Tam Sutherns
CULTURE, CURRENT AFFAIRS, GENDER POLITICS, RELIGION

We haven’t moved very far away from the age of ‘fallen women’

Tam Sutherns
Tam Sutherns

By Tammy Sutherns

Reeking of the 18th century Ireland Magdalene Asylums, a Chile Catholic Church has confirmed that a priest stole babies for adoption between the 1970s and 1980s. Reuters reports that the priest was:

“Instrumental in the forced adoption of at least two babies without the knowledge of their mothers, and had also maintained an “inappropriate relationship” with one mother.”

The priest, Gerardo Joannon, is being investigated after allegedly telling single mothers that their babies had died, while actually giving them up for adoption. Alex Vigueras, a regional church head who is in charge of the probe into Joannon, is reported as saying,

“The preliminary investigation has established the truth of the accusations…he always knew that both babies did not die.”

Apparently, the priest has tried to justify his actions with the fact that there is a stigma attached to unmarried mothers in the Catholic society in Chile, especially at the time of incidents.

Similar to the nun’s laundries in Ireland, where ‘fallen women’ were housed, put to work in the laundries and their babies given up for adoption, this story shows just what acts can be justified simply because of the patriarchal restrictions society can place on women. The last Magdalene Institution shut down in Ireland in 1996, which wasn’t exactly eons ago. This story in Chile has emerged, showing that these women were lied to and their babies taken away from them in the last three or four decades.

How far have we really come from shaming women?

It’s not restricted to religious culture, third world countries or the past. Slut-shaming is full steam on social media today – alive, kicking and international.

South Africa’s Grazia magazine caused a raucous recently when it tweeted:

“What makes a girl a slut? Is it the way she dresses? What she says? What she does? And …”

The magazine published an entire article dedicated to slut-shaming, clearing up the reason behind its controversial tweet. In-depth and well-put, Grazia SA  spoke about slut-shaming culture, amplified by social media commentary that is often abusive. With many getting the wrong end of the stick by Grazia’s Tweet, the magazine deleted the tweet and responded;

“The messages were published to gauge our audiences’ perception of the word ‘slut’ and to coincide with a feature that we are producing on ‘slut-shaming’ – the term used to define a woman’s character based on her choice of language, wardrobe or actions.

 

The concept of ‘slut-shaming’ is one that Grazia South Africa opposes in the strongest possible sense. We take our role of defending and empowering women very seriously and our feature story focuses on the fact that we live in a society where women are bullied and shamed and that it must stop.”

The sensitivity around the issue showed that it is one that did not die with the last Magdalene Institution and more so, that it should not be swept under the carpet. Why are friends, enemies, frenemies, the media or the public calling anyone a slut? What makes a woman a slut? What is it that she does that makes it OK to use that label?

If we’re horrified by the Magdalene institutions or a Chilean priest giving out women’s babies to save them from the shame of falling pregnant out of wedlock, then we need to be horrified by a culture that still judges a woman with such harsh and unnecessary labels based on her personal sexual life, her choice of clothes or who she chooses to befriend.

And it seems that we are. South Africans shunned the idea of slut-shaming (along with Grazia’s Tweet questioning what it means to be a slut) as a repressive, regressive and misogynistic side of society, similarly to how I would imagine they would shun Gerardo Joannon for stealing women’s babies.

Anton Marshall wrote on Facebook:

“This is a deeply problematic and inappropriate question. Deeply problematic. Given the volumes of information available as to why, I’m disappointed and offended by its phrasing, as I’m sure many others will be. EDIT: In fact, I’m pretty shocked that anyone in your organisation would be thinking along those lines at all. Horrifying.”

Chloe Quinn Johnson posted:

“‘Slut’ is simply another derogatory term developed to try and shame women (see ‘bitch’ and ‘ballbuster’ as another example of this). As long as the woman is happy with her life, prepared to accept the consequences of her decisions and her actions are not negatively affecting anyone else – then what she chooses to wear, who she chooses to sleep with, what she chooses to say and whatever else she decides to do with HER body and HER life is nobody’s damn business but her own.”

Let’s continue to draw parallels between 18th Century patriarchal practices and calling someone a ‘slut’ on Twitter and let’s end the shame right now. Instead of using social media as a platform to abuse, let’s use it as these South Africans did above: to defend, to educate and to stand up for.

