Being a young South African and living in South Africa, a country fraught with more difficulties than most after years ofoppression and violence, has always made keeping informed and staying up to date with the news extremely important. Having said that, the stories that seem to enter one’s mind most often are those of Marikana or maybe even more recently the prospect of Mamphela Ramphele entering into South African politics. The stories that are brought to the forefront of South African news, such as these, are often those that point out the most obvious problems and struggles within South African society – perhaps problems regarding policing or even flaws within the government. But the emergence of such “glamourized media” also allows the smaller stories to fall through the cracks.
Waking up this morning, I grabbed my phone and after scrolling through a number of headlines, some of which included stories regarding Eskom prices and farm attacks, I opened a link to a story detailing the expulsion of a young girl in Midrand. The grade 12 pupil was removed from her school’s hostel for allegedly “kissing and sexually harassing other girls”. The most disturbing aspect of the entire feature was a quote from the school’s marketing director which referred to the young woman as having “a sexual orientation problem”. Being a legal theory student I have spent the last year studying our country’s incredible Constitution. I have had it drilled into me countless times that our supreme law finds its basis in human dignity and equality. How can it then be accepted that this young girl’s sexual orientation is openly referred to as a “problem”? This statement clearly infringes on her right dignity and rips away the equality promised to her by the Constitution.
Equality right? Equal and fair treatment for all – regardless of skin colour, religion, ethnic group…the list goes on and on. But it seems to be that sexual orientation, like many other not so glamourized issues, is often overlooked.
This convention of “overlooking” is thriving within South African society. We don’t often ‘overlook’ corruption and increasing prices, but we do overlook systemic and historically accepted inequality for some groups. Inequality persists for women, gay and lesbian individuals, and foreigners. At varsity I often overhear conversations which include rape or “correctional rape” jokes with the participants openly laughing and very obviously overlooking the repercussions of such gags. Jokes such as these may seem trivial and harmless but perpetuating the ideas which underlie them only allows for South Africa’s patriarchal society to be further strengthened.
How can the issue of violence, especially violence against women, be resolved when the country’s own citizens perpetuate its foundations of patriarchy by laughing at stereotypical jokes and allowing a young woman’s sexual orientation to be referred to as a “problem”? If it is a “problem” then obviously it should be corrected, right?
Wrong – because as a woman she has the right to choose her sexual orientation, a right which is protected by the Constitution and a right which should NEVER be overlooked regardless of individual ideas or opinions. In my opinion the major problems which face South Arica, such as violence and inequality, will only ever be corrected if these “smaller” stories are no longer overlooked and rights are respected and protected regardless of their standing in the media. Violence against women has its foundations in ideas that are embedded in society and taught to men from the beginning – exerting power over women has become an expression of the twisted masculinity which has slowly been since the beginning of time. If the big problems, such as violence against women, stem from the little problems, such as a single woman’s rights being infringed upon, how can we ever expect to fix these bigger problems if the little ones are continuously overlooked?
Maybe if this young girl’s right to sexual orientation had been enforced a precedent would have been created which would have prevented any others stories such as this emerging – and don’t you think then that our patriarchal society might have received one of the many knocks it needs towards its demise?