Gender and local government: What needs to change

Nicole Graham, DA, women, councillor
Nicole Graham

By Nicole Graham

I became a local government councillor on 18 May, 2011. At the time, I was a 21 year old university student and wasn’t sure it was something I would do for any length of time. I was studying a post-graduate LLB and had been active in the DA since I was 17 years old.  The opportunity seemed to be a good learning experience and so I took it. I came into the eThekwini Council at number 21 on the DA’s proportional list; not high, but not unimpressive.

Immediately, I was struck with how unsuitable the environment was for young women. I was called ‘girly’ and ‘kiddo’ by colleagues and faced endless comments about my outfits, looks and body. Continuous sexual harassment only came to an end when colleagues realized I was serious about pursuing charges. I received general disdain from politicians and municipal officials, despite my increasingly solid performance in my committee and council meetings.

After a colleague resigned in 2013, I applied to stand in a ward. I had begun to enjoy the challenge of local government and the close relationship with communities. Ward councillors are the only directly elected politicians in South Africa- the rest are effectively elected by their political parties using a list system. I wanted to work on the ground in the community I lived in and loved, and was fortunate enough to be elected to do so. It is a wonderful ward, but a very tough one to work in, plagued by numerous difficult challenges and governed by a municipality that is often unable to tackle them.

Despite improved gender representation in South Africa, women often find themselves moved out of the competitive political space. Democracy and the ANC’s 50/ 50 policy has definitely seen the overall picture improve, with far more female councillors, MPs and even Ministers in office from 1994. This is significant. The political landscape, however, remains overwhelmingly better suited than to men that it is to women. I don’t think a single political party and their policies could have changed that alone. There is definitely room for improvement regarding gender issues across the political spectrum- which is too extensive to discuss here- but I think this issue runs far deeper than elective politics. It is symptomatic of our society, and a broad reflection of how our communities continue to operate.

eThekwini has almost 100 female councillors, but less than 20 are directly elected ward councillors like myself. Men are the ones with their faces on the posters and the women are used to cushion the PR lists.  In the Zimbabwean Parliament, 60 seats are reserved for women that are proportionally elected by their political parties. I once asked a young female MP why she held one of these seats and didn’t contest in her home constituency. Her reply was simple: she didn’t have the money to pay for her campaign. That is real barrier in many of our neighbouring countries that lists and quotas alone cannot change. It is an improvement to have more women in their parliament, but still a massive problem that they can’t always compete in the same way.

Pervasive attitudes, often attributed to liberalism, seem to think that the barriers to women entering local government aren’t real. They seem to think that the problem lies with women, who should be more willing to enter the arena and fight it out with the boys. I am a liberal. I am a liberal who believes that attitudes and barriers that prevent people from operating as equals in any given environment should be tackled, especially when they relate to race, gender and sexual orientation. I am perfectly able to fight it out with the boys, (and regularly do), but I shouldn’t have to. I should be able to function as male colleagues do – without the extra drama, without having to regularly explain to men why they cannot talk about my dresses, without having to face undue criticism because I am young and female.

I do not think all criticism of me is invalid or unfair. Being a councillor is difficult, and I am bound to sometimes drop the ball or say the wrong thing. I accept that criticism when I do as best as I can. Even after many years in local government, I still will not know how to solve everything and may sometimes be confused or disillusioned. It is par for the course. I try my absolute hardest to be available and accessible, to resolve queries and to represent the interests of my community as best as I can. Still, I am often bombarded with strange rumours, bizarre claims and downright rude comments about things that do not affect my politics at all. Often, these come from people who have never met me or asked me for any kind of assistance.

Patriarchy is a complicated thing. It makes women more likely to see other women as threats or competition in a way that does not happen to men. It makes men and women more likely to question the credibility and abilities of women in all levels of government, as well as corporate and academic environments. It also makes women open to intrusions about their private lives that often supersede their actual work.

To this end, I am trying to establish some kind of support and mentoring structure for young women who wish to follow the same path that I have. I will continue to do my work as best as I can, and continue to confront gender-based challenges head on. I will make it a priority to raise matters related to women in the eThekwini Council, even when they are not supported. Local government is a difficult political space, but more so for women. It is vital that we acknowledge this, and move towards meaningfully correcting it.


Patriarchy revisited: Alarming anti-feminist rhetoric expressed at Ministry of Women meeting.

Editor note: The link to the petition has been edited, and should work now 


Patriarchy revisited: Alarming anti-feminist rhetoric expressed at Ministry of Women meeting. No plan to address gender-based violence.