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Tam Sutherns
CURRENT AFFAIRS, General, HEALTH

Rest in Peace Robin

Tam Sutherns
Tam Sutherns

By Tammy Sutherns

The news that actor and comedian Robin Williams had died as a result of a suspected suicide broke on Tuesday morning, shocking the world. How could a man, only 63, who built a career on laughs be so sad that he’d want to to take his own life?

“A tragic reminder that the conversation about mental health CANNOT stop. Money, fame, artistic freedom- none of it is a barrier,” tweeted Girls writer and star Lena Dunham.

Robin’s publicist, Mara Buxbaum, told media that he had been battling severe depression of late.

In reaction to the news, a CNN Assignment Editor Stephanie Gallman wrote a column about her own diagnosis with depression and how she had battled to accept that it wasn’t something she could cure by choosing happiness or Hula-Hooping in Walmart (which she does every time she goes to Walmart, apparently).

Locally and across the world, individuals are fighting their demons with depression and while it shouldn’t take a famous person to shine a spotlight on this, I think we can all agree that Robin’s death does show that even when you do what you love, even when you are internationally famous for being a happy, funny guy and even with an abundance of money and resources, the war may not be won.

According to the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG), increased day-to-day stress is impacting depression rates in South Africa where more men are more at risk of suicide in South Africa than women. The article showed that in 2010, 673 men were admitted with depression to the Akeso Kenilworth Clinic in Cape Town and the Akeso Crescent Clinic in Johannesburg.

However, for women depression is also a huge issue. Who can forget Eat, Pray, Love’s Elizabeth Gilbert’s description of her experience in the book:

“When you’re lost in those woods, it sometimes takes you a while to realize that you are lost. For the longest time, you can convince yourself that you’ve just wandered off the path, that you’ll find your way back to the trailhead any moment now. Then night falls again and again, and you still have no idea where you are, and it’s time to admit that you have bewildered yourself so far off the path that you don’t even know from which direction the sun rises anymore.”

CNN’s Stephanie writes:

“Admitting I suffer from depression and anxiety has, at times, made me feel weak — like I’m admitting defeat. I am hard on myself for no reason. I’m pissed that despite having every reason to be happy, sometimes I’m not.”

Depression is not an easy disease to admit to having nor is it an easy disease to manage. Sufferers will always be faced with the ignorant who can’t understand why they can’t just ‘snap out of it’. It’s up to us to educate ourselves and others, to remove the taboo of the D-word and embrace the fact that the depressed need love, acceptance and care. So that they too can laugh again.

Robin’s daughter, Zelda Williams has put it beautifully by quoting Antoine De Saint-Exupery:

“You – you alone will have the stars as no one else has them … In one of the stars I shall be living. In one of them I shall be laughing. And so it will be as if all the stars were laughing, when you look at the sky at night. You – only you – will have stars that can laugh.”

Underneath the quote, she writes: “I love you. I miss you. I’ll try to keep looking up. Z.”

To those who are suffering from depression out there, keep looking up. There is hope.

Tam Sutherns
GENDER POLITICS, General

A House of Horrors

Tam Sutherns
Tam Sutherns

By Tam Sutherns

Stories of child abuse and women abuse going on behind closed doors have made headlines for years. Who can forget Austrian’s Josef Fritzl, who kept his daughter in a room underneath his house, sexually assaulted her and abused her and continued to keep her imprisoned after she mothered seven of his children?

Or Ohio’s Ariel Castro, who kidnapped and imprisoned Michelle Knight, Amanda Berry and Georgina ‘Gina’ DeJesus in his home, sexually and physically abusing them?

Latest to emerge is South Africa’s very own House of Horrors in Springs in the East Rand of Johannesburg. The home was raided and a man was arrested and accused of holding his wife and five children prisoner and torturing them. This man allegedly raped his wife multiple times, exposed his children to pornographic material and severely assaulting his 11-year-old son, including punching him in the face, hanging him from the wrists for two days using a rope and using teargas on him.

The man was arrested after the 11-year-old boy escaped from the house and ran to a neighbour’s house. The neighbours called the police and the boy’s father, who allegedly took him home and assaulted him, according to News24 articles. When police arrived at the scene the next day they found four other children living in the house along with their mother. The boy had allegedly been hidden in the ceiling. The woman alledgedly reported that her husband had abused the family repeatedly, including with electric wires and a blowtorch.

More shocking is the fact that neighbours to this house were unaware that children even lived in the house. On News24, one neighbour reported that she was shocked that she lived next door to such a man and described him as smart and tidy and that he always wore expensive clothes. She was unaware that there were children in the home – the children allegedly did not ever attend school.

