Over the past three years artist, Phoebe Davies, has been exploring current attitudes to feminism, gender inequality, expectations and aspirations. Working collaboratively with a wide range of communities and young women’s groups, her research has led her to draw upon and subvert the contemporary culture of nail art. Creating printed nail designs depicting people of significance that are specific to the groups she works with, these designs are then applied in a nail salon installation. This nail salon acts as a site to exchange opinions and ideas, questioning what feminism and gender equality means today.

Phoebe will be showcasing her work Influences Nail Salon in Johannesburg in November 2015 to coincide with 16 Days of Activism for No Violence Against Women and Children. Phoebe is creating a bespoke nail designs that will represent women* of influence who have worked to address social and political issues across South Africa AND WE WANT YOUR NOMINATION!

We are collecting a range of nominations of women of all ages and backgrounds from well-known historical figures to those directly impacting their local community. All nominations are welcome whether it be anti apartheid activists, local youth workers, DJs, scientists, fashion designers or feminists, we are looking for a diverse mix of women to represent contemporary and historical social activism in South Africa.


We are collecting nominations over the next few weeks – so please email your nomination, a short reason why and how they have impacted South Africa and a headshot of the person to Sarah Phillips, sarah@artsadmin.co.uk or tweet @artsadm #InfluencesSA

The deadline for nominations is 12 noon on Wednesday 23rd October 2015 Please do circulate this call out to friends and colleagues.

Women*: Women and people who identify as transgender, queer, gender fluid or non binary.

You Girls

Rosa Lyster, South Africa, essayBy Rosa Lyster

A slightly famous author once accused me of liking Sylvia Plath. I was at a book party, standing outside in what the slightly famous author kept on calling “the smoking garden”. It was a concrete courtyard in the middle of the corporate hotel where the party was being held. Very brightly lit. No chairs, even. Writers standing around, all hunched up and furtive, smoking the most depressing brands of cigarettes. Your Rothmans, your Princetons, your Benson and Hedges Special Mild.

The slightly famous author took all of this in his brisk stride. He was at the book festival to promote his latest novel. Like all of his previous works, it was about a young and vaguely left-wing white man clashing with various South African authority figures (mothers, corporals, sergeants etc.). Like all of his previous works, it contained many fine descriptions of Highveld storms, and the gnarled, shining white corpses of lightning-struck trees. His books were not as popular as they had once been. There was something a bit funny about his latest one, especially. It was too obviously nostalgic for the early eighties, too wistful for a time when the voices of people like him had mattered most. The reviews had been mixed. Perhaps because of this, his reading had been badly attended. Also, it was scheduled at the same time as the fourth event featuring an authentically famous writer, the star of the festival.

The slightly famous author did not seem embittered by this. He gave the impression of having a sincerely wonderful time, looking avidly about himself and saying, “Here we are, then. Here we are in the smoking garden.” He seemed enchanted by it all: waving brightly at everyone who went past. A nice man, really.

I saw a girl I knew ask him what his favourite kind of meat was. There was no reason for her to do this. The slightly famous author answered her with avuncular dignity. He looked gravely into her glittering eyes. First beef, he said, and then ostrich. Chicken last. She asked him if he could ever give up bacon, though, and he said no. She said that bacon smelled delicious, and he agreed. She adjusted the sewn-on panda ears of her woolly hat as she asked him if he had ever tried crocodile. He said yes. She said she could never eat crocodile. Yuck. He laughed with total abandonment. Was he on drugs? Was he one of those men who you only realise is drunk after they have tumbled silently down a flight of stairs, wearing a resigned and worldly expression? I could not say.

The girl who loved meat was just getting started. I had an idea of what was coming next – she was going to ask if he had a Kindle. Whatever his answer, she was going to say that she could never have a Kindle. She loved the smell of books too much, see. She loved the feel of a book in her hand TOO MUCH. Old books? Don’t even get her started. The smell and feel of a mega-old book? Please.

I could see it all playing out in front of me. The slightly famous writer could too, I think. He decided that things had gone far enough. He took control by turning to me, blowing smoke into my eyes and ears, and asking me what I thought of J.M. Coetzee. South African émigrés of a certain age love to ask this question. They imagine us sitting around making Coetzee voodoo dolls, writing lists of all the reasons Adelaide is a stupid place to live. They want us to feel betrayed, as if Coetzee is our collective dad who abandoned us for a different family. They want us to take it personally.

I said that I thought Disgrace was a very good book. The meat girl looked disappointed. Coetzee was such an easy one, and I was letting the side down. She moved away. The slightly famous writer pressed gamely on. Women, he said, don’t usually like Coetzee. They don’t like Coetzee or Updike or Bellow or Roth. Or Nabokov, now that he thought about it. He peered at me elatedly, a sort of terrible puckishness suffusing his features. Eyes suddenly more bright, incisors more pointy. It was clear that he had made this speech before. His whole expression, his posture and everything, said, “Here I go again. Get a load of me.” Other people were slaves to the kind of PC nonsense that insisted that women could like Philip Roth, but not the slightly famous author. No indeed. He was here for the truth. I wanted to lie down on the floor.

I said, although there was no point, that I liked all of those writers a lot. He laughed throatily at me. He told me I was just saying that to be contrary. Name a Nabokov novel, he said, besides from Lolita. I did. Name a Bellow. Tell me with a straight face that you got through the whole of Sabbath’s Theatre. Tell me your best book out of all the Updikes. Say which bit in Waiting For The Barbarians made it worth the hassle.

I told him and told him and told him. His laugh became richer and more disbelieving. He was capering on the spot, punching the air with little fists. He was having the most wonderful time, and he didn’t believe me for a single minute. “You girls,” he said, shaking his head. “Say what you want, but I know you all go home and read Sylvia Plath.”

I opened my mouth. I closed my mouth. I opened my hands. I closed my hands.

You girls. You girls, with your crush on Ophelia and Virginia Woolf and Elvira Madigan. You girls think you’re witches. You girls, with your anorexia and your cutting and the flowers in your hair. You girls, and your dissertations on perceptions of female hysteria. You think Mad Girl’s Love Song is the best title for anything, and you can’t believe you didn’t get there first. You believe that dying is an art, like everything else. You believe that you would do it exceptionally well. You girls with your incessant talk of periods and mermaids. You girls with your poster of The Lady of Shallot above your bed. You think you have a wound that will never heal. You girls keep tearing open the stitches.

All that. He didn’t say it, and probably he did not think it, but that’s what I heard. I opened my mouth. I closed my mouth. He ground out his cigarette and lurched inside, giving a disgraced cartoonist a reassuring arm squeeze as he went.

This was about five years ago. I have had some time to think about what I might have said. Something like a lie: I’ve never read Sylvia Plath, and actually I hate her, and actually I’ve never heard of her. Something like another kind of lie: I know The Bell Jar off by heart, and I admire the gumption of a woman who believes it is appropriate to equate her personal suffering to that of a Jew during the Holocaust. Or, something like the truth: I like her all right – not my best, and not my worst. But you can’t say that, to someone like the slightly famous author. Someone like the slightly famous author, he wants you to be one thing or the other.

I saw him three days ago in an airport. He was shorter than I remembered, with the contented face of a man on his way to the first-class lounge. He nodded to me as I walked past. I nodded back. I hear his last book sold very poorly indeed.

Rosa Lyster lives in Cape Town. She is completing her PhD at UCT, and writes an essay a week at rosalyster.com

Originally published on Rosa’s blog, here

Harfield Village: The bold and the befok

Jen Thorpe, feminism, South Africa, feminist
Jen Thorpe

By Jen Thorpe

I moved to Harfield Village in April last year. For a little village that basically lies between two roads (Imam Haron and Kenilworth Road) this place has a lot of issues.

During the time I’ve lived here I’ve witnessed two domestic violence assaults in the street whilst others walked by. The first, described here, was in June and when I called the police, they didn’t respond. On many occasions since I’ve since seen this couple still walking the streets together, their faces set in grim determination. My heart breaks a little every time.

The second, described briefly in the first, second and last stanzas of this poem, happened in September and resulted in the most drawn out interaction with the Claremont police station a person can ever imagine. Suffice to say: they didn’t have the right documents, didn’t want to take a statement, tried to put her in the back of the van with her abuser, refused to open a case, told her she’d never report, didn’t have a printer to give me a copy of my statement, lost my statement, made me give my statement again at another station, lost that somehow, and never really resolved the issue of the failure to give people copies of their statement several months later. This attack was also witnessed by two builders, less than five metres away from the couple, who did nothing, and then verbally abused me the next day for shouting at them for doing nothing. ‘Who the f**k did I think I was to ask them to stop him from hitting her?’ Um, a human being.

Also during this time I have witnessed an elderly white man set his dog on two young black women walking back from Rosmead Spar one evening. The dog viciously barked at and attacked the screaming women before the old white man gently whistled and it ran into his property. He walked in, no sound at all, while the women were left to recover their wits. When I confronted him about why he had done this and had not apologised to the two ladies, his response was ‘I didn’t see any ladies.’ I called my councillor, Mr Kempthorne, who suggested that I read the animal bylaws to see if the old man had done anything wrong (in general, I think this was probably something he should have known, and also general racism isn’t in the animal bylaws, but anyway). In fact, this angry old white dude had infringed by having a dangerous dog without a leash walking around so I delivered a copy of the bylaws, highlighted, to his mailbox, and Mr Kempthorne also asked his office to send someone to talk to the man. Despite my angry eyeballing of his house whenever I walk past, I have seen no more of this racist white man and his dog. But I’m sure he’s still in there.

