Political correctness – tyranny in disguise?

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Many people in the world view political correctness as a new form of tyranny in disguise. “People are just way too sensitive these days. We can’t say anything without liberals screaming that you’re racist or sexist or homophobic. Really, whatever happened to free speech?” These are often the lines of defence for many of those who reject the use of political correct language. Here are some of my responses to these sentiments…

Before I respond to direct statements that people make about political correctness, I want to clarify some things about the functions and importance of language. While language has many functions, the two important functions I want to draw attention to are the descriptive and prescriptive ones.

Language is descriptive in the sense that it expresses what is in the world – what we see. smell, taste, feel and experience. When one says “it is cold” or “the United States of America is the most powerful country in the world”, one is describing the state of affairs in the world. These descriptions can either be true or false because we describe things based on our perceptions. These individual perceptions differ because they are informed by the various experiences, values and norms into which we are socialised.

The second function which is prescriptive is one through which underlying assumptions imply the normative nature of certain things and the foreignness of others and the same goes for prescribing what is acceptable or not. An example where language does this is when one says “The dean of students will be coming by tomorrow to address you, so make sure you look presentable and that you’re in top form.” Automatically, people will know to dress formally, to not be intoxicated, to turn their phones off. While no specific instructions were given, the words “presentable” meant formal wear and not jeans or leggings; by coming sober and turning phones off this implies that these are actions which are associated with being in “top form” aka respectful and so without saying so explicitly, there were already underlying assumptions which came up.

1. What’s the point of substituting one word for another. If one hates black people and gays then changing the word for them doesn’t change the feeling towards them?

As indicated above, the words we use for certain things reflect the attitudes we have about them. The words we use publically and freely, without fear of being reprimanded, reflect that the attitudes that underly those subjects of those words are acceptable. Those words come with assumptions which the general public views as justified, which is the reason that there will be no backlash for using them publically. So words which have been given a derrogatory status, are words whose underlying assumptions are rejected or shunned by the society or people to which they are directed.

In other words, to permit the usage of particular words is to imply a level of acceptability of the undertones they carry and in the case of derrogatory terms, to permit them is to sanction those “othering” and degrading undertones. Lanaguage directly gives those sentiments legitimacy.  One probably feels its okay to say a particular word because those feelings are shared or unchallenged, which allows those feelings to exist unchecked.

2. Political correctness is one of the symptoms of the ever-increasing intolerence. Freedom of expression is blatantly stifled by political correctness.

If we buy the argument that language is reflective of the common/ dominant values we have in society e.g. when we say “Look respectable” and the response is to  wear less revealing clothing, we accept that that reflects the dominant belief that nudity shows lack of respect either for oneself or for others and to cover oneself makes one respect-worthy (respectability politics post coming soon). The key phrase here is ‘dominant values and beliefs’. With anything that is dominant there are outliers, the inferior and/or marginalised… In a world where there is a dominant religion, race, nationality, sex, gender, conformity to gender constructs, ideal of beauty etc. there is bound to be outliers and often these outliers are treated as unfamiliar and therefore undesirable. This is how derrogatory words come into existence. The negative connotations and demeaning assumptions of words are santioned by the acceptance of those feelings which are shared by the dominant groups.

Within the dominant group however, because these words represent shared preceptions about the subjects, they are normalised and made acceptable. The acceptibilty of these words to describe outliers relies in the consensus of the dominant group who give the words their legitimacy. Ultimately, words are dependent on the power of the dominant group. Once this power dynamic shifts – which is what is happening in society with the quest and attainment of equal rights – the unanimous consensus declines because there are people who do not accept those assumptions and underlying values.

This reclamation of agency by people who previously did not have it means that certain privileges from the previous dominant group (which existed at the expense of the minority/marginalised) will be challenged, and as we know it, the loss of unrightful privilege is often equated to the loss of rights or freedoms of previously dominants, since the concept of restrictions is unfamiliar to them.

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And this is why you can’t say the words you feel you should have the right to offend people with.

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Reyhaneh: Iran’s Mockingjay

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Islamic Rape Laws Couldn’t Save Reyhaneh Jabbari. Wait.Why?

