On #MeToo

By Sam Waterhouse

We are posting with different private meanings and experiences behind that phrase. Many of us are talking about rape, assault, and abuse as well as ‘harassment’. We are talking about sexual violence. We are publicly exposing something deeply personal, for some of us we know we are also being political, and in the posting we are being more socially connected about experiences that we mostly share in smaller spaces. If we share it at all. There is, even for me, some discomfort in the choice to #MeToo, I hesitated and waited – for what purpose? Am I going to hang this out on the line to be minimised, looked over, celebrated, commiserated, diminished, pitied? My personal and social meanings collide in the choice.

And then I saw women I perceive as powerful, who I respect and aspire to posting and I was enabled. #MeToo

I’m interested in seeing who posts and who doesn’t. I’m interested in who doesn’t because my Facebook is not only linked to feminists, to women who are alive to the scaffolding that holds sexual violence up and seek to name it, dismantle it and build networks of compassion and power. My Facebook people are also girls, women and men who live in other ways and who have lived sexual violence. Many of these are not participating in this public way. May you continue to do what keeps you safe, may some of you be emboldened, may you choose what’s best for you.

I’m interested in who reacts. On mine so far all women. On some other posts I see the smattering of woke men who perhaps understand better or who feel they have permission to react. So this seems to me to be another exercise of women speaking to women about something that men and our society creates. And I pragmatically see the value of women talking to women. There is power there. But I get pissed off because we are not posting this only for other women. Angry because I think most men are turning away from this pervasive reality and then also considering (generously?) maybe they don’t know if they can react or how to.

I’m interested in how I’ve reacted to posts and how I’ve felt about the reactions to mine. Depending on the content and my closeness to the person who posts I react differently. I do this because experiences of sexual violence do not invoke one set of static feelings. We have different meanings at different times. I think for many of us posting we have built strength around the experiences. For me the sad face is uncomfortable I don’t want people to be sad for me. I am not sad now. I didn’t post in sorrow. I posted with heart and with defiance. But I also know the sorrow and the loss and the sense of weakness and I know that for some you are posting – or not posting – with those feelings closer to the surface.

May we have these conversations more openly after this flash of activity.

 

better-place-400x465
Sam Waterhouse works at the University of the Western Cape’s Dullah Omar Institute. She was a counselling volunteer at Rape Crisis in the mid 1990s and went on to run our court support project as an advocacy coordinator before continuing as an actvist against violence against women in a broad range of spaces including Facebook, where she originally posted this piece.
Advertisements

Women’s Month: A Sham

It’s an annual play and we have all seen it before….

Every year in South Africa, we celebrate Women’s Month to commemorate the thousands of women who fought so bravely for equality during apartheid.

But it has become a month of lip service. Government departments praise their programs to end the scourge of gender based violence and spew dialogue about the initiatives that exist which put the needs of South African women first.

But let’s look at a more accurate test. The importance placed on women’s rights can be measured when a political figure is involved in the act of violating women. Enter, former deputy Minister of Higher Education, Mduduzi Manana.

Mduduzi Manana

Former deputy Higher Education Minister, Mduduzi Manana. CC Image courtesy of Agência Brasil Fotografias on Flickr. 

For most of this month, South Africans have been consumed with the story of Manana, after a video was released on social media, showing him beating a young woman as the men around him watched this. He later, in an audio clip, admits he slapped this woman. The media feasts on this story and it makes headlines everywhere.

And then came the grand moment when the ANC Women’s League had the stage to condemn this violence and represent the voice of all women in the country.

And all I can do is sigh as I write this…..

Questions are posed to the ANCWL President,  Bathabile Dlamini, on the Manana incident. An audio interview with the Sunday Times newspaper is published. This is what she says:

“Don’t start from him. If we want to say everyone who occupies a senior position in government we must know his track record because there are people who are worse than him….”

So this makes his actions okay then, because it’s just assault?

“As ANCWL it is our role to fight about issues of gender based violence. I don’t want to be part of those games of saying whether he should resign or not. In other parties there is sexual harassment and it is not treated the way it is treated in the ANC. I refuse that this issue be made a political tool. It is not a political tool….For now we have been saying Umuntu is innocent until proven guilty…”

Dlamini refuses to take a stand on the issue. She has disappointed thousands of South African women yet again. Many of us begin to have flash backs of the Jacob Zuma rape trial and the manner in which Khwezi was vilified.

On the one hand we have Dlamini saying she will not be dragged into this case which directly involves violence against women. On the other hand, you have her preaching that South Africa is ready for a female president as she announces that Nkosazana Dlamini- Zuma will be one of the candidates running for the ANC presidency.

In an address where she announced  Dlamini -Zuma as the candidate backed by ANCWL, she says, “We need to be very vigilant…If people respect us, they must stop doing clandestine things during our month. Every year in parliament, we discuss women’s issues during this month….South African is a patriarchal country even the storyline is meant to use us as weapons or objects.”

Now let’s get back to Manana, who resigns from government.

In his carefully crafted PR statement, he apologises for his actions. “There is no excuse in the world that can justify what I have done and as much as I am utterly and completely shameful of the act, it’s not even about me,” he says.

But Manana’s resignation brings no justice for the woman who was slapped or for South African women who are constantly fighting against violence. It is merely an act, which was as a result of mounting public pressure and because of the impact it would have on the ruling party. Ultimately it was about saving face in a country where politics always takes precedence.

For me it’s just another reminder of how little we value women and their rights in our country. There is no political accountability for the actions of elected officials, from Bathabile Dlamini to Mduduzi Manana and many others.

Something else that gives me sleepless nights is the tendency of political heads to show more concern in Women’s Month. Why is it that if something is committed in this month it is made out to be ten times worse? Beating a woman is a horrific and an unjustifiable crime, whether it happens in January or in August. It shouldn’t be happening. Nor should we leave issues of women to be discussed in this month only.

What was once a month of celebrating women, is now a month for opportunists to express outcry and outrage.

I am glad it’s almost over. Because the truth is that once the month is over people go about and continue to violate the rights of women.

 

Screen Shot 2017-06-19 at 1.30.56 PM

TheJusticeLady

TheJusticeLady is a writer who wants to give a voice to the voiceless. She is an advocate for the rights of rape survivors. She keeps a close eye on the courts, the media and the role they play in shaping the manner in which society sees rape.

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.