Also during this time I have been called to a community meeting to discuss ‘security concerns’ where it was clear some form of collusion between the village association and a major security service provider had happened, and where community protests at the exclusion of smaller service providers were met with shut downs from the Chairman of the HVA (but only after he’d asked us if we wouldn’t mind giving a donation because he’d actually spent quite a lot of our annual fees on hiring the venue and the sound equipment). As those of us who thought this meeting a laughing stock walked out, we were threatened with the idea that ‘if we didn’t do something now crime would only get worse.’ A week later, after making the news for this general circus, the security tender was revised, and somehow they all managed to work together in a non-collusive way to protect us all. For a small monthly fee.

So, if what happens outside the houses of Harfield is anything to go by, it is a pretty complicated place full of racism, security threats, inefficient policing, domestic violence, and a bunch of white dudes making decisions for all of us. If that isn’t bad enough, let’s explore what happens inside the homes of Harfield. The easiest way to do this, is to go online.

A few months after living here I was alerted to the existence of the Harfield Village Association closed Facebook Group. Whilst I thought the assault of Cynthia Joni nearby was enough of an example of the racism, classism and sexism that prevails in this community, I was not fully alerted to the unashamed commitment to these beliefs until I encountered this ill-moderated page. On this page, ostensibly set up so the members of Harfield can talk about the community, build community projects, and share information about great service providers in the area, things only get worse. It appears that in fact, inside their homes, Harfield Villagers (or at least some of them) are even more racist and offensive than they let on outdoors. A summary sentence would be: ‘non-white’ is still a category of person for these people.

Examples include alerting other villagers when there are ‘non-whites’ in the area who are not expected to be there (this of course doesn’t happen if those ‘non-whites’ are gardening, cleaning, taking away rubbish, within strict areas, so you can see which house they belong to, in which instances the village welcomes them) or coming up with creative solutions to homeless people asleep on the pavement (see this post, where a suggestion includes ‘let’s tar over them’). This is also a site to sex-worker spot, and to alert other villagers to the general deterioration of the social fabric as referenced by the presence of women making a living (I saw one having sex in the park! says one resident). When I proposed a community discussion on the topic of sex work, of course the resident who had started the whole complaints process said she wouldn’t come (what if she had to realise they were humans!??!). In addition, when the Sex Worker Education and Advocacy Taskforce approached the Kenilworth councillor to discuss the issue, he refused to engage citing that ‘sex work is a crime’ and we must bring the full force of the law down on sex workers (as an aside, I don’t know any sex workers who work in areas where there are no demands for their service. But I digress..). If you’re interested in supporting the human rights of sex workers, there is a protest march on the 20th to his office organised by SWEAT (Tuesday 20th January, meet at Wynberg Magistrates court at 9am).

The Harfield Village Association page allows what can only be seen as values antithetical to constitutional ones to flourish, unmoderated and without recourse. It should have a tagline ‘Abandon all hope ye who enter here’.

At a feminist meeting group the other evening friends and I discussed how the use of social media allows us to curate our realities – we follow people who are often of the same beliefs as us, we google search only things that reinforce our particular world view, we unfriend those Facebook friends who say things we don’t agree with, and essentially what we end up doing is living in a bubble where people are either as liberal or conservative as we are. We begin to believe that most people think like us. This is dangerous because it means we withdraw from spaces where our views are different, and we begin to lose our skill for arguing for the values we hold dear.

The Harfield Village Association page is one place where this appears completely true. As it becomes more an more a site for white middle-class people to voice and echo disdain for anyone other than them, the more liberal members of the area exit, and join the other page ‘The Harfield Youth League.’ This leaves these racist, sexist, awful people to pat each other on the back for a job well done and to continue with their diatribes of exclusion. This leaves them thinking that they are in the majority when they’re inside their homes and this mentality can only spill out onto the streets. I think it’s time for those of us who left the page emotionally scarred and exhausted to take a breath and dive back in (if they’ll accept our request) because there is nothing more true than this quote:

“Silence in the the face of injustice is complicity with the oppressor” Ginetta Sagan

We haven’t moved very far away from the age of ‘fallen women’

Tam Sutherns
Tam Sutherns

By Tammy Sutherns

Reeking of the 18th century Ireland Magdalene Asylums, a Chile Catholic Church has confirmed that a priest stole babies for adoption between the 1970s and 1980s. Reuters reports that the priest was:

“Instrumental in the forced adoption of at least two babies without the knowledge of their mothers, and had also maintained an “inappropriate relationship” with one mother.”

The priest, Gerardo Joannon, is being investigated after allegedly telling single mothers that their babies had died, while actually giving them up for adoption. Alex Vigueras, a regional church head who is in charge of the probe into Joannon, is reported as saying,

“The preliminary investigation has established the truth of the accusations…he always knew that both babies did not die.”

Apparently, the priest has tried to justify his actions with the fact that there is a stigma attached to unmarried mothers in the Catholic society in Chile, especially at the time of incidents.

Similar to the nun’s laundries in Ireland, where ‘fallen women’ were housed, put to work in the laundries and their babies given up for adoption, this story shows just what acts can be justified simply because of the patriarchal restrictions society can place on women. The last Magdalene Institution shut down in Ireland in 1996, which wasn’t exactly eons ago. This story in Chile has emerged, showing that these women were lied to and their babies taken away from them in the last three or four decades.

How far have we really come from shaming women?

It’s not restricted to religious culture, third world countries or the past. Slut-shaming is full steam on social media today – alive, kicking and international.

South Africa’s Grazia magazine caused a raucous recently when it tweeted:

“What makes a girl a slut? Is it the way she dresses? What she says? What she does? And …”

The magazine published an entire article dedicated to slut-shaming, clearing up the reason behind its controversial tweet. In-depth and well-put, Grazia SA  spoke about slut-shaming culture, amplified by social media commentary that is often abusive. With many getting the wrong end of the stick by Grazia’s Tweet, the magazine deleted the tweet and responded;

“The messages were published to gauge our audiences’ perception of the word ‘slut’ and to coincide with a feature that we are producing on ‘slut-shaming’ – the term used to define a woman’s character based on her choice of language, wardrobe or actions.


The concept of ‘slut-shaming’ is one that Grazia South Africa opposes in the strongest possible sense. We take our role of defending and empowering women very seriously and our feature story focuses on the fact that we live in a society where women are bullied and shamed and that it must stop.”

The sensitivity around the issue showed that it is one that did not die with the last Magdalene Institution and more so, that it should not be swept under the carpet. Why are friends, enemies, frenemies, the media or the public calling anyone a slut? What makes a woman a slut? What is it that she does that makes it OK to use that label?

If we’re horrified by the Magdalene institutions or a Chilean priest giving out women’s babies to save them from the shame of falling pregnant out of wedlock, then we need to be horrified by a culture that still judges a woman with such harsh and unnecessary labels based on her personal sexual life, her choice of clothes or who she chooses to befriend.

And it seems that we are. South Africans shunned the idea of slut-shaming (along with Grazia’s Tweet questioning what it means to be a slut) as a repressive, regressive and misogynistic side of society, similarly to how I would imagine they would shun Gerardo Joannon for stealing women’s babies.

Anton Marshall wrote on Facebook:

“This is a deeply problematic and inappropriate question. Deeply problematic. Given the volumes of information available as to why, I’m disappointed and offended by its phrasing, as I’m sure many others will be. EDIT: In fact, I’m pretty shocked that anyone in your organisation would be thinking along those lines at all. Horrifying.”

Chloe Quinn Johnson posted:

“‘Slut’ is simply another derogatory term developed to try and shame women (see ‘bitch’ and ‘ballbuster’ as another example of this). As long as the woman is happy with her life, prepared to accept the consequences of her decisions and her actions are not negatively affecting anyone else – then what she chooses to wear, who she chooses to sleep with, what she chooses to say and whatever else she decides to do with HER body and HER life is nobody’s damn business but her own.”

Let’s continue to draw parallels between 18th Century patriarchal practices and calling someone a ‘slut’ on Twitter and let’s end the shame right now. Instead of using social media as a platform to abuse, let’s use it as these South Africans did above: to defend, to educate and to stand up for.

Hold States (including South Africa!) Accountable For Blocking Debate On Inclusive Understanding Of Family

As many of you will be aware, last week the Human Rights Council adopted a resolution on “protection of the family”. Throughout the negotiations, Egypt and the other lead sponsors persistently rejected proposals to recognise the simple reality that various forms of the family exist.

To make matters worse, when the resolution came to a vote, a number of States used a widely condemned procedural tactic called a “no action” motion to block a proposal on family diversity from even being considered by the Human Rights Council.

Please see below and attached a statement by a number of NGOs expressing concern about both the content and tactics used to prevent an inclusive concept of family even being discussed.

What can I do?

Take action to hold States accountable for blocking discussion and failing to recognise the diversity of family forms. For example:

1. if your government voted to block debate or abstained (see list below), contact their Foreign Ministry and Mission in Geneva to express concern.
2. adapt the NGO statement of concern, and use it to write letters to the editor or an opinion piece for your local or national newspaper (in doing so, we ask you to please remove from the statement the names of the original signatories).
3. forward this action alert broadly to others.

Additional information:

States voting to block discussion of inclusive family language were:
Algeria, Benin, Botswana, Burkina Faso, China, Congo, Cote d’Ivoire, Ethiopia, India, Indonesia, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Kuwait, Morocco, Namibia, Pakistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Sierra Leone, South Africa, United Arab Emirates and Venezuela

 States that abstained from voting to either block or proceed with discussion of inclusive family language were:
Gabon, Maldives, Philippines and Vietnam. Also, Cuba did not vote.

Contact details for the Foreign Ministry of each country can be found at: http://www.ediplomat.com/dc/foreign_ministries.htm

A list of Geneva Missions is available at: http://tinyurl.com/t2cwt

NGO Statement below:

Discussion of “protection of the family” at Human Rights Council must reflect diversity and focus on human rights

Our organizations, representing a wide range of civil society from all regions of the world, urge the UN Human Rights Council to ensure the Panel discussion entitled “protection of the family” scheduled to take place in September reflects the diversity of family forms and includes a focus on the promotion and protection of human rights of individuals within the family unit.