Reyhaneh

Femen activists being dragged away by policemen

Femen activists being dragged away by policemen

Femen protesters against the execution of Reyhaneh

Femen protesters against the execution of Reyhaneh

*Feminism is the radical notion that women are people.

The Human Lens

Dear Sholeh, don’t cry for what you are hearing, before my death I want something from you, that you have to provide for me with all your might and in any way that you can. In fact this is the only thing I want from this world, this country and you. Please don’t cry and listen. I want you to go to the court and tell them my request. My kind mother,  the one more dear to me than my life, I don’t want to rot under the soil. Beg so that it is arranged that as soon as I am hanged my heart, kidney, eye, bones and anything that can be transplanted be taken away from my body and given to someone who needs them as a gift. I don’t want the recipient know my name, buy me a bouquet, or even pray for me. I am telling you from the…

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The Head Scarf Dilemma

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We’ve all seen how European countries are becoming notorious for their bans on the head scarves of Muslim women. Personally, I’m assuming that this comes from a good place; countries want to have a hand in eradicating the systemic oppression of women by religious law. This is fantastic. *For a short while, I’m going to deliberately avoid the Islamophobic context of some of these laws.

While this is a great initiative, this move can go horribly wrong- as it already has in France and Turkey- especially when the people who are meant to be benefiting from this are refuting this idea.

From my perspective, the ban on the headscarf is failing because of two reasons.

1) People have the right to practice any religion of their choice and if dressing in a particular manner is a part of practising that religion, placing a ban on that religious wear is somewhat limiting that person’s liberty to exercise this right.

2) Then comes the argument that in most instances, within Islam, the men impose this on the women. This is seen by the West as the most deplorable form of oppression because women “should be free to wear whatever they want”.

While this is also a valid concern, the very implementation of this ban is doing the exact same thing which it seeks to end. Yes, there are women who are forced to wear head scarves, but there is a significant number of women who choose to wear their head scarves, and this cannot be ignored.

If the headscarf ban combats male domination by disallowing the oppression of women- telling them what to wear, is telling them what they may not wear not the same thing?

If the headscarf ban combats male domination by disallowing the oppression of women- telling them what to wear, is telling them what they may not wear not the same thing?

Some things to think about…

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For some women hijab is a symbol of modesty, privacy and morality. A symbol which they choose to wear boldly.

For some women hijab is a symbol of modesty, privacy and morality. A symbol which they choose to wear boldly.

This is what I call prescription before diagnosis.

This is what I call prescription before diagnosis.

How about we look at the broader picture and discuss *not decide in our presidential offices, DISCUSS what the greater problems are here.

How about we look at the broader picture and  discuss *not decide in our presidential offices,  DISCUSS what the greater problems are here.

Then maybe we can see more of this…only if it is their choice…

Iranian women's soccer team finally allowed to play in head scarves

Iranian women’s soccer team allowed to play in head scarve

Date Rape: NO MEANS NO

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“And you should, if you please, refuse
Till the conversion of the Jews
My vegetable love should grow
Vaster than empires and more slow

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To His Coy Mistress

BY ANDREW MARVELL

Had we but world enough and time,
This coyness, lady, were no crime.
We would sit down, and think which way
To walk, and pass our long love’s day.
Thou by the Indian Ganges’ side
Shouldst rubies find; I by the tide
Of Humber would complain. I would
Love you ten years before the flood,
And you should, if you please, refuse
Till the conversion of the Jews.
My vegetable love should grow
Vaster than empires and more slow;
An hundred years should go to praise
Thine eyes, and on thy forehead gaze;
Two hundred to adore each breast,
But thirty thousand to the rest;
An age at least to every part,
And the last age should show your heart.
For, lady, you deserve this state,
Nor would I love at lower rate.
       But at my back I always hear
Time’s wingèd chariot hurrying near;
And yonder all before us lie
Deserts of vast eternity.
Thy beauty shall no more be found;
Nor, in thy marble vault, shall sound
My echoing song; then worms shall try
That long-preserved virginity,
And your quaint honour turn to dust,
And into ashes all my lust;
The grave’s a fine and private place,
But none, I think, do there embrace.
       Now therefore, while the youthful hue
Sits on thy skin like morning dew,
And while thy willing soul transpires
At every pore with instant fires,
Now let us sport us while we may,
And now, like amorous birds of prey,
Rather at once our time devour
Than languish in his slow-chapped power.
Let us roll all our strength and all
Our sweetness up into one ball,
And tear our pleasures with rough strife
Through the iron gates of life:
Thus, though we cannot make our sun
Stand still, yet we will make him run.
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Why I love the “Real Men…”Campaign

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imagesIf there is a current movement which stands the best chance to reduce gender based violence it is the real men campaign. We were debating this topic recently and I could not help but start to really consider this as a legitimate solution to our growing gender-related crimes and violations.

