MenAreTrash – I said what I said

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Recently, in South Africa, a young womxn Karabo Mokoena was killed and burned by her boyfriend. This had the nation in uproar against this kind of violence that womxn are susceptible to on a daily basis. This incident is yet another reminder of the hard, cold reality that womxn are not safe – with anyone – and not only from strangers but from the people we love and trust.

Many men (and womxn) on social media have shown the need to see the disclaimer, which outlines not including all men in the #MenAreTrash banner, as a prerequisite for people to be taken seriously. This made me particulary mad because I am not here for any men telling us “not all-” and so I wrote down reasons for why we can and should say men are trash without feeling the pressure of having to include “not all men”.

  1. Empirical fact

When we’re out in the street or any public spaces and in  our lived experience in that specific given time and place, these “exceptions” to the MenAreTrash narrative are almost always nowhere to be found. We endure the cruelest, scariest and most demeaning experiences in the presence of dozens of men, yet every time we are groped, beaten in public, or in our homes by people we love – onlookers walk on silently… family members prevent intervention because “it’s not their business”. So, in as long as that “exception” presence is not felt and not impactful, #MENARETRASH.

2. Victim-blaming

When men tell womxn to correct themselves when saying all men are trash, they are shifting the responsibility to womxn. Creating a reality in which not all men are trash is not the duty of womxn. It is the responsibility and duty of men. Instead of being so preoccupied with womxn using the correct wording to provide a satisfactory representation of reality for them, men ought to concern themselves with creating this reality. When we see the change and our experiences reflect this change, our words will reflect that truth. But to expect our narrative to change while we experience the same old violence at the hands of men, is an act of violence in itself.

3. Fragile Masculinity see this insistence of

I see this insistence of womxn to say not all men are trash as an immaculate demonstration of fragile masculinity because womxn expressing their lived experiences must obviously be a direct attack on you (a man). We cannot possibly speak about our realities and not leave room for you in the dialogue. As a man who is not abusive, violent, or passive in the face of injustice – assuming that this is the case – the discussion is not directed at you, so why feel the need to invalidate people’s experiences for the sake of proving that you, indeed, are not trash. To constantly attempt to position oneself as the center of this argument by trying to prove one’s own “good nature” is a diversion from tackling the actual problems and harms that womxn face and a typical demonstration of the selfish narcissism men demonstrate when womxn are victimised.

This banner is to divert our attention to the spoils of society that we need to rid ourselves of – and in case we haven’t been clear, this reason is not because we hate men intrinsically because their make-up is fundamentally evil, but because of the violence nad oppression we have to endure BECAUSE of men’s action or inaction. So fix your trashiness and that of your male counterparts and the systems that protect them, so that we can go back to being happy & care-free as we were in the womb.

4. Exceptions or Benefits of the Doubt

By insisting that we recognize that not all men are trash – potential rapists, killers, abductors, harassers – womxn are being forced to give ‘certain’ men the benefit of the doubt. We’re expected, again, to disregard all instances of people being hurt and attacked by people who “seemed kind”, “looked genuine” and were familiar and close to them and to not assume that all men have the capacity to hurt us. At the expense of our safety, having seen cases where these “exceptions” were harmless and not like the rest, we must be trusting and place ourselves in the danger of being yet another statistic of someone who was killed or abused by someone they knew and trusted.

If believing that men are trash – with no exceptions – is womxn’s way of protecting ourselves, allow us that much. Out of all the things that men have power over, allow us just the right of autonomy to hold our own beliefs and protective mechanisms without constantly trying to dictate how womxn should navigate their experiences (which men can never fully understand nor relate to).

 

 

A Call to Carpe Diem – International Womxn’s Day Tribute

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Image taken from the American television series, “Westworld”. Feminist critique of the series coming soon.

