I was sitting outside my father’s office waiting for the meeting he was in to end, my father’s sub-ordinates were there with me talking about Malema, government and all subjects made of small talk. Our conversations were funny and entertaining. The question of who our next president would be was raised.
“It definitely won’t be a woman” said one of my favourite father’s colleagues.
Shocked at his statement I sat up and asked him why he thought so.
“Come on how can a woman rule a country, I mean she won’t be able to rule when she menstruates, what will happen when that time of the month comes?” he asked me. “She will wake up and go into her office and rule the country” I answered shaking my head. “No it will never happen, a woman will never rule this country” he said looking at me straight in my eyes.
I saw that I had no support, there were no other women with me and I was surrounded by a stern number of Zulu men, and I sunk back into my seat infuriated.
Men fear feminists…no, they fear any woman who may seem to encroach on their so-called territory of driving trucks, owning businesses, owning sexuality and (heaven help us) wanting to become president. I am baffled that some men see any confident and independent woman as a threat. What is it that they scared of?
Feminists are not out to castrate men. Instead we want what is ours: equality. We have learnt that there is no such thing as a woman’s work or a man’s work, feminists understand this well, why is that men can’t understand that notion? Is it maybe because they feel emasculated by the sudden surge of independent thinking women? Is it because they feel there is a war of sexes looming where eventually the feminists will win or is it simply because they are products of patriarchy and male chauvinism?
In the case of the men I was with, I think it was a number of factors that cause the feminist to be feared.
- They were men in a mainly male-dominated industry (taxi industry);
- They were Zulu. Zulus are notorious for being sexists (I’m Zulu and don’t like to adhere to this stereotype but it seems it was proven to me on that day);
- They were old men, all of them over the age thirty five. Persons born in the late eighties and early 1990s may understand feminism because they’re educated about it in their multi-racial schools but these men were definitely not, as most of them come from and were educated in rural areas;
- They subscribed to a culture that perpetuates patriarchy and male chauvinism hence the idea that a woman is weak when she menstruates and cannot do any work during those days of the month;
- They possessed a fear of being emasculated. For a long time the image of a man has been that of a strong, brave provider but now that image has changed and now includes the woman, and this unsettles the old traditional men; and
- There is a misconception of what the feminist ideal is. Most men are poorly educated on what the feminist concept is and misunderstand it.
The fear of anything is caused by misunderstanding (e.g. homophobia, xenophobia and now feminists-phobia) and the only way to end this fear and cultivate understanding is through education. That being said we must teach our male counterparts how to use their common sense. Women don’t complain when men choose to be cooks, or dressmakers or gardeners. We invite this fluidity in so-called ‘gender roles’.
Feminism must become a practice seen in reality and not read about only in books. For example, I was at a friend’s party when I overheard one of the girls tell the other girl to ‘man up’. I immediately stopped dancing and told her “no you must woman up”. They both looked at me confused. “I’m a feminist” I told them. “Oh” they replied and we went back to our joyous dancing. You see it takes little things like speaking up in the midst of a noisy party to express your own views on feminism. If you speak up you might teach someone something new.
I wish I could have spoken up to those men who are poorly educated about women’s biology and the correlation to her intelligence and ability to work, but I couldn’t. The circumstances wouldn’t allow me to. My culture, which perpetuates patriarchy, forced me to shut up and respect the views of those old men. Slowly I will teach them (in a safe atmosphere) that women are strong besides bleeding every single month and that the blood does not block their ability to work or think clearly.
The fear of the feminist must be eradicated and a culture of understanding cultivated. This does not mean that we stop being firm about our ideals, but as feminists we must build gates inviting in people into our culture not walls blocking them off and slowly we will build a world of gender neutral tones.