I came up with two main reason as to why this campaign stands the highest chance of becoming largely instrumental in the combating of gender-based violence. The first being that it is not a quick fix solution which attempts to superficially address the issue but rather a solution which deals with the root causes of the problem. The second reason is that this campaign has the ability alter and reverse existing stereotypes by using mankind’s appeal to stereotypes. This essentially benefits the three main players in the context of gender based violence namely the child, the adult male, and lastly the woman.
How does this deal with the root causes of gender-based violence?

In order to understand this reasoning, one must first understand why gender based violence is prevalent to begin with. It is the result of cultural and psychological elements which cannot be ignored. We have a culture whereby young men are raised to believe and taught to aspire to be manly. Equally harmful, is the psychological effect of constantly witnessing acts of violence against women in order to assert one’s manliness.

These are factors which don’t happen overnight but create serious detrimental effects after consistent long term exposure. It is for this same reason that the real men campaign can also only be extremely effective after a long period of excessive popularising. It will take the men of society to take the reigns and actively drive this cause to the point where society’s billboards, magazines, television and social media have come to embrace a zero tolerance stance towards gender based violence.

How will this actually reduce gender based violence?

Simple. This campaign will assist the people who are most affected by this in society.

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1. The male child

Currently, we witness the previous generation struggling to reverse the psychology which cultivates inherited violent behaviour. With male figures who are most influential during a young man’s development, such as Superman, Batman and G. I. Joe whose manhood and strength comes from using violence and constantly displaying proving dominance it is easy for youngsters to get the wrong message about manhood.

By exposing children to a different kind of man from the one he sees at home or in Marvel’s comics, we are not only preventing them from falling into the vicious cycle of abuse, but we are also instilling a sense of accountability. Whereas we currently have men who pin their actions onto their own early exposure to gender-based violence, the real men campaign is eliminating this as an excuse. Future men will not be able to hide behind this because they will have grown up in a society which flooded them with the idea of a different kind of “real” man.

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2. The adult male
Society is currently set up to cushion men. It is a society which has put too much stress on valuing the manliness of a man rather than his compassion.

It is a society where so much injustices are done to women because they are justified with…”a real man must…put her in her place, teach her a lesson, show her who’s boss, take ownership of the household…” And so many men buy into this because man wants to belong. We hate stereotypes but at the same time we want to fit into this criteria which charaterises a real man.
And this is why it is wiser to not do away with using this stereotype which defines a real man but to use it, redefine it and let man’s desire to fit the criteria be the incentive.

When this generation realises the new societal pressure to become a real man, man which a large portion of society supports it will have no choice but to comply. If this campaign is given the attention and support it deserves, abusive men will be less confident to beat a woman up because society frowns upon this and chances are hell be shunned or worse…he won’t be seen as a real man.

Incidentally, we must concede that by solving this problem with the current adult generation, we’re preventing this gruesome culture from seeping into the younger generations.

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3. The woman
The real men campaign has most power in conservative communities where women feel they cannot speak up against abuse or even worse, where they can but are disregarded because they sound like angry, hormone-driven, rad-fems.
This campaign together with the feminist movement can revolutionise the culture of gender-related issues.


We must also acknowledge the significant contribution this can make to women who do not even know that they are abused. In large parts of the world, young women are still taught that abuse is their fault and that they should have not provoked the man, or that abuse is the burden a woman must bear- that it is the price one must pay in a marriage.

By having men step up to say,” This is not how women are to be treated. There are better men than this. Real men should not do this to you,” these social dynamics are changed. Women will feel that when they speak up, men will actually be listening.

Strike a woman, strike a…what was it again?

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Success and Significance...see the difference?