 

“…I am a part of all that I have met;

Yet all experience is an arch wherethro’

Gleams that untravell’d world whose margin fades
For ever and forever when I move.
How dull it is to pause, to make an end,
To rust unburnish’d, not to shine in use!
As tho’ to breathe were life! Life piled on life
Were all too little, and of one to me
Little remains: but every hour is saved
From that eternal silence, something more,
A bringer of new things; and vile it were
For some three suns to store and hoard myself,
And this gray spirit yearning in desire
To follow knowledge like a sinking star,
Beyond the utmost bound of human thought. “

From the age of 16, my favourite poem has been Ulysses by Alfred, Lord Tennyson. What struck me most about the poem is the burning zest for life that the speaker has… his adventurous spirit so restless and irrepressible  even in his old age. Having lived a fulfilling life, the speaker reflects on his experience and looks back not with a solemn nostalgia but with a rose-tinted lens of his glorious youth & how he made the most of his days.

This poem resonated so much with me for years and one of my closest friends and I even attempted to learn it all off by heart. Our selection was a highly unconventional one since most of the popular choices in our class were the more tranquil and gentle poems about forbidden gardens, lost/reunited lovers and seasonal changes or death.

Of course, the speaker in the poem is a man… as are most heroes whose noble and brave life stories are preserved in mythology, folklore and other types of art. My friends and I knew that had we lived in the era in which this poem was written, we most certainly would not have been the target audience. Our roles would not have been the adventure-laden ones with the unexplored lands to discover, conquests to pursue and innocents to defend, save. We were a part of the hidden figures in those narratives, patiently and loyally waiting for our spouses to return from these adventures (Mariana). In these narratives, we’d have no ambitions of our own beyond tending to household duties, or as the glorified mothers, wives or prizes. Or even worse, we would be given the roles of the temptress whose sole purpose in the narrative was to blind him with lust & temptation and to derail the hero from his noble cause … another obstacle he was to conquer in order to further glorify him and his heroic achievements.

And so began my plunge into the type-cast of the angry feminist who seemed obsessed with the way womxn were depicted in the media, in literature, film, art. The one place in which we could reconstruct society and reality, to undo – in one gesture – all the chaotic injustices and inequality with which we struggle in the real world, somehow, in those fictional worlds in which dragons and sea monsters could exist, womxn were still trapped in the rigid confines of societal and cultural norms. So it was instant love when Zukiswa Wanner (who is now my favourite South African writer) said jokingly during a talk she gave at my school, “Behind every successful man there’s what? No, a doormat. Because why must you be behind any man?” It was this joke which had her written off by many of my peers because apparently she had found her own “barely funny” joke more amusing than anyone else did, except me of course.

That’s when I decided to plan my own adventures, noble causes and conquests for thee future. I made bucket lists of places I wanted to visit, causes I wanted to advocate for, people I wanted to meet etc. Slowly but surely, I challenged myself – taking subjects I heard were difficult, volunteered to go second at hiking and abseiling excursions, took a few kicks to the face in karate classes, started community service initiatives, auditioned for the Dance Company and took ballet class then competitive debating and and and… I was living my best life, seizing every opportunity that came my way.

Years later I’m still glad that I made the choices I did and I’m even more grateful that I had all those opportunities made available to me; which is more than I can say for millions of other young womxn in the world today. Just a few days ago, I read about an illegal abortion doctor who’s wanted by the police for practising female foeticide. In an entire 2017, there are still people who view daughters as burdensome and less worthy of life than boys. So of course the normative narrative of heroes,villains, or anyone whose life has been deemed worthy of recognition and immoral glory would be centred men.

So this was reflective day for me. It was a moment to look around at all the platforms I have around me to not only grow myself but to support other young womxn and to encourage them to create their own narratives placing themselves as worthy heroes and adventurers and record-breakers – perhaps by breaking records or perhaps by simply existing, daring to be in a world that says we’re a subcategory to men. to humanity.

We’re here to be more than disposable eyecandy to James Bond, more than Marvel’s damsels in distress, more than glorified pretty muses to de Vinci or yet another obstacle to Odysseus…

Obaa Boni, an exceptionally notable Ghanaian  feminist from whom I draw inspiration quotes in her piece Resolving Existential Angst Through Lemonade: Black Women Are, “I want every Black woman to understand herself not in relation to men or to whites, but in relation only to self existence. Womanhood is not the opposite of manhood. It is not a means to balance the world. Blackness is not the opposite of whiteness, it is not all that whites fail to be” …

I hope we won’t have to  carve through the misogynistic mess in literature to find versions ourselves in characters clearly not designed for us and our amusement. But I hope we become those captains of our own ships and authors of our own immortal narratives.