Yesterday the Ministry of Women in the Presidency held a meeting in Lakefield to announce their plans for the international 16 Days of Activism for No Violence against Women and Children campaign. While civil society was invited to a “consultation,” we arrived to find a plan for 16 Days that was already finalized and approved by Cabinet. This plan will focus on engaging men to stand up and support a campaign on violence by saying, “Count Me In.”

We acknowledge and support the need to engage men in the fight against gender-based violence and applaud the Ministry’s desire to broaden the movement as widely as possible. Unfortunately the Ministry’s language in launching this campaign reinforced a range of patriarchal ideas that we as the women’s movement and as feminist organizations have fought against for years.

Minister Shabangu opened the session explaining her desire to focus on mobilizing men during these 16 Days because, “Men are supposed to be protectors of society. Men are supposed to be protectors of families. We need to bring back these protectors of society. We need to mobilize our protectors.” She went on to say that women cannot be victims any more and need to “get their confidence back.”

As Nandi Msezani from ESSET expressed directly to the Minister, “We need to be aware of the language used as it comes from a very patriarchal standpoint. Men need to protect us? With language such as this, women are being infantilized and moving the women’s movement backwards.” She also went on to note “What about women in same sex relationships? LGBTI individuals? Are we not women too?”

The Minister then invited Mpumalanga Chief Moses Mahlangu to share his comments. He announced to the crowd that women must be submissive to their husbands. Princess Dineo, from the Northwest Province, then stood up to tell us that feminism is un-African and encouraged the Minister to cut all funds for centers for abused women and children, as they should be dealing with these issues at home. Both speakers received nods from the Minister on the dais and applause from the audience. Others followed decrying women’s abuse of men and women’s aggression as the biggest challenges.

How have we come to this moment? This would be hilarious if it weren’t so deeply depressing. The Minister closed the opening session noting the diversity of opinions expressed and that we must value diversity as it is protected in the South African Constitution. Are women’s rights not also protected in that same Constitution? Are women’s rights not human rights?

In the midst of an epidemic of gender-based violence unparalleled almost anywhere else in the world, in a moment when we are desperate for leadership, for vision and strategy, we instead are delivered destructive discourse and no clear roadmap for progress. Participating civil society organsiations that have been fighting for gender equality, safety and security for over 20 years were highly disappointed that what should have been a safe space to develop positive, progressive narratives and actions for women’s rights was left open and unprotected by the Department of Women for highly negative, oppressive and patriarchal input from traditionally conservative institutions and individuals.

This concerns us as activists. Patriarchy has been brought back to the mainstream and seems to be supported if not promoted by the State agenda, ironically through a campaign that is designed to highlight the scourge of patriarchal violence. Patriarchy is not an abstraction or a theoretical concern as stated by the Minister. It directly feeds our epidemic of sexual and intimate partner violence. A South African women murdered by an intimate partner every 8 hours is not an abstraction. Tens of thousands of brutal rapes per year are not theoretical abstractions.

Activists at the meeting also reminded Minister Shabangu of the Department’s previous commitments on designing a national strategic plan on gender-based violence. Jabu Tugwana of People Opposing Women Abuse, read a brief statement from 13 organizations from across the country demanding the resumption of the National Strategic Plan process. But we received no response, no answers on the status of the National Council on Gender-Based Violence, which has been “under review” for 6 months. We received no public commitment on the National Strategic Plan, which will be essential in stemming our country’s epidemic of violence.

We do not want our attendance at this meeting to be mistaken as an endorsement of the Department’s campaign. We are concerned that the language used and the sentiments expressed in the meeting are an indication that a more conservative and frankly oppressive understanding and approach to women and social rights has emerged and taken grip of a state institution that is intended to promote protect women’s rights, as defined by women in South Africa and globally. We call on all women, on all feminists, on all South Africans, to challenge this neo-patriarchal framing, and to demand a plan from government.

To this end, we will host a National Day of Action on 25 November to launch our own 16 Days campaign to demand a national plan to end gender-based violence from government. Join us by signing this petition and by coming out to participate in actions nation wide demanding an NSP on 25 November.

Statement signed by:

Centre for Study of Violence and Reconciliation (CSVR)

Eastern Cape Rape Crisis

Ecumenical Service for Socio-Economic Transformation (ESSET)

Justice and Women


Sonke Gender Justice

People Opposing Women Abuse (POWA)

Project Empower

Thohoyandou Victim Empowerment Programme (TVEP)

Tswaranang Legal Advice Centre

For media inquiries, please contact:

Jabu Tugwana, POWA


Should men contribute to FeministsSA

Jen Thorpe
Jen Thorpe

By Jen Thorpe

I’ve seen a few images lately that got me thinking about whether FeministsSA should continue to publish posts by men.