The decision to hold the Panel came in a resolution passed on 26 June 2014, as a result of the deeply flawed “protection of the family” initiative led by Egypt and other States at the UN Human Rights Council.

The manner in which the initiative has been pursued gives rise to concern that some States will seek to exploit it as a vehicle for promoting a narrow, exclusionary and patriarchal concept of “the family” that denies equal protection to the human rights of individuals who belong to the various and diverse forms of family that exist across the globe. 

It also contravenes individuals’, including children’s, unequivocal right to non-discrimination on the basis of family status. These include, for instance: unmarried couples, with or without children; single-parent families; families headed by children or grandparents; joint families; extended families; kinship; families of divorced individuals; intergenerational families; families that include same-sex relationships. These also include community-based arrangements and, where children are concerned, any other care-giving environment that can provide for their care, nurturance and development consistent with their best interests.

Previous UN resolutions on the family include language, agreed by all States, that recognized that “various forms of the family exist”. The authors of the resolution deliberately omitted this language, despite this issue being consistently raised by other States throughout the negotiations.

Attempts by a number of States to reintroduce the language agreed by consensus on “various forms of the family” in the resolution were rejected by the States in the core group in informal negotiations, without ever providing a substantive reason for the refusal, despite numerous attempts to elicit a response from the core group.  The unprincipled refusal to accept this agreed language suggests highly politicized intentions of some of the States behind the resolution to remove from recognition families that do not conform to a narrow conception of the family.  

When the previously agreed language “various forms of the family” was brought as a formal amendment during the voting process on the resolution, the Russian Federation and other co-sponsor States used a procedural tactic (the “no action motion”), widely condemned by other States and civil society (and which has only ever been successfully used on one other occasion since the formation of the Council in 2006), to prevent the Council from even considering the amendment.

Our organisations condemn the use of this wholly inappropriate procedural tactic to block discussion in a manner fundamentally incompatible with the purposes of principles of the Human Rights Council. The no action motion has been designed and intended as a procedure available for States to stop the Council taking up a question not appropriately within its purview – a circumstance that was patently inapplicable in respect of this amendment. In voting for this motion, Algeria, Benin, Botswana, Burkina Faso, China, Congo, Cote D’Ivoire, Ethiopia, India, Indonesia, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Kuwait, Morocco, Namibia, Pakistan, Russian Federation, Saudi Arabia, Sierra Leone, South Africa, UAE, and Venezuela betrayed their responsibilities as members of the Council to uphold the highest standards in the promotion and protection of human rights. At the same time, many of these same States insisted that the Panel would be open to a discussion by all of all forms of the family. They must now respect that commitment going forward.

Some States, supported by civil society, had attempted during the informal negotiations to ensure that the resolution clearly acknowledged and addressed the fact that the family is also a setting in which human rights abuses sometimes take place. According to the UN Secretary General, the most common form of violence experienced by women globally is intimate partner violence, commonly referred to as domestic violence, which includes marital rape. These States affirmed that protection of the human rights of individuals within every family should be of paramount concern to the Human Rights Council.

Their efforts were partially successful: Egypt eventually agreed that the Panel topic would be “on the protection of the family and its members to address the implementation of States’ obligations under relevant provisions of international human rights law and to discuss challenges and best practices in this regard” (emphasis added). A preambular paragraph was also added that reaffirms “that States have the primary responsibility to promote and protect the human rights and fundamental freedoms of all human beings, including women, children and older persons”. Unfortunately, the text of the resolution still does not give enough emphasis to this important aspect.

Following the defeat of the “diversity” amendment, the resolution remained so deeply flawed that many States were effectively compelled to vote against or abstained on the resolution. Those States are to be highly commended.  Austria, Chile, Czech Republic, Estonia, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Montenegro, Republic of Korea, Romania, UK, USA voted against the resolution. Argentina, Brazil, Costa Rica, Mexico, Peru and Macedonia abstained. (Cuba was absent for both votes).

It is also noteworthy that Saudi Arabia and Pakistan had tabled an amendment that attempted by implication to limit the concept of family to forms based on “the union of a man and a woman”, though this was eventually withdrawn.

It is important that the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, who is responsible for organizing the panel discussion, ensures that the Panel contributes to the promotion and protection of rights of individuals within families in all their diversity.

Our organizations will continue to insist on recognition that various forms of the family exist, and that individuals should not be discriminated against as a result of the form of family to which they happen to belong. States should not fail to promote and protect the rights of persons because they belong to particular forms of family. We will continue to insist that the promotion and protection of the human rights of individuals within all families must be of the paramount importance to the UN Human Rights Council.

 Action Canada for Population and Development

Amnesty International

ARC International

Article 19

Coalition of African Lesbians

COC Netherlands

Colectivo Ovejas Negras


Defence for Children International – DCI Costa Rica


Federation for Women and Family Planning

Franciscans International

International Commission of Jurists

International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association

International Service for Human Rights

Make Mothers Matter

Sexual Rights Initiative

Truth and Reconciliation for the Adoption Community of Korea

Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom

World Young Women’s Christian Association

The draft resolution was submitted by Angola, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Benin, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Botswana, Burkina Faso, China, Côte d’Ivoire, Egypt, El Salvador, Ethiopia (on behalf of the Group of African States), Indonesia, Jordan, Lebanon, Mauritania, Morocco, Namibia, Nigeria, Philippines, Qatar, Russian Federation, Sierra Leone, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Tunisia, Uganda, and Zimbabwe.

The amendment was proposed by Argentina, Austria, Chile, Colombia, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Guatemala, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Lithuania, Malta, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, United States of America and Uruguay.

The voting for the no action motion was as follows: In favour: Algeria, Benin, Botswana, Burkina Faso, China, Congo, Cote D’Ivoire, Ethiopia, India, Indonesia, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Kuwait, Morocco, Namibia, Pakistan, Russian Federation, Saudi Arabia, Sierra Leone, South Africa, UAE, Venezuela. Against: Argentina, Austria, Brazil, Chile, Costa Rica, Czech Republic, Estonia, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Montenegro, Peru, Republic of Korea, Romania, Macedonia, UK, USA. Abstained: Gabon, Maldives, Philippines, Viet Nam. Cuba were out of the room at the time of the vote.

A/61/122/Add.1, 6 July 2006, In-depth study on all forms of violence against women: Report of the Secretary-General, para. 112.

The proposed amendment read: “Recognising that men and women of full age, without any limitation due to race, nationality or religion, have the rights to marry and to found a family, bearing in mind that marriage is a union between a man and a woman.” 

Zebra woman

Olga Bialostocka
Olga Bialostocka

By Olga Bialostocka

Why are you whistling and hissing at me when you walk past? Why are you catcalling me from the window of your taxi? Is it my hair, my look, or just the fact that I’m a woman? I didn’t ask for your degrading “compliments” or your intrusive advances. I didn’t look at you to give you a green light. So stop leering at me.  And don’t wrap it all up in race relations. Your colour, my colour, our colour have nothing to do with who I am.

Squeezed in a taxi, I almost hear your thoughts. I know the rules, the signs, the code. Where are you going? Why are you alone? Aren’t you afraid? …. Should I? Can I pick you up? May I know your name? … Should you? Don’t judge me on account of your ignorance. Sho’t left driver!

Walking in the concrete jungle, I learn the lingo of the streets. “Jah lady” drags behind me like a shadow. If I pass you over, it is because I do not talk to strangers. It is because I do not have time and interest to stop at every male “hello”. For a mere “hello” returned is rarely enough to stop the exchange, is rarely taken as a token of greeting; more often it is considered a sign of consent, a signal that fuels an unsolicited conversation: too many questions from strangers who want to be acknowledged. Should this flatter me?

“Hello” means “Good day”. “Hello”, I want to be nice. “Hello”, I’m not disregarding you. Nothing more, nothing less. Hello stops there. So, don’t follow me with your stories and don’t try to force open the closed door with your guilty trips. “Hello” means the same in black, white and blue. Don’t dress it up according to your taste.

Silence has no colour, either. It tastes the same whether you’re tall, short, well dressed or a beggar. Does it make you feel like a real man when I turn around towards your shouting? Does it make you more powerful to call me a racist, because I didn’t smile at your nagging? Through the colour of your skin, I see your soul. Why can’t you see mine behind this female attire!

I wear dreadlocks because I like it that way. My hair can be blond and straight or black and curly, that’s my choice. Whatever it is, it will not make me a different person than I truly am. My pants, my skirts, my heels and my pumps are not my secret message. They are just the outer shell that tricks you into thinking you know who I am. De gustibus non est disputandum (in matters of taste there can be no disputes). Black and white is not a lifestyle. I have black friends who dance with me to kwaito. I have white friends who know that coconut is but a fruit. And I like coffee with milk, no sugar added.

In the black-and-white world, I see the monochromatic rainbow. I don’t want to play chess with you, for I choose not to choose, not to decide on either black or white “type of life”, not to follow the colour. I’ve never got inside the frame of your bias. So don’t try to lock me in the cage of xenophobic anxiety. For in fear hatred is born. Don’t accuse me of prejudice, when I refuse to “touch your blood”. Red or blue, it doesn’t wear a label.

Street harassment is your name, my gentleman. And I’ve no respect for you, just anger. Anger that kills my freedom. Freedom that waited at the end of a long walk. Don’t ruin it with just a small jump.