Asaase Yaa Mma (Obaa  Boni) blog – https://ghanafeminism.com/

Shot for the free condoms, SA.

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Note: To the non-South African readers, “shot” in SA is slang for thank you.

For as long as I can remember, the South African government has provided free condoms. As children, before we even had an idea of what sex really was, we knew that condoms were free and easily accessible. Even so, (especially as girls) we were prohibited from speaking/asking about them or filling them up with water to make water balloons like the boys did. We only knew what they were for because of the illustrations for directions for their correct use.

As I grew older the taboo around speaking about condoms was even more present. Somehow girls who were openly or secretly sexually active never seemed to have any condoms of their own – not in their purses, pockets nor their rooms. There was (and still is) an unspoken code about young womxn and condoms. Being in possession of condoms meant that one was sexually active for one (which because of notions of purity being closely tied with virginity, made that an instant crime), for some it was also a sign of promiscuity, and boldly proclaiming it.

My worry at the time was that if womxm were in sexual relationships but did not carry condoms because of the stigma attached to womxn who purchase, or request the state-provided condoms, how were we meant to meant to be in control of our bodies. Social media has recently been flooded with South Africans urging the government that free condoms are not a necessity but rather that free sanitary pads are. Statistics show that in South Africa over 3 million girls were missing a significant amount of learning in school because of the lack of access to sanitary pads. The basis of the argument made by these  lobbyists is that sex is a choice while menstruation is not.

While I am in full support of the initiative to provide free sanitation pads, this is an argument which I do not buy because of its ill-conceived and oversimplified reality of the lack of agency and choice for womxn in sexual relationships. This is the reality for young sexually active South Africans in the context of a country which is torn by ‘the biggest and most high profile HIV epidemic in the world’ (South Africa), alarming rates of gender-based violence, socio-economic inequalities and inadequate sexual health education.

I recently watched a documentary including a group of young womxn in the Western Cape who mentioned that their partners refused to use condoms for a number of reasons – many of which were based on a significant lack of knowledge about safe and healthy sex, myths, and ill-percieved notions about love and faithfulness. One of the womxn mentioned that her partner refused even the state-provided condoms on the basis that the packaging made them look cheap and that they had a bad smell. Something as seemingly arbitrary as that was the reason scores of other young couples decided to not use the state-provided condoms, hence the state’s introduction of new scented and repackaged condoms – to incentivise their use.

Another issue is blatant socio-economic inequalities in the country which prevent many womxn from knowing about and/or exploring other contraceptive methods (leaving them only with knowledge of sterilisation and the Pill which is also plagued by a myriad of myths about causing infertility, weight gain, stretch marks etc). This inequality does not only limit access to alternative contraception methods for those in poor communities but also significantly limits womxn’s bargaining power when it comes to sex and their bodies. Due to conservative attitudes about sex or normative roles of men and womxn in sex which are portrayed by culture, religion, the media, family and friends…womxn are often recipients of sex and not viewed or treated as equal agents who can contribute to the terms and conditions of sex. This means that most of the responsibility is often placed on men, the responsibility to have condoms is his too – and consequently, so is the choice to use one or not. These conservative attitudes are further entrenched when men are constantly the financial providers in these relationships (as transactional relations remain highly prevalent in South Africa) because he who has money has the power to control the recipient of that money.

When we decrease the hindrances to access to condoms for womxn, especially those who cannot afford them, we take away the stumbling blocks which prevent womxn from reclaiming agency in their sexual relationships. Although access to free condoms may not ensure that they will in fact be used, it does, however, leave less womxn in the position whereby they continue to be entirely dependent on the partner for their safety. That being said, we shouldn’t look at state-provision for sanitary pads and condoms as an either/or situation because while millions of girls miss about 25% of class  because of their period, a significant amount also misses school as a result of having to drop out because of unplanned pregnancies or having to head households where parents die from HIV/AIDS.