I agree that men can be committed to the values of feminism and gender equality. I agree, that they have valuable insights about the way that men can address patriarchy and inequality. What I’m not so sure about is giving them the space to do it here, on FeministsSA, when they should be doing it out there in the world where it actually has more potential to make men uncomfortable. I started thinking about this in relation to this picture.


What it made me think about was the fact that men writing about feminism on are essentially preaching to the choir. We’re all going to agree and be receptive to what they’re saying. In essence, it doesn’t disrupt. It doesn’t challenge the chauvinists that are out there on more mainstream websites.

Of course the same goes for women writers writing about feminism. But, FeministsSA was also started to make more space online for women writers to have their say, in an internet that is filled with articles written by men. If FeministsSA becomes a space that gives more space to male writers, is it living up to its aims? I’m not sure it does.

I also thought a lot about this picture.



Feminism does certainly hold that men are capable of more than rampant harassment and sexual denigration. It holds that men can and should do better, and that gender equality will be better for both men and women. The question I wonder about then is ‘If men are only trying to do better in women’s spaces, is that enough?’

I guess what I have started to become uncomfortable with is the ‘exceptional’ essence of what men on feministssa become. They become the good men that are the exceptions, right? They become the men we accept and support. But, are they also saying this stuff to other men? This is what I’m asking. I see that contributors like Gcobani Qambela, Thorne Godinho, and Kameel Premhid are also writing about these issues on other sites like Thoughtleader and News24. This is, I think, more valuable than men contributing to FeministsSA. Because it opens them up to the possibility of challenge and debate from other men – and it is other men that male feminists need to challenge most.

Part of this thinking also stemmed from the #notallmen hashtag and how common it is for men to come to feminist gatherings and feminist spaces and to continue to be the first person to put up their hands or speak the loudest. How they are desperate to assert that they are a ‘good guy’, the exception, and they just want to dominate the space to make sure we as women know how much they support us.  The bottom tweet in this last image sums it up.

notallmen 2

It got me thinking about whether these good guys, and I really do believe that they are good, are also having the difficult discussions in other public spaces about what it means to be a good guy. And whether, by giving male feminists, the good guys, a space on FeministsSA means that they don’t have to do that.

I’m not decided. And so for this week I’d like you to tweet back to FeministsSA using the hashtag #feministssamen and let me know what you think. You can also comment on the blog, or post on the Facebook Page (see the link on the right of the page). Let’s discuss this. Or, vote in the poll at the bottom of the page. And that means you too men.

feminism vs misandry





Billboards and chit chat won’t stop street harassment


Daniel Sincuba
Daniel Sincuba

By Daniel Sincuba

In 2014, street harassment remains (along with other outlets for patriarchy) a social problem globally. It remains largely under-dealt with and under-publicised. Sexual prejudice and oppression are still a thing as patriarchy is force fed down our throats. This is a serious vigil in the face of the age of information and other liberations.

It transpires that there is next to nothing being done about ending street harassment in South Africa. Recently, I was in a conversation about the idea that billboards instructing men on appropriate and inappropriate behaviour would help. I argued that while it was good thinking, the reaction has to be in scale with the offence, which is as big as we know it to be but bigger than what our reaction to it would suggest. Let me explain.

Whenever I speak to people about poverty or corruption or racism I say that you can’t simply erase a problem by looking at the surface of it. One needs to look after the cause and the cause of the cause and the cause of that and then positive results will look after themselves. Usually it is right to say that the problem is a by-product of society, not a gross departure from it. Therefore it is elements in society and social conventions/systems that need changing.

In this case, one cannot simply say “stop touching peoples’ butts on the street!” and expect anything to happen. Our nemeses are mindset, history, compliance, conventions etc. I think that a billboard or an advert or a discussion among innocent people is largely an exercise in futility. You can never get the message across in that space/time to someone who still has the wrong attitude in 2014. I think you need more time and intimacy.

We often say, as black South Africans, that colonialism/white supremacy/apartheid etc acted against the interests of people of colour for about 350 years and that we can’t expect that 20 years of freedom (and I use that term very, very loosely) will reverse all of that. So how can silence, conversation or an advert remove an outlet of patriarchy?

To be clear, I don’t have an issue with the idea of billboards, but I don’t think they’d be that effective, especially with something so deep rooted. I just think it takes way more. It appears to me as a case where teaching is needed as the people have been told, or the why of the what. How many people are likely to pass a billboard or a street ad and exclaim in shock: “Oh my God, a billboard, now I can change my attitude towards women. This was all I needed?”