A curious case of the headscarf

Athambile Masola
Athambile Masola

by Athambile Masola

I love wearing headscarves, also known as a doek or iqhiya. The first time I wore a headscarf I must have been about 3 years old. It was part of my bedtime ritual because Mama had plaited my hair and the only way to keep the hair neat overnight was to make sure I wore iqhiya. Going to sleepovers and school camps became very awkward because my white friends couldn’t understand why I slept with something on my head. Sometimes it wouldn’t be iqhiya but my mother’s stockings. This became the source of great shock when I realised that not all women wore headscarves to be as I had been brought up to believe. I would try to explain that apart from wanting to preserve the plaits in my hair, I didn’t want to get the pillows dirty with the hair food I used. Hair food is also known as hair moisturiser-something black women swear by.

When I wasn’t around my white friends the headscarf was the norm. Most of my black friends wore them or the awkward, old stockings that chafed ones hairline (injibhabha) if worn for too long. As teenagers we began teasing each other wondering what would happen one day when we end up in a room with a guy and we are in the heat of having sex or getting ready for bed. Would a headscarf be an appropriate part of that kind of bedtime routine? Would men be able to understand the importance of wearing the headscarf? The joke was always about, what kind of black guy would want to sleep with someone who wears a headscarf to bed; it would remind him of his mother because chances are his mother wears a doek to bed. And woe to the black woman who ended up with a white or coloured guy who may never have grown up with his mother wearing anything on her head at bedtime. Even when I had no hair I still wore a headscarf. For comfort and for the chilliness that comes with having no hair.

Headscarves are not sexy enough for the bedroom. Whatever the bedroom ritual might be for a black woman and her guy, at no point does it allow for you to grab your headscarf just before bedtime. The truth is, the only vision we have of a woman wearing a headscarf is the “Mammy”, the maid. And no-one wants to look like the maid in the bedroom (unless you’re into role playing in the bedroom). I’ve begun to think of the headscarf as one of the symbols that remind us about what is or isn’t beautiful. When watching Hollywood movies and a black woman is lucky enough to be featured, there is no headscarf. Even where the movie has a “black cast”, there are no headscarves, mostly weaves and maybe braids. The image of the woman with a headscarf is reserved for the oppressed Muslim woman who wears a burka.

I also enjoy wearing headscarves during the day, especially in winter or when I’m having a bad hair day. I hear many compliments on the day I wear a headscarf. I’ve even been told “You look so African!” because wearing a headscarf is associated with the quintessential African woman. This representation of African beauty and the headscarf surprised me since images of black woman in any mainstream media don’t have the headscarf (except when headscarves became the rage a few years ago; a rage which was short-lived). Have you ever seen a news reader wearing a headscarf? Have you ever seen an actress wearing a headscarf (and not the one acting the cancer patient)? If it wasn’t for images of the two African women who are presidents, I doubt I would have seen any woman wearing a headscarf on TV.

Growing up, my mother never went to church without covering her head. For her, covering ones head was a sign of modesty. When we moved to the suburbs she made a conscious decision to no longer wear a headscarf during the day, especially when she went to a school function. She didn’t want to be misunderstood for someone coming to the school asking for a job. Living in Cape Town and being surrounded by Muslim women who wear headscarves has brought me some comfort. Granted, they wear their scarves for religious reasons but it’s comforting to know that there are many images of what it means to be a woman and to be beautiful: we don’t all have to aspire for the Hollywood look that aims to make all women look the same-thin, light or white skin with wavy hair- without any variety in our beauty.


Genna Gardini
Genna Gardini photo by Paris Brummer

By Genna Gardini


You cannot be liked

You cannot be loved

You cannot have sex

You cannot have good sex

You cannot fuck the people you want – well,

You cannot really have wanted to fuck them, then

You cannot live a long life. I mean, that’s a medical fact, so don’t even start

You cannot pose nude for art

You cannot like clothes

You cannot be in these photos

You cannot get married. Sorry? Ok, so

You cannot want to get married because you’re trying to convince me it’s your choice instead of his – hey?

You cannot be gay. You’re only saying that because you’re sure no man would ever choose

You cannot have children because it’s genetic

You cannot blame genetics because you’re just lazy

You cannot have issues, that’s such an easy excuse

You cannot enjoy food! I enjoy food, your friends enjoy food, Nigella enjoys food and we don’t look like

You cannot get yelled at in the street. Alright, you can get yelled at in the street but it will always be about this and not

You cannot ask me to stop because I’m just joking and lighten up and see what I did there

You cannot tell me it’s not my place to say so when it’s your health I’m thinking of

You cannot think properly because there are too many layers blocking your brain

You cannot be so cushioned and say you are in pain

You cannot do anything but write because you only have to use your fingers for that, look at your cousin, she abseils

You cannot be good at Maths or you would know what you add up to on the scale of

You cannot get to heaven because how would you climb all those stairs –

You cannot believe in God because the rest of you is in the way, if there was less you’d believe in more

You cannot shop in this store

You cannot be told that you look beautiful without me muttering “for…”

You cannot go to Paris (it’s in their VISA requirements)

You cannot survive in the Antarctic

You cannot survive in the Atlantic

You cannot survive me

You cannot achieve anything without them saying “Good for her, but what a pity she”

You cannot touch yourself (how would you reach?)

You cannot let someone else touch you

You cannot let someone else not touch you

You cannot be telling the truth, why would he do that to you when he could have any other

You cannot fit into this skin I made for

You cannot wear that swimsuit because

You cannot cut your hair so short, what will distract them from

You cannot have a problem that is not caused by

You cannot understand that you’d be so much happier if you’d just lose

You cannot still be so unhappy now, after all that, maybe you just need to

You cannot talk about the things you thought you couldn’t have and couldn’t do like it was such a big deal you managed to work your way through (you are the big deal, literally), like it took you till now, from when you were only a kid to realise I was the weight you needed to be rid of. Honestly,

You cannot be so sensitive when we all know that this isn’t what I mean every time I call you


The Fear

Rumbi Gorgens
Rumbi Gorgens

By Rumbi Gorgens

A feminist shit-storm of epic proportions ensued two weeks ago when Lily Allen released her clever, satirical video for her track Hard out Here. The video features, amongst other things, a medley of women, many black, dancing in the fashion we’ve become accustomed to in this age of Miley Cyrus and Robin Thicke. Why use other women’s bodies – specifically black women’s bodies – to make an otherwise valid and important argument, her detractors asked? Allen has done this sort of satire before, but with a more self-referential, less tongue-in-cheek tone: 2009’s The Fear focused mainly on how alienating the culture of celebrity and its demands on young women can be. Over a catchy, upbeat backing track, she sings:

And I’ll take my clothes off and it will be shameless
‘Cause everyone knows that’s how you get famous
I’ll look at the sun and I’ll look in the mirror
I’m on the right track, yeah I’m on to a winner
I don’t know what’s right and what’s real anymore
And I don’t know how I’m meant to feel anymore
When do you think it will all become clear?
‘Cause I’m being taken over by the Fear

That video is also far more inward-looking and features only Allen wending her way through the world as she considers the options before her as a young woman in the entertainment industry. Hard out Heres lyrics are harder, angrier and the video also includes various representatives of the tone-setters of this culture (and, by extension, the villains): a white, male record executive and a few cold plastic surgeons who make fun of Allen as they perform liposuction.

A few weeks after the Allen shit-storm, I finally watched Sexy Baby, a 2012 documentary that tracks three women who, much like Allen inThe Fear, are making their way through our openly, violently misogynistic, exploitative culture. Nakita Kash is an adult film star and a stripper, who is battling to find normal and her identity outside of the porn industry which she sees as far too ubiquitous; Laura is a teaching assistant in her early 20s who is preparing and saving for an expensive labiaplasty procedure; and Winnifred, whose story scared me the most, is a middle schooler, navigating the culture just as puberty and all of the chaos it brings hits.

Watching Sexy Baby made me as angry as Lily Allen is in Hard out Here. Winnifred’s and Laura’s stories were especially upsetting. We are told our place is as objects, we must be sexy (read skinny, with big boobs and a big butt, and a labia that looks like just like a porn stars), and present, without being too loud (in fact, if we could just wear as little as possible and say nothing – that would be great).

These messages have weight and so much currency that there are women, like Nakita Kash, who build livelihoods and careers on being a part of transmitting them. At the same time, women like Winnifred and Laura are internalising these messages and the constant self-policing and societal surveillance, and are being taken over by the fear they produce. It is harrowing to watch.

In one especially distressing scene, we discover that Winnifred has had her Facebook privileges revoked. The crime was to post a video of her four year old sister rapping along to an explicit song: the video gets a stream of comments and ‘likes’ – people find a four year old girl gyrating, thrusting and rapping about ‘bitches’ and ‘hoes’ extremely click-worthy. To watch this young woman who, when we meet her at the start of the movie, is acting in a play that asks of a Soulja Boy song (and no, I will not link to it), “Who’s the ho” become someone who says “Facebook is, like, 30% of my life” is alarming.

Then there’s Laura, whose mother takes her to her surgery. In the hours preceding her surgery, Laura talks about how it will change her life. She describes how just making the decision has already changed her attitude and how she will meet her life goals (one of which is to become a model) once it is done. After the surgery, we see her return to the life and the job she had before, with few, if any, of the material details having changed.

Nakita Kash, the oldest of the three women featured, has a different story. She is very clear on her feelings about porn. It doesn’t reflect real life, and the way in which it bleeds into the mainstream doesn’t bode well for our relationships with one another as human beings. She teaches a pole dancing class, an activity she says allows her to be ‘Nicholle’ (her real name) and use what she’s learned as Nakita in another way. She remarks “Women come to me to learn pole dancing and they want to be Nakita, and Nicholle just wants to be like them”. Unlike the other two subjects, we see Nakita/Nicholle retreat behind the boundaries she sets up between herself and the porn world. She works within the industry and the culture it is a part of, but is ironically the furthest of the three women from it, both at the beginning and at the end of the movie.