We should be lobbying for increased collective efforts to combat the marginalisation of poor womxn in our country. Sure, womxn do not choose to have their period, but womxn who do choose to have sex should not be shamed for it, nor should they be prevented by circumstances from having access to protection from infections, diseases, and unplanned pregnancies.

 

Biopolitics: Regulation & Discipline in Schools

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The following is a short piece I wrote in response to (philosopher) Michel Foucault’s theory of biopower and biopolitics as a form of control and discipline in modern states (for one of my English seminars). I thought it would be interesting to share it here too.

In “Society Must Be Defended”, Michel Foucault offers two examples where bio-politics and discipline intersect. One such intersection of mechanisms of power to discipline and regulate bodies is through codes of conduct in schools. In this piece, I will discuss how these mechanisms act within the framework of systemic sexism towards girls by exercising control over their bodies in order to regulate and discipline/control them.

Firstly, regulatory mechanisms are implemented explicitly through the “dos and don’ts” of uniform. While, on the surface, these rules are said to ensure discipline among learners, in the case of girls they play a much bigger and more complex role. The regulation of dresses and skirts in order to keep them at an acceptable length, the prescribed hair and nail lengths, the prohibition of see-though shirts and revealing of shoulders etc. are all rules which are often tied to a broader goal to retain and enforce a particular idea of “respectability”. In the school context, what is deemed appropriate is often closely tied to a perception of what makes one respectable, and by extension what is viewed as professional even in the work-place. These rules are masked as efforts to de-sexualise the bodies of girls – by limiting the likelihood that male staff and learners will be distracted by their bodies as a result of a skirt too short, lips too glossy, or hair too stylish.

Although the belief is that by de-sexualising girls’ bodies, sexual thoughts or urges will be suppressed (which is a mechanism of biopower through controlling people’s sexuality and urges), an inverse effect is also induced. Not only does this contribute to the perpetuation of the primitive anecdote of men as uncontrollable, sexual beings and womxn as the asexual, docile counterparts whose responsibility it is to provide as little temptation for men as possible, this creates a taboo of female sexuality and its expression.

These practices contribute to an obsession with policing girls’ and womxn’s bodies which begins at a young age, whereby society continuously scrutinises the respectability of womxn, often tying clothing to morality or lack thereof. This makes society a kind of panopticon-like body which through constant surveillance and womxn’s consequent awareness of this gaze, ensures that womxn conform to the expected dress codes and behaviour as prescribed by the norms.

On the other hand, the general taboo of sexual health/sexuality education is one of the most prominent manifestations of biopower – the exercise of control over individuals and populations through strict regulatory mechanisms of the biological  (controlling birth, the quality of life, death, sexuality and reproduction). A common example of this kind of control in history could be political regimes which placed restrictions on the number of children one could have and how the womxn of those families were depicted in a particular light depending on what that political regime sought to achieve.

For example the Nazi regime depicted the (Aryan) womxn who bore many children as saintly because of the objective of creating the Aryan race, whereas womxn who had more than one child under  China’s one-child policy were depicted in a completely different light because of the different political aims of the regime. In schools, however, the obsession continues to be the desexualising of adolescents and the fixated on monitoring how they use their bodies. The obvious result then follows – a fixation on sexual exploration and rebellion is then bred which is often done irresponsibly due to the lack of sufficient knowledge about sex.

Many school rules aim to suppress any expression of individuality by establishing a homogenous identity for learners and this also a means to assimilate them into a single body which is much easier to control than a collective of individuals. Adolescents are typically undergoing a stage of self-discovery and personal expression through one’s identity is a way in which one can express rebellion or conformity. Be it through signature jewellery, tattoos, unnatural hair colours, painted nails or unusual hairdos these are all ways in which young people can express their psychological and emotional state-of-mind and make statements to those around them. Uniform which sets such strict regulations, limits and represses identity which could indicate a deviation from the generally accepted norms and values prescribed by the authority.

