase prejudice against them. In other words, the promotion of social norms that encourage violence increase the likelihood that a survivor will suffer secondary trauma and will experience rape trauma syndrome.

NUMBER 4 – Sex with minors under the age of 16 is statutory rape, and a crime under Sexual Offences Act 32 0f 2007

On Phat Joe’s show last week, Kenny Kunene admitted to sleeping with some of his students whilst he was an English teacher. He admitted that some of these students may have been under the age of 16. Section 15 of the Sexual Offences Act states that any person (A) who commits an act of sexual penetration with a child (B) is, despite the consent of B to the commission of such act, guilty of the offence of having committed an act of consensual sexual penetration with a child. This is commonly known as statutory rape. Section 16 states that any person (A) who commits an act of sexual violation with a child (B) is, despite the consent of B to the commission of such act, guilty of the offence of having committed an act of consensual sexual violation with a child. This is commonly known as statutory sexual assault. Thus, regardless of the fact that a child agrees to the sexual activity, the law does not recognise their ability to consent, and therefore a crime is committed. In addition, all sexual activity without consent is rape.

Conclusion

Kenny Kunene has admitted to being a statutory rapist, and has threatened violence against another woman. Claims of statutory rape should be investigated by the SAPS.

In addition, he should make a full apology, and should be required to make a substantial donation to an NGO working with rape survivors.

Then I think it’s best if he stops talking. For good.

Lisa Bluett
GENDER POLITICS, HEALTH

Fitting the mould : beauty and empowerment

Lisa Bluett
Lisa Bluett

By Lisa Bluett

IF there was a generic mould that people (females particularly in this case) were expected to fit in into order to attain the tick of approval current society deems necessary for us to feel appreciated, and *gasp* beautiful, well  I’m sure I couldn’t possibly be squeezed into it.

The mould would be too slim, too tall, the nose too straight, teeth too white, hair too soft and either too long or too short. The mould would also be really judgemental and would insist that it was me that was “too fat” or that my legs were “too short, my neck too long, bust too small, nose tooo big”! It would be just like the reoccurring nightmare I have where I find myself on one of those awful ‘next top model shows’ and in the final make over, they swivel my chair around and I look in the mirror and see someone else’s face on my body- screaming myself awake as fast as possible.

While scrolling through my emails this morning, I’d received a request to update my profile information on a website that employs casual staff for events.  Instead of asking whether I liked interacting with people, whether I liked eating or using the products their major clients sell or if I cared about anything at all in the world- the information required: name, location, D.O.B, Shirt and pants size, hair colour, eye colour, gender, skin colour. I felt the grim presence of the mould in the corner of my mind questioning all the specifics: small, enough? Blonde enough?  Blue green eyes, or just blue?  Female… are you sure?

I decided that perhaps I should see what the company was really looking for. This made matters worse.  Workshops would provide help about “how to be beautiful” and to be “the best version of yourself” by providing tips on skincare, wellness, fitness and beauty. I was deeply puzzled at their idea that these workshops could help a ‘female’ “become themselves”. If I followed those tips, I would in essence become someone else and the expectation that I wash my face and cut my toenails would be theirs, not my own. I’m happy being dirty, smelly, barefooted and unshaven- it’s the people around me that aren’t.  And perhaps this is why I’m not going to be going to one of these workshops but fundamentally what puzzles me is that these recommendations are made while flying the banner of ‘female’ empowerment.

Wearing lingerie, eating fat free delicatessens and applying the perfect shades of (an animal had to suffer for you to look amazing) eye shadow*, to attain that trendy smoky look is simply not my idea of empowerment. Instead of deconstructing and critically evaluating what it means to be a ‘woman’ in contemporary society the intellectual, emotional and visceral potential for meaningful engagement is smeared by expectations that are centred upon that hideous mould that makes people feel disempowered in the first place.  If you fit the mould and you want to live in the mould, good for you. But if you don’t, surely you should still be able to promote a product because it’s about the product, not about what you look like in a super small t-shirt and super small pants?

The question I’d like to know, should we take these agencies to task and demand (or politely ask…) that women are valued more for other skills, rather than looking good to promote products?

*These items are provided in the workshops to encourage woman to feel beautiful wearing and using them.  