I understand and can relate to the fear Lily Allen describes, but watching these women’s stories, I also understand the rage that inspired Hard out Here. Enough already. As we speak there are at least two generations of young women (represented by Laura and Winnifred) who think that the problem lies with them. So they crash diet, they wear as little as possible, they suck out and cut off parts of their body, trying to be enough, be beautiful, be sexy, be the standard. And it keeps getting worse. And there are more and more ways for the worst to be transmitted, unfiltered, undiluted right into women’s lives. It is eating them – us – alive. And, yes, there is pain and there is fear, but I appreciate Allen’s response which boils down to “Wait a second!? There is a society at fault here, and I’m calling it out.”

Yes, the video is gratuitous. But I think what it does is drive home the message that even as we participate in this culture (like Nakita Kash, like Lily’s dancers) – and many of us do – we do not accept it as our fault, as something that we do to ourselves. As the black women in her video twerk per the instructions of the middle-aged white guy, Allen sings (over another aggressively cheerful backing track):

Don’t need to shake my ass for you
‘Cause I’ve got a brain
If I told you about my sex life
You’d call me a slut
Them boys be talking ’bout their bitches
No one’s making a fuss
There’s a glass ceiling to break, uh huh
There’s money to make
And now it’s time to speed it up
‘Cause I can’t move at this pace

Enough. Enough internalising this bullshit culture and letting it send perfectly healthy women into operating rooms for needless, dangerous surgeries. Enough of a world that produces 12 year olds who can casually say “It doesn’t matter that I dress like a ho, at least I don’t act like one”. It is hard out here (for a bitch), and I appreciate Allen’s track as a reminder that there are active forces at play who make it hard. Identifying the enemy (yeah, I said it) makes it easier to fight. The problem with talking about the internal effects of this misogynistic culture is that we run the risk of confusing effect and cause and we lose sight of where the roots of the problem actually lie. Where does that leave us? In a place where we bemoan the culture but aren’t too clear on how to fix things. As Allen sings:

Inequality promises that it’s here to stay
Always trust the injustice ’cause it’s not going away

To that we ought to say: Enough.

Why we shouldn’t be calling Melissa Bachman a ‘gross whore’

Tammy Sutherns
Tammy Sutherns

By Tammy Sutherns

Let’s accept that many of us are not fond of hunting nor can understand the killing of animals for sport.

Let’s accept that boasting about it on social media is even more disturbing and bound to create some sort of backlash.

Let’s accept that the killing of a beautiful, male lion, for all intensive aesthetic purposes, doesn’t sit well with a lot of people.

Let’s discard, for a moment, the debates around hunting being legal and focus on an open letter by a blogger named ‘Scoob’, which has received a lot of attention over the last week or so.

“This is in reference to the social media outcry yesterday, when the woman in question posted a victorious photo of her and a dead male lion she had shot in an enclosed environment,” the blogger writes. “Please note that that this letter is not intended to discriminate against woman (we can assume blogger meant ‘women’) or the female race in any way, shape or form. Just one woman. Because she’s a gross whore and regresses the gender exponentially.”

Sorry, what?

I’m not sure how someone killing a lion has any bearing on my gender or the ‘female race’ as a whole, but it’s absolutely absurd to even confuse the issues.

Also, Scoob, a ‘whore’ refers to a prostitute or a sex worker. I suspect you need to re-evaluate your synonyms for ‘hunter’, ‘heartless’ or even ‘killer’.

Scoob’s open letter to Melissa then goes on to infer incestuous sexual relations with her cousin, hopes that she contracted AIDS while visiting our country (way to sell SA as a tourist destination there Scoob) and says:

“Quite honestly, if it wasn’t for the fact that horned up Americans flutter their eyes at anything with tits, you would just be another burly tobacco chewing bearded redneck killing shit and getting average ratings. So congrats on pimping yourself out with guns, you’re a role model to children all over the world.”

Scoob, Scoob, Scoob.

Did you not hear that in this 21st century that we live in, women are perfectly capable of being lambasted for their actions without having their gender or sex bought into the mix? You’ve undermined all intellect in your argument – and there are some valid points in your letter – by reverting back to the childish and archaic tradition of making the issue about the fact that she is a woman. A slow-clap for completely diverting us away from the real issue here.

I’d be interested to know if you found that Bill Clinton’s sex scandal regressed the ‘male race’ or if Hitler, who you liken Melissa to in your letter, was a ‘male-whore’ for his actions during the Holocaust. Because you have to admit, if you went around calling Rasputin or Starlin gross sluts, people would be wondering what the hell you were on.

Let’s stick to facts here Scoob and face the issue of hunting head on and let’s leave Melissa’s ‘tits’ out of it.

Becoming a woman in my black skin

Athambile Masola
Athambile Masola

By Athambile Masola

Athambile reflects upon the resistence amongst African-American women in the 1800s and how this influences the struggles of black women today.
I’ve been reading a book by Paula Giddings, Where and When I enter: the impact of Blackwomen on race and sex in America. Reading a book about the history of African-American women led me to consider my own narrative of what it has meant becoming a woman at a time when people are rushing towards a post racist society as though history had no bearing on our present.
I first encountered the narrative of resistance amongst African-American women when I read Sojourner Truth’s “Ain’t I a woman”. It’s a stirring piece from a speech she made in 1851. It was the first evidence I saw that slaves in America didn’t accept their fate at the hands of slave owners. They resisted. Understanding the resistance of black women through a slave narrative has widened my perspective on the importance of being a woman and I how I make the rights I have a real life experience. Once upon a time women were at the bottom of the food chain where they were mere objects that could be bought and sold. The children they bore were not their own but they became part of a system where they were sold before they were even born. The assault on women’s bodies has a history beyond what we see in the form of rape and domestic violence today.
When I read about the resistance of black women in Africa, especially South Africa I was moved when I realised that once upon a time black women in South Africa had the status of minors. Their movements and inheritance were dependent upon the sons and male relatives they had in their lives. Prioritising the education of black women has a brief history in relation to how white women were protected and often benefited from systems that oppressed black women.
Knowing what I know about black women who have challenged the limitations placed on them because of their class, gender and race I realise I am not a renegade, I just happen to have read and met other black women who are comfortable in their own skin and know that I can live my life as though I were dancing to the rhythm of my own music. Beyond my home of many mothers (my mother, my aunts and grandmother) who were working class women, loud, big, crass but economically oppressed in a system of apartheid, it wasn’t until high school that I began to realise that there’s another narrative for being black and female in the world. When I started high school I encountered a group of senior girls who set the standard for what it meant to be a “cool black girl”. They oozed confidence and set the standard for what it meant to be a black girl at a time where Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera became popular or black women who resembled the petite femininity we saw on TV that did not reflect what we saw in the mirror.
The senior girls in my school were not the prototype. They were opinionated, smart (they cared about not only passing academically but forming an opinion about what mattered), they laughed out loud, very loud and didn’t listen when teachers told them they were being loud they didn’t toe the line. They were big girls, tall and they had presence when they walked around the school (I didn’t think of them as bullies, except for maybe Soso who had a stinging sense of humour). I moved aside for them in the passage not out of fear because they were seniors but mostly out of awe. And when they spoke to me as though I mattered I became a star-struck junior. They also had wonderful names that were distinct: Navabe (who was many years ahead of me but became infamous for starting a trend of wearing her socks differently and her girdle on her hips much to the teachers’ chagrin) Zoya, Vangile, Ghana (who had the most eccentric dress sense I’d ever seen), Duda (this was actually her surname), Thulani and many others who gave me a different representation of what it means to be black and female in the new South Africa. They were often in trouble for sneaking out of the hostel and drinking when they should have been. They dared to break the rules.
Zoya had dreadlocks even though the school had colonial rules about how we were supposed to wear our hair. They became my example of what it means not to be the norm and to be comfortable in that category. They were nobody’s darlings. I think about them when I read about the resistance of black women in South Africa and African-American women in America and realise that a different resistance took place in my high school. The representation of black female bodies has always been under siege but I am lucky to live in a time where this is being challenged. It’s okay to be loud, opinionated or not. It’s okay to consider being a wife or not. It’s okay to be who I want to be on what I think of as my terms. And when I think about this reality I am drawn to Anne Julia Cooper‘s words: “Only a black woman can say ‘where and when I enter in the quiet undisputed dignity of my womanhood, without violence and without suing or special patronage, then and there the whole…race enters with me”. She said these words in 1892 when black women in America for fighting for equal rights and ending slavery. These words remind me of the importance of what it means being a black women and the gains that have been made and are yet to be made. Liberating women, in this case black women who are still oppressed, is not about eliminating anyone else. It’s about liberating the human race from sexist, racist, classist ideas that are dangerous for now and future generations. When we consider the history of black women, it’s not enough to consider it through one lens but multiple eyes and consider the complexity of gender, race, sexual orientation and class and recognise the privileges I have: the privilege of being comfortable in my own skin.

We Don’t Want Your Moral Outrage

Thorne Godinho
Thorne Godinho

By Thorne Godinho

A recent viral video depicting crude bullying at Höerskool Overkruin in Pretoria certainly ought to have raised some eyebrows. The rof-en-onbeskof pupils’ hair-pulling, smacking, pushing and swearing has been shared by nearly 8000 people on Facebook, and I have been following the conversations streaming from the supposedly apocalyptic vision this video illustrates.

Although the commentary on social media often doesn’t amount to substantive engagement with the topic at hand, it can be a good barometer of public perception overall. When two girls in perfect red uniforms decided to kick, push and bully another girl everyone on Facebook angrily spoke of how “unrespectable” these women were. South Africans spoke about corporal punishment, and the failure of the male pupils to protect the victim. This misplaced moral outrage dominated the social media discourse, pushing the real issues of abuse, violence and victimisation to the curb.