In a country where we live behind gated fences and secure walls, could it be possible that the danger is not always what we are keeping out but what we are holding in? The South African Police Service statistics show that between April 2011 and March 2012,  793 children were murdered, over 20 000 children were victims of assault and there were 25 862 sexual offences involving children. There is something grossly wrong with these numbers and it begs the question, we may be doing everything we can to protect ourselves from crime, but what are we doing to look after our community and protect our children from abuse? Do we know enough about what is happening in the very street we live in?

On 23 June, two women will be appear in court on charges of assault and child abuse after a video of a 21-month-year-old toddler gagged and tied up at a creche in Rosettenville went viral. A man also appeared in the Alexandra Magistrate’s Court in June this month after he allegedly locked up his four children in a hostel for eight years for their “own safety”.

The justice system in South Africa can be a long and tedious process, especially for victims of abuse. However, there are cases where justice is served. In April this year, Xolile Tose was sentenced to life in prison in the Eastern Cape High Court for raping a six-year-old girl in 2011. Shinawaaz Ahmento and Kyle Fredericks received 23 years and 15 years respectively for raping and strangling Tracey-Lee Martins in 2013.

While we can fight for harsher sentences and justice after the crime, the point is that no one should feel afraid, violated or tortured in their own home. Will these children from the House of Horros be moved into homes where they will feel safe, loved and protected? Is there a way for women like Michelle Knight, Amanda Berry or Gina DeJesus to feel safe in a home again? Will Josef Fritzl’s daughter ever recover?

Ariel Castro committed suicide, escaping punishment for the years he spent ruining lives. Josef Fritzl will spend the rest of his life in jail. The Johannesburg man accused in the House of Horrors incidents attempted to commit suicide by slitting his wrists. While no punishment would be fit for a crime of this nature and nothing will erase what his family have had to endure, suicide is not punishment. He needs to be held accountable for the pain and the torture that he has dished out and for the abuse of these human beings.

While it is too late to change what this man has done, we can call for justice as well as begin to foster a better sense of community and care where these acts are known about and are unacceptable.

Follow #HouseofHorrors on Twitter, have your say and let’s make sure that not only is justice served but that we learn a very big lesson here and start to wage a war on abuse. It’s time that the world sits up and takes notice and that the human beings violated and abused in this instance are heard. Let’s show the world that South Africans are capable of making sure our children and our women are looked after and safe. Before and not after the act.

 

Tam Sutherns
CURRENT AFFAIRS, GENDER POLITICS

CNN’s portrayal of Steubenville rapists makes waves

Tammy Sutherns
Tammy Sutherns

By Tam Sutherns

Change.org started a petition, calling for CNN to apologise on air for sympathising with the two Steubenville rapists. While the petition is now closed, generating over 200 000 signatures, it has raised some critical problems embedded in society.

The petition was created after three CNN reporters spoke about the tragedy of such young men being sentenced for the crime, men who had promising futures as football athletes. Their sobbing in court was also mentioned, however, there was no mention of the victim by any of the reporters.

The petition states:

To: CNN
Your coverage of the Steubenville rape trial’s verdict Sunday morning was a complete disgrace and a breach of journalistic ethics. To have three of your personalities blatantly portray the rapists as the victims in this situation while not so much as acknowledging the actual rape victim and what she has had to put up with since — death threats and the hostility of that entire football-crazed town — is nothing short of disgusting.

I request that you apologize on-air, several times over the course of the next week, at the start of every hour, for your shameful coverage that only served to perpetuate a culture in which young people will grow up not understanding the concept of consent and in which rape victims are blamed, ostracized and threatened. Start with Candy Crowley, Poppy Harlow and Paul Callan themselves issuing their apologies several times, then extend that to the rest of CNN’s staff and Jeff Zucker himself. Admit that your coverage was extremely off base and tell us why it was off base. Use the content of this letter as a starting point if you need to.

A culture that sympathizes with rapists and encourages them while shaming rape victims can no longer be considered socially acceptable, and that change must start with you. As journalists for a major network that reaches millions of households in the United States and worldwide, it is your responsibility. Accept it.

 

Responses to the petition have been emotive. One signer said:

“These boys were rapists. They knew what they were doing. To say that their poor little lives were ruined for RAPING SOMEONE? They deserve far more than serving a year in Juvie and being registered as a sex offender for life. Disgusting, CNN. That poor young woman who was assaulted… and then made into the perpetrator rather than the victim? Absolutely foul and inhuman.”