Wendy Thole
CURRENT AFFAIRS, GENDER POLITICS, SEX AND SEXUALITY

An open letter to President Zuma

Wendy Thole
Wendy Thole

By Wendy Thole

Dear Mr Zuma

With me being a blonde white woman and you being a president, you’re probably expecting an address from me to be a breathy rendition of ‘Happy Birthday’. But I’m afraid I’m not in a celebratory mood at all. In fact, since Anene Booysen’s death in Bredasdorp, I’ve mostly just been afraid. 

I’m afraid that the version of manhood that you are currently the poster boy of poses a life-endangering threat to us, the women of South Africa. You swagger about trailing this wife, then that wife, then having a baby with a mistress, then having unprotected sex with a family friend … what you’re shouting from your Nkandla rooftop is that real men are worth as many women as they damn-well please. And women are, I suppose, worth some anti-wrinkle cream from that patronising bunch at L’Oréal.

I’m afraid that there are men out there who are clearly inspired by your unlimited access and apparent success with women and set out to achieve the same heights of masculinity. But sometimes they fail simply because they’re not presidents like you and not all women dream of being a member of a harem or aspire to end up as a single parent in that dubious holding pattern of mistressdom. Not all women say yes. Definitely not all the time as it appears to be in your case. Mr Zuma, let me explain to you that this is the nexus where the problem arises. When a woman says no, like Anene did to her ex-boyfriend, this man-made and deeply redundant version of manhood feels threatened, endangered even. And maybe the guy who has to take no for an answer, in an effort to preserve that manhood, and to save face with his friends (who frankly feel the same way, that a woman should cry and comply and never say never) he enforces his dominance with the one thing he knows he has more of than her, brute physical strength. All in an effort to be a real man just like those presidents and hip hop stars and gangsters who have a bevy of adoring female groupies that never transgress their prescribed roles and dutifully serve as conclusive evidence that these men must surely be the real deal.

But it doesn’t end here Mr Zuma. I’m afraid that your entire household reinforces the idea of this mythical super-man. Please don’t tell me it’s tradition and as a white woman I know nothing of this and should therefore keep my comments to myself. I’m sorry, but while it may be traditional to take more than one wife, I don’t believe it’s sanctioned by tradition to endanger the lives of your wives. If the fancy takes you to have sex with a family friend, and she happens to be HIV positive and you don’t use protection and just go home and carry on your life as normal after you’ve showered, you are putting your wives at risk of a life-changing disease. Is this traditional? I don’t think so. When the woman in question cries rape, and you tell her she’s just crying wolf, is this also traditional? And this is where your wives come into this – by saying nothing, and smiling sweetly in carrying out their presidential wifely duties as usual, I’m afraid they are complicit. I don’t believe after this fiasco they sat you down to negotiate safer sex practices Mr Zuma; you know, just in case. And I certainly don’t believe that in the wake of their scare, they were at liberty to say “not tonight dear”. Now that would just not be traditional. But we are all complicit, not just your string of wives, because these are not key point secrets, these are facts that roam around freely in the public domain, we are all guilty because we have let you get away with it and we have allowed you to continue to proudly strut your manly stuff. This national endorsement of dangerous male role-modelling has to stop. Today.

Mr Zuma, you may be wondering why I’ve singled you out? Let me assure you this is not a special punishment I’ve devised for you, no, I’m just starting at the top and working my way down. I thought I’d  start with you because after all, you are our leader and as such, call me crazy, but I feel you have a responsibility to  … erm … lead, if only by example. It’s a god-awful mess out there and I’m afraid the effort to preserve this version of manhood has escalated into a full-scale war on women, with a casualty every four minutes. So, as our leader I would most definitely expect you to do a lot more than just get Mac to tell us what we already know – how unacceptable it is that intimidation, bloodshed and general mayhem is unleashed among half of your constituents. Every. Four. Minutes. Not even our grandmothers or our baby girls are safe, there are no limits to this particular brand of brutality. Mr Zuma, you need to be afraid of what you represent in this particular war zone and afraid that you are being emulated for all the wrong reasons. Because this war does not discriminate, it renders your own daughters and wives and aunts and granddaughters equally unsafe; certainly when they venture outside the gates of Nkandla.  

What I’m saying is that I’m afraid the women of this country simply cannot afford you any more Mr Zuma. The price we’re paying is just too high.