Success and Significance…see the difference?

How do women rise as a united force when they constantly let "beef" come in between them?

How do women rise as a united force when they constantly let “beef” come in between them?

Over lunch with a number of my friends today, we were speaking about our current (famous) South African female role models. Surprisingly, a number of them said they had none and others questioned why only South African because that’s just too hard.
It was at this point that I asked myself, “Where are all South Africa’s strong women for young girls to look up to?”
No, I wasn’t talking about the internet or Forbes’ definition of remarkable women: which often entails being the first woman to accomplish whatever it is that she has accomplished.

I don’t think that the fact that you grew up in Diepsloot township and became the first African female pilot gives you automatic role model credentials, nor does the fact that you have your own a talk show where you interview A-list celebs from cricket players to socialites to ministers, nor does owning your own clothing range and being South Africa’s first ambassador for L’Oreal…
The fact that we consider these women to be the models of the ultimate achievement in one’s life in no way inspires young women to aspire to causes greater than themselves.

When addressing us at our graduation ceremony a few days ago, the Head of my school spoke about the difference between a life of success and one of significance. In emphasising the differences between the two, he noted, “A life of success is one which honours one for one’s own achievements, whereas a life of significance, however is one which honours others with the success which one has attained”. I select my role models based on their significance rather than success, because not all successful people lead significant lives…I mean look at many presidents of states, for instance.

It is with great confidence that I can say, while achieving one’s dreams against all odds is a success, it isn’t all that significant because I believe that that was the only option you had. To become the first female dj is great because deejaying is a predominantly male-driven industry but if your passion lies there, you have no choice but to chase that dream. To do anything otherwise would be pathetic; so yay! Bonang Matheba and Terry Phetho for becoming African pioneers as ambassadors of massive beauty brands. Hooray to your success! Now about your significance…

We need less female figures who are idolised more for their aesthetic features than anything else. We ought to focus on the positive impact they make in society, given the influence that they now hold as a result of their achievements.

We need more selfless women who will not become famous for giving but for sharing. We don’t need actresses giving loads of money at local charities and giving their precious time to take lovely pictures for their fans and the media.

We need women to share more- to share their time and of themselves, sharing advice and wisdom, sharing expertise to mentor youngsters who aspire to the same paths as theirs.
Emily Pankhurst. Oprah Winfrey. Judge Judy Sheindlin. Iyanla Vanzant. Tyra Banks. Michelle Obama. Hilary Clinton. Leymar Gbowee. Emma Watson. Edna Adan (former First Lady of Somiland). Where are all these women in South Africa? I ask myself so many times.
Where are president Zuma’s wives? I have been brought up to believe that beside every successful man is a strong, supportive woman. At no point in my life have I witnessed any of all six first ladies, take on roles that will inspire young girls and young women to take charge of their lives and aspire to greatness in this oh-so culturally patriarchal country of ours.

What are they doing with their A-list access cards? Waltzing into SABC studios on Women’s Day only to air their rivalry to the world, instead of presenting a united front to the country as an example for other women to follow? These are causes in which they could develop their status as First Ladies and show their dedication to the empowerment of women, which I’m assuming they have because well, they’re women too.

The South African names I associate with iconic women of strength, selflessness and colossal significance are the Union Buildings marchers: Lillian Ngoyi, Helen Joseph, Bertha Mashaba, Charlotte Maxeke, Nadine Gordimer, Bessie Head, Helen Jabavu, Antje Krog… Sebenzile Nkambule (of One Day Leader and Talk 702) and the indomitable Deborah Patta and not forgetting our very own Lady of Justice – Thuli Madonsela.

Slowly but surely, revolutionising the influence of women on the political stage are the women of the Democratic Alliance party. Yes, Lindiwe Mazibuko and Helen Zille are the some of the most brave women this country’s spotlight has seen in a long time. Although the nature of their work may be arguably hazy with blurred lines, these women have dared to go where few others have dared to go in terms of enforcing accountability and combating corruption within government.

I also have no intention to confuse being an influential person with being forcefully politically inclined, but rather to advocate for a cause which does not only benefit one’s self but uplifts and empowers others.

The feisty force we want beside the most powerful men.

The feisty force we want beside the most powerful men.