Another said:

“This was just sick. All this talk about lives falling apart and lasting trauma and no mention of the true victim? Shame on them. This was pathetically unethical reporting, and they should be held accountable.”

The outcry raises some very important issues when it comes to the media’s portrayal of violent crimes. Victims should not be lost in this portrayal – ever – and CNN has made a fatal error in its media coverage. More crucial is that CNN’s reporters have simplified the issue – another grave mistake. The questions they should be asking – as journalists, as human beings and as members of a violent society – is why these young men committed this act and how their environment contributed to making it OK.

CNN’s Paul Callan said:

“The most severe thing with these young men is being labeled as registered sex offenders. That label is now placed on them by Ohio law. That will haunt them for the rest of their lives.”

Perhaps it’s this attitude – that because these young men are young, good students and held the potential of becoming football stars – that the world owes them something and they are not accountable for their actions.

CNN’s portrayal of these young men as victims is alarming and a glaringly obvious metaphor of the problem at large. In a world where two men commit rape and somehow become the victims in the story, how are we meant to show how very wrong their act was? How are we meant to remember the real victim in this story?

The victim, a 16-year-old young woman, was intoxicated beyond consciousness on the night of the rape. Her clothes were removed and the two convicted rapists filmed her while inserting their fingers inside her vagina (an act defined as rape by Ohio law). One of the convicted also attempted to put his penis in the unconscious teenager’s mouth. These videos were shared among students, on YouTube and on social networking platforms.

Will this not haunt her for the rest of her life?

See the responses and original petition at: http://www.change.org/petitions/cnn-apologize-on-air-for-sympathizing-with-the-steubenville-rapists

Tam Sutherns
CULTURE, CURRENT AFFAIRS, SPORT

Why we shouldn’t be calling Melissa Bachman a ‘gross whore’

Tammy Sutherns
Tammy Sutherns

By Tammy Sutherns

Let’s accept that many of us are not fond of hunting nor can understand the killing of animals for sport.

Let’s accept that boasting about it on social media is even more disturbing and bound to create some sort of backlash.

Let’s accept that the killing of a beautiful, male lion, for all intensive aesthetic purposes, doesn’t sit well with a lot of people.

Let’s discard, for a moment, the debates around hunting being legal and focus on an open letter by a blogger named ‘Scoob’, which has received a lot of attention over the last week or so.

“This is in reference to the social media outcry yesterday, when the woman in question posted a victorious photo of her and a dead male lion she had shot in an enclosed environment,” the blogger writes. “Please note that that this letter is not intended to discriminate against woman (we can assume blogger meant ‘women’) or the female race in any way, shape or form. Just one woman. Because she’s a gross whore and regresses the gender exponentially.”

Sorry, what?

I’m not sure how someone killing a lion has any bearing on my gender or the ‘female race’ as a whole, but it’s absolutely absurd to even confuse the issues.

Also, Scoob, a ‘whore’ refers to a prostitute or a sex worker. I suspect you need to re-evaluate your synonyms for ‘hunter’, ‘heartless’ or even ‘killer’.

Scoob’s open letter to Melissa then goes on to infer incestuous sexual relations with her cousin, hopes that she contracted AIDS while visiting our country (way to sell SA as a tourist destination there Scoob) and says:

“Quite honestly, if it wasn’t for the fact that horned up Americans flutter their eyes at anything with tits, you would just be another burly tobacco chewing bearded redneck killing shit and getting average ratings. So congrats on pimping yourself out with guns, you’re a role model to children all over the world.”

Scoob, Scoob, Scoob.

Did you not hear that in this 21st century that we live in, women are perfectly capable of being lambasted for their actions without having their gender or sex bought into the mix? You’ve undermined all intellect in your argument – and there are some valid points in your letter – by reverting back to the childish and archaic tradition of making the issue about the fact that she is a woman. A slow-clap for completely diverting us away from the real issue here.

I’d be interested to know if you found that Bill Clinton’s sex scandal regressed the ‘male race’ or if Hitler, who you liken Melissa to in your letter, was a ‘male-whore’ for his actions during the Holocaust. Because you have to admit, if you went around calling Rasputin or Starlin gross sluts, people would be wondering what the hell you were on.

Let’s stick to facts here Scoob and face the issue of hunting head on and let’s leave Melissa’s ‘tits’ out of it.