Constructivism in Identity

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They said, “Once you learn to speak, you’ll finally be able to express yourself and your personality… now say ‘MAMA'”

And so I spoke. But I was told about good words & bad words. I was told to laugh much softer because I’m not a boy.

They said, “Once you get to high school, you’ll really get to be yourself. The rules there aren’t like these baby rules we have in primary school.”

And so I went. But I was told what length of my skirt, what width of my shirt strap is appropriate or respectable. They told me that the twisted locks I wanted in my hair were “dreadful” and that they were “hard to maintain & manage”. I wanted to read more and spend less time on the devastating math which I would never enjoy or excel at but they told that that wasn’t what my country needed.

They said, “Find a woman you relate with from the Bible and come back next week to tell us about why you feel she is the Biblical version of you” – and to the boys, their Biblical men versions.

But I couldn’t relate with any – I hardly even knew any because when else were women in the Bible referred to as role models except for when the women and little girls to refer to in order to improve themselves? But we all had to aspire to be like Job and Jesus and Noah and Moses and Isaac and Abel and the other Joseph and Paul and Peter and and and.

Then they said, “When you get to university you’ll find your true self. You can rebrand & reinvent yourself.”

But when I arrived I was given the identity of a flower. Beautiful. Graceful. Smart but Docile. But flowers can never exist for themselves – they exist to be picked, to be enjoyed by someone else. To be sniffed and marvelled at by someone else. The value of a flower is not intrinsic, it comes from the value which its observer places on it. And I was meant to be grateful if I was picked. Until I realised that I wouldn’t be picked – at least not in this garden. My skin colour, the coils in my hair, the bulges on my hips and flare of my nostrils made me the thorny kind of flower that didn’t get picked. I was hurt by not being the flower the pickers wanted…until I realised what trash flower pickers were. Flower pickers do not see flowers for the beauty they possess or their functional properties but for how they will improve the picker’s living room view or the aroma in their homes. Or in my case, flower pickers were egotistical, misogynistic, racist, classist and shallow.

They said, “Once you leave university and have your own family, you’ll completely be your own person.”

LOL.

 

 

“If you love a flower, don’t pick it up.
Because if you pick it up it dies and it ceases to be what you love.
So if you love a flower, let it be.
Love is not about possession.
Love is about appreciation.” – Osho

On street-violence on the bodies of womxn

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I watched a movie about domestic abuse today and cried.

Before I cried, I scorned the victim for her stupidity and recklessness.

I took part in the culture of victim-blaming because she had stayed with an abusive lover after he beat her again and again.

I blamed her for being stupid enough to believe that he would change, that she could change him and that he needed her to stay so that he could get help.

I was so frustrated that I nearly cried for her daughter for having such a sorry excuse for a mother and cursed the woman who raised her mother to become that way.

I cried because I realised in those last few scenes, the complete helplessness of women all over the world in the same situation, and worse.

I cried because of the inextricable power that men hold over us…in Tabuk, in Brooklyn, in New Delhi, in Moscow, in Kigali, in Las Vegas, in Johannesburg…

I cried because for all my radical feminism’s worth, earlier that day, as I walked alone through the streets of Johannesburg in a mini skirt, I was equally powerless.

For all my notions of equality and ‘feminism for men’ that I believe in, I was paralysed by the same helplessness of the protagonist in the film.

As I walked past catcalls, grimy hands squeezing my shoulder, slut-shaming remarks & asking why I wasn’t dressed and how they wanted to see my private parts, my body did not belong to me.

Like, the victim of domestic abuse where neighbours draw their curtains, I was trapped in a world where men can do as they please with my body and by-passers will mind their own business.

They will tell us it’s our fault, and tell us what to wear, tell us how we should have responded and how stupid we were…

They will, like I was, become desensitised to our pain – seeing it as punishment for being weak or stubborn and say, “Well if only you had listened when we said…”

They will be friendly, they will call themselves feminists, they will be teachers, family, preachers, leaders…they will all love us.

But they will all remain trapped in a system that condemns & shames the victims and does everything else before changing their attitude towards the perpetrator and the crime.