Moral outrage is an effective tool – it breeds further outrage, and allows for emotion to override reason. Moral outrage disturbs debate and engagement in such a manner that the issue is never really addressed – it is only spoken about in hyperbolic fires of upset and anxiety. I witnessed this kind of misplaced unreason two weeks ago as I watched students from the University of Pretoria who were running for SRC “twerk for change”. The outrage expressed on twitter over a small campaign managed to make me cringe, whilst also bruising my ego a bit (I confess: I had convinced the candidates to get students interested in the election by twerking in public). Twerking soon represented an affront to gender relations in the workplace, and the dignity of women everywhere.

Men who commented that women who twerk cannot be taken seriously and thus should not demand to be taken seriously in the workplace, received multiple endorsements from other slacktivists – male and female. The real issues (student politics) and the real debates surrounding the sometimes overtly sexist criticism expressed on social media platforms were ignored. Beyond shifting the goal posts, moral outrage can also serve as a vehicle for sexism and misogyny. In the wake of something disturbing (like bullying) or innocuous but controversial (like twerking), people often reveal their penchant for outdated views of women, femininity and masculinity through criticism and inane commentary.

The more subtle variant of this outrage can be found in the exaggerated suppositions made in support of a common cause such as preventing sexual violence. For example, most people wouldn’t be upset by a car sticker proclaiming that “real men don’t rape!”, but this kind of statement (which is more like an unproven hypothesis) doesn’t actually support the fight against sexual violence. Creating an other (the rapist, who is not a real man because of his crimes) in this instance actually presents an affront to any kind of meaningful debate and action on the issue of rape. When society pretends that the other is the only problem it fails to solve the underlying problems which perpetuate sexual violence, and thus fails to promote the equality and freedom of women.

The only group who benefits from this subtle moral outrage is the ‘real man’ who isn’t a rapist. In other words: men who are not guilty of sexual crimes are absolved of any responsibility for the actions of their peers – who are real men too. The men who are not guilty of rape can pretend that the overwhelming culture of inequality promoted in the home and church do not have any kind of bearing on the fact that real men do rape women. The men who are not guilty of rape can pretend that their cat-calling and displays of machismo and violence do not result in an environment which is hostile to women.

How convenient.

A keyboard and the unpredictable, fast-paced nature of internet content makes it easy for your friends, followers on twitter and the people who hide behind anonymity online to smother debate and engagement through unreasonable hyperbole. Closing off the space for these people to stoke the fires of internet-anger (and sometimes: the accompanying misogyny) is easy: call them out, take them on, and clear out the crowd who refuse to engage in a meaningful way. By pushing moral outrage to the edge we’d be doing a great service to real engagement and discourse, whilst also preventing the perpetuation of sexism and misogyny.

15 October – Substantially flawed Traditional Courts Bill back before NCOP


After almost a year of no movement, the TCB has suddenly reappeared on the agenda of the National Council of Provinces’ select committee for security and constitutional development. The Bill is to be discussed clause by clause on Tuesday 15 October after the process stalled in November 2012.

“The widespread opposition to the Bill shows that no clause-by-clause discussion can fix what is fundamentally wrong with this Bill. It has to be withdrawn in its entirety,” says Thuto Thipe, Researcher at the Rural Women’s Action Research (RWAR) Programme at the Centre for Law and Society, University of Cape Town.

According to Dr Aninka Claassens, Director of RWAR, “this is effectively the same Bill as was first introduced to the National Assembly in 2008. This Bill’s substantial content and the procedure followed in its drafting are beyond repair. In spite of its many flaws, the ANC seems intent on ramming it through. One can only assume that it aims to please traditional leaders in the run-up to the election next year. But this is a false promise, as this Bill will not stand up to constitutional scrutiny.”

She adds: “In the face of the storm of protest that the Bill elicited, both President Jacob Zuma and Minister Jeff Radebe made far-reaching concessions about inherent problems and the need for major changes over a year ago. Yet it is the flawed original version that is once again before the NCOP.”

Dr Mbongiseni Buthelezi, Senior Researcher at RWAR, adds that, “pushing the Bill through would be a slap in the face of the many rural communities that have gone to great lengths to attend the public hearings and who have opposed the Bill consistently since 2008.”

At tomorrow’s (Tuesday) meeting, the nine provincial delegations will again present their mandates and decisions will be taken clause by clause. These mandates, formulated after public participation, were first presented to the committee way back on 30 May 2012.

  • · Provinces against the Bill: Gauteng, Western Cape, Eastern Cape and the North West.
  • · Provinces in favour of the Bill but suggesting conflicting and wide-ranging amendments: Limpopo, Free State, Northern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal.
  • · Mpumalanga requested an extension to further deliberate on the Bill.

Instead of considering the mandates, the committee controversially considered re-opening the provincial consultation process. However, MPs rejected this proposal, after which it was decided to embark upon a national consultation process. The committee’s summary of the national hearings was distributed to provincial delegations at its last meeting on the Bill in November 2012.

Details of meeting on Tuesday 15 October:

Venue: Good Hope Chamber, Good Hope Building, Parliament, Cape Town. Time: 10am-1pm

For further comment:

Dr Aninka Claassens 084 510 2333

Thuto Thipe 076 582 9467

Dr Mbongiseni Buthelezi 082 521 4795

For more on what is at stake for ordinary South Africans, visit: www.customcontested.co.za/laws-and-policies/traditional-courts-bill-tcb

Dear Advertising Agencies – part two

Lizl Morden
Lizl Morden

By Lizl Morden

Hello, advertisers. Me again. It has been almost a year since I wrote voicing my opinion of your opinion of gender and its stereotypes. I thought it would be fun to have a look at your work since then. Well I was wrong; it was not fun at all. It was rather disheartening.  Since this is an article and not a book I’ll just go over the highlights.

I’m just going to point out that these are ads I did not mention last time , so this excludes sexists ads from last year that are still airing. All-new sexism in your lounge. And these are only TV ads, not including print and radio. (Any takers to cover sexism in those media?) Let’s get straight into it:

• Vodacom – Errol. The nagging wife and hen-pecked husband. Does this poor woman not know how to use a lawn mower? I don’t, but if I were married to man who was as reluctant to mow the lawn as Errol is you bet your sweet ass I’d learn. Ain’t nobody got time for ticks. Does Errol not know where the off button on his phone is? (Google it brah. Or ask Siri.) Do the people at this agency have a creative bone in their bodies?

• KFC (you again, hi!) – double down (aside from a heart attack in foil and tasting like a bad 80s action movie from what the ad tells me). Men, real men, eat manly food. Yes, there is such a thing is manly food. #sarcasm. And real men cannot verbally express themselves. They are basically cavemen with bad hairstyles.

• and then we have Spur – Daddy bear. A hungry man is literally an animal! I think I see a trend…

• Lays – Brazilian police officer in a traffic jam. This is plainly sexual harassment! “Aw c’mon”, I hear you protest, “it’s just a little bit of fun”. Try this: if the sexes of the parties involved were switched, I’m pretty sure there would be many complaints. While I do agree that the man is way hot, I do not think that is any reason to feel him up (without his permission and as a person in a position of authority) and steal his chips.

• Paco Rabanne – Lady million. Gender stereotyping. Of course, all woman only want tons of shoes and big diamonds.  Another ad is objectification pure and simple. When the man clicks his fingers the woman does something (strips), plus she ends up as literal golden object.

• Handy Andy – cleaning knight. It’s a cleaning knight! Smile face …. and the knight is a woman. Frowny face. It’s great that the knight is a woman but a male knight doing domestic chores would be even better.

•Vanish – embarrassing for my husband. I did mention this ad last time but now I have video evidence. You know what is embarrassing? This ad. For all humans everywhere.

• CTM – cheapskate husband , easily offended wife, man is offended when he is told his womanly side is coming out. As if only (and all) women have an eye for tiles.

• Shield – Do more. The men do physical things like playing table tennis while the women do physical things like walking down a catwalk. The passivity of women and some male gaze, anyone? Or, at the very least, different levels of physical activity.

But it’s not all bad! Shout out to:
• Toyota for having a woman driving a bakkie in their ad
• Omo for having a girl kick a muddy soccer ball
• Sunfoil: A man is cooking! And he’s not braaing.
• Dettol cream cleaner: Usually in ads for domestic products (omo, knorrox and ariel spring to mind) women are the consumers and men are the scientists. But this dettol ad shows a woman (who is also the consumer) in a lab coat. Progress. I like it.

I included links where I could find them so you could see the sexism I speak of with your own eyes. And I really did not go looking to find ads that offend me. They just appeared on my screen with their offensiveness.

As a somewhat related aside, I would like to challenge beer companies and their advertisers to produce an advert that features women actually enjoying beer. Actually enjoying it of their own volition, not as a guilty pleasure or as a guy thing. Do this and I will figuratively do a song and a dance about it (and maybe even support that brand and its gender-neutral beverage…).

As ever, yours sincerely

Forget the skirt, arrest the fashion police

This post was originally posted on the Mail and Guardian Thoughtleader platform, and has been reproduced here with permission of the authors (detailed at the end of the post)

If Lindiwe Mazibuko and Angie Motshekga appear poles apart politically, there is one reality they have shared socially — being subjected to public sexist insults.

Mazibuko’s case is only the latest in a number of public incidents where women are dismissed on the basis of body, age and dress — that age old language of reminding women that even when we have earned our right to leadership, we are not truly to be taken seriously in the public sphere.

This kind of belittling manifests itself even more aggressively in public spaces outside the plush carpets of Parliament. Too often these scenes play out in our taxi ranks where black women are punished for owning their bodies.

The pattern of crowd subjecting the woman to humiliation is remarkably similar. Like in the taxi rank, the scene had its ring leaders (‘bra Manamela and ‘ta Jeffery), cheering spectators, mostly older women (imbokodo), who watched as the patriarchs disciplined the wayward woman who is, in their eyes, a perpetual minor.

But this letter is not about Mazibuko.

