Durex SA cocked it up on the eve of the 16 Days of Activism

By Jen Thorpe

I received a forwarded horrific tweet moments ago. The tweet in question came from Durex SA, and went as follows:

 @DurexSA: Why did God give men penises? So they’d have at least one way to shut a woman up. #DurexJoke

When I pointed out to them that this endorsed violence against women, their response was

DurexSA3:30pm via Web

@FeministsSA We have posted many jokes, see our timeline… And they not violent against woman! Re-read it!!!!!

Once again I was reminded 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 (e.g. invite men to use their penises as a weapon) to the violence itself. Durex SA, you’ve really cocked it up here. Using one’s penis to ‘shut someone up’ sounds a lot like rape to me. If you’re not sure what the definition is, feel free to have a read of the Sexual Offences Act. Forced oral sex is rape.

I’m not going to spend this post spewing statistics about the high incidence of violence against women, because you can read them yourself on the SAPS webpage. It is important to understand that violence against a particular group does not arise out of nowhere, and the frequent perpetration of this violence by men is not a coincidence in SA where jokes like those with the hashtag #DurexJoke are popular. I want to talk about this social sanction of messages that promote violence.

Norms and myths sustain our social identities. They help us to 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 amongst the sexes. It is also sustained by our laughter at jokes that condone violence against women. Rape is not funny.

According to Rape Crisis Cape Town Trust’s website, myths about rape have the following negative effects for survivors:

  • Increasing the trauma experienced by the sexual offence victim.
  • Encouraging prejudice regarding the liability of both the victim and the accused in the matter.
  • Slowing down or preventing the recovery of the victim.
  • Discouraging victims from reporting the offence.
  • Hampering society’s understanding as to the causes of sexual offences and the seriousness of its effect on victims. Through this, victims are denied the support and assistance that they need, to heal from the experience of sexual violation.

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. 

Social media has become a new zone where messages promoting violence against women can be rapidly dissemminated.  It’s easy to put hateful dangerous messages out there behind the face of a brand, or anonymously. Earlier this year we had to deal with #itsnotrapeif, Facebook pages that encouraged men to ‘ride her gently so she doesn’t wake up’ and many other revolting messages that aimed to make violence against women a joke. If you are sick of these types of messages, as I am, why not take back the tech?

If you’re not sure what you can do this 16 Days to support women who have survived violence against them, why not try the following:

  1. Do not forward violence: don’t laugh at sexist jokes, don’t retweet sexist tweets, don’t diminish stories of sexual violence, don’t join Facebook groups or pages that promote violence
  2. Boycott companies that promote violence – perhaps a nice way to start here would be by boycotting DurexSAuntil they issue an apology (in the mean time, please make sure you replace them with another brand. Make sure the sex you’re having is safe and consensual)
  3. Support organisations that work to fight against violence against women, such as Rape Crisis Cape Town Trust, or the organisations that make up the Shukumisa Campaign. Go to their fundraisers.
  4. Talk to your partner about the ways that you both might reinforce unequal gender roles and sexism. This can happen in heterosexual and hom0sexual relationships.
  5. Speak out about violence against women. Tell your story of violence. Support pro-women media.

The 16 Days is a time for all of us to realise how important it is that sexism comes to an end, that violence against women comes to an end, and that we never, ever, ever, give up.

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