Still relevant: http://www.thefrisky.com/2014-08-12/7-responses-to-mansplanations-about-street-harassment/

 

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Because millions of men – even some I know – believe that she’s asking for it.

 

Blessers and Blessees in South Africa

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Sugar daddies have existed for as long as I can remember. These sugar daddy-baby relationships have been described in various ways to depict the women and men involved in different lights.  What has happened in South Africa recently is the spike in the trendiness of sugar daddies who have now been renamed “Blessers” as a result of the increase in the trend of young women on Instagram who share pictures of their luxurious lifestyles often captioned #blessed. I have seen numerous local documentaries which have sought to explain this phenomenon and give better insight to those who may not know the detailed dynamics of these relationships and these have been met with numerous responses.

  1. Holy-water throwers

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The holy-water thrower response is the most common response to the blesser/blessee issue and often every other controversial topic in society. This response usually goes along the lines of “only God can truly save them” or “they are allowing the devil to use them” which as well-meaning as one can assume it is, it can – and often does – come across as condescending and ‘othering’. This response imposes a Christian-normative view of ethics which denounces everything that is forbidden in the Bible as evil and to be treated as such. When people are treated as evil in situations where there is explicit exploitation, this view fails to recognise the victimisation of people. Individual contexts and circumstances are either completely ignored or oversimplified, which makes offering help for those who need it impossible. Another problem with Christian-normative criticisms is the inconsistency of what people choose to view as downright evil. This refers to the hundreds if not thousands of sins listed as abominable in the Bible however, the Christians who are active shamers of others, engage in other sins of their own which they treat much differently or are more lenient with interpretation of rules which address them.

2. Sex-positive feministsamberrosefeminist1-640x640

Before launching into the response of sex-positive feminists on this topic I’ll begin by outlining what exactly they are and how they differ from traditional feminists. Sex-positive feminists  “believe that representations of women in sexual contexts do not always and/or necessarily connote the exploitation of women but are an example of their liberty and freedom to express themselves”. This response has shifted the focus of the question of morality and self-respect of those who choose to be in these relationships. Given the discriminatory culture towards women in the world, naturally, those who are shamed in blesser/blessee relationships are not the men who take advantage of vulnerable (where applicable) young women but rather the women, for their “lack of self-respect” and “low self-esteem”. Sex-positive feminists have highlighted the agency of women who choose the values they will uphold and base their relationships on their chosen values rather than those imposed by society. They also address generalisations such as women having to aspire to being “marriage material”, modest or having to prefer specific types of men. My interpretation of this response is that it does not deny the prevalent power-imbalance in these relationships which makes exploitation of women widespread but that it rejects the assumption that ALL women who receive money and luxurious gifts in exchange for sex are victims or “prostitutes”. For example young, educated women who view sex as a small price to pay for having one pay for their tuition and/or other expenses. A possible criticism to this approach, however, is where does one draw the line between owning one’s sexuality and letting others exploit it.

3. Traditional feminists

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The response from traditional feminists is one which is perhaps the least discussed of the three in this matter. In this view, the relationship between blessers and blessees is centred on the 50/50 equality model and where there is a slight balance in the favour of the man (in whatever way) the relationship cannot be viewed as mutually beneficial. In the event where the recepient of the gifts and money feels that he/she is fully aware of the situation and its dynamics or simply “knows better” and still chooses to engage in the relationship, the consent is not really valid because there isn’t fair footing to begin with. Because the woman is in a position of needing money, or she would not otherwise view her relationship with the blesser in the same light, she is already in a vulnerable position. This response is based on the concession that these relationships are generally undesirable and were it not for the lack of financial means, women would not get into such relationships to begin with but the men obviously would because it is ideal for them. A criticism to this is that the lack of financial means drives people to do various things that, were it not for money, they wouldn’t do otherwise – such as a 9 to 5 job, and a sexual relationship with someone who isn’t one’s ideal type can be regarded similarly.The only difference is the stigma attached to the sexual autonomy of women, transactional relationships, and other value projections from society.