It is about all black women. From the taxi rank to the Parliament women are subjected to sexist insults and are undermined regardless of their position and role as leaders. Respect is now reserved for men, some defended on the basis of their so-called “eldership” rather than political office.

Potso ke hore: tlhompho le thlomphano ke eng? Re botsa hore re utloisise hore na baholo ba reng ha ba re Lindiwe Mazibuko o hloka tlhompho. Tlhompho le tlhomphano tsebong ea rona ke tlama-thata; baholo ba bonts’a tlhompho ho baena hore baena ba tsebe tlhompho ea ho itlhompha le ho ba hlompha.

Ngabe abafazi inhlonipho ayibafanelanga na? Ngoba kutheni thina siyaqhizwa esidlangalaleni?

Kwezinye intsuku kuthiwa sityebe okwee “mvumbu” okanye okwee “ndlovu”. Ngenye sithi sibukele umabonakude sibone iibloomers zabafazi sivezwa esidlangalaleni.

Lusikizi olu.

Nontsizi Mgqwetho rightly proclaimed that “asinak’ukuthula umhlaba ubolile” (we cannot keep quiet while the world is rotting); in this case, we cannot keep silent because the decay is playing itself on our bodies.

Njengo kuba sinibeke pha ePalamente, asinibekelanga ukuba nichithe ixesha ne mali yethu niphikisana ngeempahla zethu bafazi. As former police commissioner Bheki Cele once said — stop playing fashion police, just do your jobs!

Signed by:

Nomalanga Mkhize (lecturer, history, Rhodes University).
Mathe Maema (PhD candidate, computer science, Rhodes University).
Babalwa Magoqwana (lecturer, sociology, Rhodes University).
Siphokazi Magadla (lecturer, politics, Rhodes University).

* We have chosen to write the letter in three languages, English, Sotho and Xhosa. We do so because we believe that as feminists, specifically black feminists, we lose the debate even before we start if we use English. We need to be able to articulate this feminism in our own languages. We also wish to respond in a language that the people involved will understand. Thus we are not willing to translate the message into English. In this country, it should be easy for the English speakers to find someone to translate the bits they do not understand. This is an act that all other South Africans do on a daily basis, translating English into their languages. The reverse should also be possible and not peculiar.

An ode to Adrienne

Tammy Sutherns
Tammy Sutherns

By Tammy Sutherns

American poet and feminist Adrienne Rich has been gone for over a year now, following her death at the age of 82 in March 2012. We should not forget what her work meant, however.

Born in 1929, Rich was always a poet and a writer. She was selected for the Yale Series of Younger Poets prize by W.H Auden himself in her graduation year in 1951 for A Change of World and published a second volume of poetry, The Diamond Cutters in 1955. Her talent is undisputed.

What is interesting about Rich is how her poetry and the changes in its content over the years reflected her own personal struggles as well as what was happening in the world at the time. She was married in her early twenties to a Harvard University economist named Alfred H. Conrad and had three sons before the age of 30. During this time her poetry was described by Randall Jarrell as, “The poet [behind these poems] cannot help seeming to us a sort of princess in a fairy tale.” In a time of female suppression, when women were merely the perfect domestic goddesses with no careers, finances or rights, it is no surprise that Rich’s poetry took on fairy tale proportions. However, her unease as a woman and a wife in this type of society is already implied. In Living in Sin she writes:

Meanwhile, he, with a yawn,
Sounded a dozen notes upon the keyboard,
Declared it out of tune, shrugged at the mirror,
Rubbed at his beard, when out for cigarettes,
While she, jeered by the minor demons,
Pulled back to the sheets and made the bed and found
A towel to dust the table-top,
And let the coffee-pot boil over on the stove.
By evening she was back in love again,
Though not so wholly but throughout the night
She woke sometimes to feel the daylight coming
Like a relentless milkman up the stairs.

These first attempts at trying to understand feminism became increasingly confrontational over the next few decades with Snapshots of a Daughter-in-Law and Leaflets exploring issues like a women’s role in society, the Vietnam War, and racism.
By 1997, Rich had completely established an identity as a feminist and an activist poet when she refused the National Medal of Arts and said,

“I could not accept such an award from President Clinton or this White House because the very meaning of art, as I understand it, is incompatible with the cynical politics of this administration. [Art] means nothing if it simply decorates the dinner table of the power which holds it hostage.”

One of Rich’s most famous collections is Diving into the Wreck, which she wrote during a time of women’s liberation, war and the civil rights movement. It was also during a time when she was struggling with her own sexuality and had separated from her husband. The poems are angry and beautiful and earned her the National Book Award in 1974.
In 1976 Rich and novelist and editor Michelle Cliff began a relationship, which would become lifelong. Her poetry began to explore lesbianism with Of Woman Born: Motherhood as Experience and Institution where she wrote,

“The suppressed lesbian I had been carrying in me since adolescence began to stretch her limbs.”

Rich’s development as a woman and the way she used poetry to explore these developments, eventually resulting in work that celebrated and came to terms with lesbian sexuality and a new found freedom in a difficult society, is a story of success.

Why it is important to remember Rich is because of how her poems and her words will never die. Her art exists for an eternity as a tribute and a beautiful example of how one woman went from a ‘50s wife to a feminist and an activist who had fully come to terms with her own sexuality. She is an example of how art can change the world and is a reminder of why we should continue to write about the issues currently destroying our own society like lack of education, rape, violence, abuse, unemployment and environmental pillage.

Do not put down the pen.

Why the March 2013 Playboy SA editorial is an epic fail

By Indira Govender

Indira Govender
Indira Govender

South Africa can be a real morass of paradoxical inequality.

Here we have parallel worlds: one in which parts of society are frequently victims of gruesome sexual and gender-based violence and another where pockets of relatively safe and secure society occasionally feel the urge to come together in collective hand-wringing and admonishing social commentary, that usually takes the form of open letters, opinion pieces published in editorials unlikely to be read by victims or perpetrators of brutality reported in the news, and solidarity marches.

The latest contribution to the communal furor on the scourge of gender-based violence in South Africa is none other than the editor of Playboy Magazine South Africa. I don’t read this magazine but the March 2013 edition was brought to my attention by a male colleague who wanted my opinion on it. Somewhere between the big, bold headline “SA SEX SURVEY” and a photo of a woman’s butt on the magazine’s cover, is the overused cliché  “No means no”, a rather trite platitude on the bandwagon of condemnation. You know things are bad when established magazines that peddle images of semi-naked women for profit and men’s entertainment feel compelled to speak out on sexual and gender-based violence (but with a careful layout that doesn’t compromise the obvious purpose of the magazine or spoil the profit margin). Alas, it didn’t end there.

The editor, clearly outraged at the dismal state of gender relations in South Africa, boldly goes above and beyond his mandate as purveyor of images objectifying women’s bodies and spews sanctimonious rhetoric about respect for women. In his quest to make a point and inspire his readers to change their ways, be proactive and behave respectfully towards women, he is seduced by the opportunity to blame our pathological society on the failed leadership of an unscrupulous and philandering President Zuma. The editor thwarts his noble intention self-indulgently using the editorial platform to air his personal ire towards the president.

In all fairness, and given the magnitude of gender-based violence in South Africa and the fact that there appears to be a revival of citizen activism opposing violence against women, the editorial committee of Playboy South Africa has a right to voice their opinion. However, considering the nature of the publication, I do believe there is a more sensitive, self-aware, informed and realistic way of expressing solidarity with women and indignation towards violence against women.

One could start by acknowledging that the problem in South Africa is out of control and that saying (shouting or screaming) “NO” means nothing when rapists punch their victims in the face, drug their drinks or disembowel their bodies. Sometimes it feels as if we’re a country at war with itself. I don’t believe that standing on a soapbox, self-righteously wagging a finger in the air is going to make a difference, that’s the reserve of politicians. I want to see less clichés and more direct action, less talking and more doing, especially from those who have the means and resources to make a difference.

Perhaps the editor of Playboy Magazine could have given the editorial space to a woman to speak on this issue? He could have at least researched the problem a bit better instead behaving as if he knows what the causes and solutions are and inadvertently re-enforcing the fact that we really do have long way to go.

‘Love-cuts’: The Misogynist’s Guide to Circumcision

Thorne Godinho
Thorne Godinho

By Thorne Godinho

As fate would have it: I was lying in a hospital bed when, for the first time, I saw one of the Department of Health-sponsored ‘Brothers for Life’ medical male circumcision (MMC) campaign adverts. It could have been an ordinary public health message about the benefits of medical circumcision (albeit one which is subject to much debate), in a bid to reduce the number of HIV transmissions.

But it wasn’t.

Instead, there was a nauseating injection of ‘cool’ and marketing swag into this campaign. And all of a sudden circumcision had become the ‘love-cut’, and men had to get theirs before the summer was over. In promoting a possibly healthier South Africa, this campaign has managed to further disempower women in the sexual contract, and stigmatise individuals who exercise their right to be ‘evil boys’ – men who refuse to bow to cultural views on masculinity.

The campaign (which has run for over a year but which only recently features the ‘love-cut’ tagline) is obviously problematic: it promotes a proxy for safe sex that isn’t all that safe. MMC only reduces the possibility of HIV transmission to 40% and doesn’t prevent STDs or unplanned pregnancies.

The sexism embedded in the campaign is just as worrying. Despite ‘Brothers for Life’ seeking to raise awareness about the negative implications of numerous sexual partners and gender-based violence; its legitimacy is ironically jeopardised because it simultaneously promotes a sexualised, cool message about why you need your ‘love-cut’.  This is made worse when it is promoted within the stereotypical traditional gendered constructs of a so-called ‘real man’.

There is no mention of women’s rights or equality; we only see that a brother for life must ‘respect his woman’. There is no introspection about the sexism that is so deeply embedded in South African masculinity and culture. The reality that men in this country are the world’s greatest perpetrators of sexual violence, and that women were effectively and legally placed under men until the advent of constitutional democracy seems to be ignored by this campaign.

‘Brothers for Life’, which is ironically endorsed by the Sonke Gender Justice Project, cannot ignore the fact that MMC may lead to men to abandoning their condoms. This creates the risk of locking female partners into an unplanned pregnancy which could rob them of their right to education, life, and trade.  Not to mention there’s that slight 40% risk of HIV transmission which still poses a threat. The campaign doesn’t change the reality that men almost always determine the terms of a sexual relationship; this campaign entrenches the man’s right to do so.

The need to collectivise and stigmatise other men to gain ground is employed as another sexist tactic. Here men are guilted into MMC because it is promoted as a means to protect one’s self and one’s partner from HIV. The campaign constructs the false notion of an ideal man (‘brother for life’) who ascribes to certain values – the collectivisation of men for the campaign’s sake. It is this focus on a collective masculinity which takes place at the expense of the individual and his freedom to choose. Essentially, the marketing technique uses misogyny to mobilise men into action. The message that a circumcised penis is a better one, one which feels better and which is healthier can lead to stigmatisation of those ‘evil boys’ who are brave enough to define their own masculinity, or those who simply don’t want to be circumcised. And who may practice safer sex than all the circumcised men they know.

This type of generalisation smacks of the same kind of deplorable moralising which allows heterosexuals to donate blood, irrespective of their sexual practices, but denies homosexuals, irrespective of how safe they are, from doing so. Collectivised ideals of sexual health are detrimental to any effort to balance individual and communal needs.

Men shouldn’t have to define their identities in accordance with the status quo. Neither should they have to fall prey to bureaucratic bullying which reinforces the prescriptions about identity and gender that further underpin gender violence and inequality. In the context of a diverse South Africa, this campaign fails to look beyond the heterosexual norm, by creating a brotherhood in which only relationships between men and woman are legitimate. Unfortunately, this campaign is too deeply rooted in the values of yesterday to be able to influence any kind of radical or positive change.

This summer I’ll pass on getting one of those ‘love-cuts’. Even if it means I miss out on being a brother for life – whatever that is.

Is black beautiful?

Athambile Masola
Athambile Masola

By Athambile Masola

I’m not a fan of glossy magazines. I often buy one when I’m mentally exhausted and I’m looking for something frivolous to peruse and perhaps bitch over— “why does their skin look like plastic?” or I’m trying to build up a stock of magazines I will need for a classroom activity. Recently I purchased a copy of True Love Magazine. It seems I’m only ever drawn to buying this magazine when Lira is the front cover girl.

While trying to make a choice of which magazine would be the object of my scorn, I had a Biko[1] moment. This is the moment when the racism alert button goes off in my brain and I have to question myself: are you imagining the problem in this situation? While scanning the magazines on display (lets say more than 10 women’s magazines) only three magazines had black women as their cover girl: O mag, Destiny and True love magazine.

I recognise that the magazine industry is fraught with complexities about the representation of women and in particular, black women. When a black woman is lucky enough to be featured on the cover of a glossy magazine I am often struck by how “yellow” she looks (unless she’s Alek Wek). This conversation in my head relates to what Alice Walker refers to as colorism: the stigma of skin complexion. Amongst black women, there is a desired shade of blackness that allows one to be seen as beautiful. The skin lightening industry is still booming thanks to many black women who have been duped into the idea that beauty is about having lighter skin; to be as white as possible. As a child, I remember watching my own mother obsessing with creams that would alter (and ruin) her skin. My mother is also the person who will comment on my skin colour whenever she hasn’t seen me for a long time (often comparing me to my sisters who are considered yellow). The lighter one’s skin (and the longer one’s weave or braids) the closer they are to reaching the norms about beauty which require (amongst many things) that a women be light-skinned with wavy hair.

The challenge with being a consumer of glossy magazines is that I am constantly confronted with images of beauty which do not represent what I look like. The representation of black women in the media is controlled and requires black women to resemble whiteness as much as possible. Gone are the days of DRUM magazine which portrayed black women who were darker, shorter hair, wider hips and had not undergone the snipping and editing of photoshop. The “Drum decade” allowed Black women on the darker side of the continuum of blackness to be seen as the norm in the black community. Granted, this was also a time when declarations such as “black is beautiful” or “I’m black and I’m proud” meant something.

In our rush to be post-racism, the dominant media’s representation of black women (and perhaps broadly black people) is in a precarious position. For many years black women were invisible in glossy magazines. Hair products and make up tips were targeted at white people because the models were all white. Criticism of glossy magazines often considers how sexism is promoted because of the prototype that is displayed every month in each magazine, but racism needs to be considered too. When BonangMatheba was on the cover of South Afria’s FHM cover, she was applauded for finally being the first sister to “take one for the team”. The truth is, Bonang suits the mould that FHM works within: thin, long hair and yellow skin. To celeberate Bonang’s victory of climbing the white slopes of beauty, her accomplishment was referred to as “the rise of Bonang.” Really?

This led me to consider what Oprah Winfrey has done with her magazine. It’s easy to criticise her for being so vain that she would have her face on every single issue of her magazine, but she’s making a political statement and destabilising the dominant discourse of glossy magazine industry beauty. With a lack of positive representations of black women in the media we will be accosted by Oprah’s face on the cover of O mag as a reminder of the limitations we have about beauty and what kind of representation black women have in popular culture. She is a reminder of what it means to be a successful black woman as well as what it means not to be seen as a black person.

Magazines create illusions about who we are as women and mostly what women should look like. I haven’t discussed the “Beyonce question” and what she’s done for the representation of black women, nor what it means for America to have a First Lady who scores high on colorism’s scale of blackness. In South Africa we have many black women in the public eye and the truth is, many emulate the trends of African-American women: the weave and the yellow skin being the ideal. We forget about Toni Morrison’s book The bluest eye, a story about Pecola and her unfortunate blackness in a sea of other black girls who victimized her for her blackness. This book highlights the complexity of beauty and colorism which is taken for granted in pop culture when forming representation of black women.

I’m still going to buy glossy magazines, but with misgivings. The slogan, “Black is beautiful” is not any easier to say now than it was in the 1950s. The lack of positive representations of black women in popular culture doesn’t mean black women are not beautiful, but we still have a long way to go in convincing the world, and particularly black women too, that black is beautiful.

[1] Inspired by Steve Bantu Biko’s writing about Black Consciousness, I write what I like.

I need feminism…

Claire Martens
Claire Martens

By Claire Martens

The Oxford University Student Union’s Women’s Campaign recently took photos of students on the Oxford University campus holding up sign boards which demonstrated why the particular student thought that they needed feminism. I absolutely loved the responses. Go to the campaign’s Facebook to check them out(http://www.facebook.com/womcam). Below are my favourite. Please note that I sometimes placed the sex of the person next to the response in order to give clarity, and not to cast judgement on the person or their sex.

I need feminism…

…because I cannot be trusted to regulate myself any more than the press, the police and financial services can (from a man)

…because I am still scared of dropping feminist as a dirty F-BOMB

Note: this can also be in reference to the idea that the difference between feminism and misandry is still misunderstood.

…because I don’t want to live in a society that trivialises violence against women

…because I was assigned “female at birth” but never completed the required reading (from a transgender)

…because I love my sister, mother, grandmother, aunts, friends, teachersetc

…so I can live in a society where I can be the breadwinner and he can be the primary child-care; if we want (from a woman)

…because it is not okay that my privileges as a man come at everyone else’s expense

…because it shouldn’t be a struggle for equal respect

…so I can be an active participant in my own sex life (from a woman)

…because I knew what was happening and I did nothing (from a man)

…because I will not tolerate subjugation based on the lies about gender differences (from a man)

…because a woman’s place is in the revolution (from a man)

…because it saves lives

…because I have enough on my plate without a side order of patriarchal bullshit (from a woman)

…because I have more to offer than my femininity

…because, growing up, I heard a lot about “safety” and “modesty” and nothing about consent (from a woman)

…because I know people who think that being drunk is an excuse for committing rape

…to help me stand TALL when I feel small (from a woman)

…to change the way men think, not to change the way women act

…because my male friends laughed when I said that I was doing this (from a woman)

…because double standards are no standards at all

…because I shouldn’t see myself as breaking stereotypes when I am only doing what comes naturally to me (from a woman)

…because it is easy to ignore sexism when it works in your favour (from a man)

…because my liberation is bound up with yours, and sometimes I like to be the small spoon (from a man)

…because men are still determining MY productive rights (from a woman)

…because No means No and, sometimes,Yes doesn’t mean Yes

…because when I was assaulted, no one believed me (from a woman)

…because the first time a man in a car called me sexy, I was 12 and I didn’t have the confidence to tell him to,“Fuck off”

…because society teaches us “Don’t get raped”, instead of, “Don’t rape”

…because gender equality is a basic human right

…because no one should need to say that they need feminism

…because I am SICK of victim blaming

…because neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim

…because, when you give people opportunities, they exceed your expectations

…because my masculinity is oppressive and restrictive too (from a man)

…because I want the world to be kind to my girlfriend (from a woman)

…because “lesbian”, “slut” and “fat” are still seen as insults

…because I am tired of feeling unmanly for enjoying my girlfriend’s strap-on (from a man)

…because no ONE thing defines me

…because I want to be ANOTHER rather than OTHER

…because too much of history was written by white, bourgeois, heterosexual, cisgender men like me (from a man)

Cisgendered/cissexual people (from Wikipedia): Kristen Schilt and Laurel Westbrook define cisgender as a label for “individuals who have a match between the gender they were assigned at birth, their bodies, and their personal identity.” According to Julia Serano, cissexual is an adjective used in the context of gender issues to describe “people who are not transsexual and who have only ever experienced their mental and physical sexes as being aligned

…because the Patriarchy is not going to fuck itself.