Also, people have to buy into it first. People buy into patriarchy because they were walked into it by convention and a social system that is blatantly patriarchal. So without the appropriate respect for women, a billboard advertising something with the use of female sexuality is acceptable. Or when you have no respect for a TV show, a billboard about it holds no interest to you. Also, it’s easy and comfy on our selfishness. We weren’t told: “OK, it’s time to be patriarchal,” we were trained and continue to be trained on a daily (hourly even?) basis. That is what has to happen in reverse to reverse the curse.

In any case, are we not undermining the intelligence of the people by assuming that they don’t know that it’s wrong to harass other humans? Are we saying that they have had no way of telling that the ‘harassees’ have misgivings about their actions? It would seem to me that this is case of arrogance, conformism, laziness, cowardice, opportunism, being normal and stupidity. Not ignorance.

Furthermore, we are currently being afforded the opportunity to look away from our weakness. We don’t have to confront the current level of noise on patriarchy because it just isn’t forceful. Even if one finds him/herself engaged in a conversation it is easy to wait a few days to convince yourself that it never happened or that it was just one person’s opinion. It is also the natural reaction to get defensive and feel hard done by when your stupidity is confronted, as I did in my conversation. You scapegoat feminism in the heat of trying to remove yourself from the blame.

In the aforementioned conversation (which led me to writing this,) I suggested that the troops over at were on the right track. They hold talks to teach people about street harassment. The other person in the conversation said that harassers who are poorer (street vendors, builders, domestic workers etc) would not have access to these talks. But what if we don’t go to them as vendors but as residents of their communities at the community school/hall? Or if we go to them while they are school kids or if teachers do it once or twice a week. Not just on street harassment but sexual respect and equality and more.

There are free workshops to teach people how to run businesses, free tertiary education, free religious services and workshops, free sport workshops and more. Do we not have the time or will for the safety and respect of humans?

In any event, I think the real question is the following: why is it that most of us (including yours truly) are only talking about this and speculating instead of doing things to cull the flow of bullshit?


Coping with violence in a patriarchal world

Claire Martens
Claire Martens

By Claire Martens

I long for a time when the world will be a safe place for women. But with the way things are, it will never be in my lifetime. The stories just keep on coming. If it’s not 300 young girls kidnapped in Nigeria, it’s a 22-year-old American man seeking “retribution” for being rejected by women and killing 6 people in the process. The international response to both incidents has been different and, in many ways, unrelated, but that is a topic for another blog. Right now I want to speak about one outcome to the Elliot Rodger event which tells us something about the Nigerian kidnapping, almost as much as it does about the killing spree.

The media is inundated with articles about the motivations of Rodger, but for me the most interesting part was the start of the #yesallwomen campaign. While the two incidents, due to their horrific nature and violence, demonstrate the harshest terms of women’s enslavement under the worst conditions, the hashtag #yesallwomen demonstrates the prolific and invasive nature of patriarchy and its evil cousin, misogyny. While I think it may be a little tenuous to believe that misogyny leads to murder, there is a certain level of violence inherent in patriarchy that we cannot ignore.

What the kidnappings and killings tell us is that some men believe that they deserve a woman’s attentions, they have an entitlement to a wife and to sex and whatever else women are expected to give them. Some men may believe that women are expendable, that their lives carry no value. Always, women are only people in relation to men. What #yesallwomen shows is that an undercurrent of violence, fear and intimidation exists in many women’s lives, no matter where they live and what they look like.

#yesallwomen started soon after the Elliot Rodger event. Through it, women are attempting to expose the pervasive nature of patriarchy and misogyny. Their tweets demonstrate the trends in the fear they carry on their shoulders, in the harassment they face every day at the hands of men, in the names they are called and the abuse they endure.

The #yesallwomen campaign is a continuation of many similar protests and campaigns, such as #everydaysexism, so it is not necessarily unique in its approach, but it also came at an odd time for me. I was visiting my doctor recently with a complaint of stomach aches. She asked about my anxiety levels, explaining that many women who visit her are suffering from a kind of general and prolonged stress which they find difficult to deal with. She asked me about my history, my friends and my family. She asked if something had happened to me to make me feel anxious.

Well, no, and also yes. I too live in South Africa, in a state of fear, and even if nothing as horrific as rape has happened to me, it does not mean that I cannot acknowledge the pain it causes. It doesn’t mean that my experiences as a women are insignificant and that I am not affected by the environment I live in. In fact, it was in becoming a feminist that my world was opened to the reality of the situation of women and of myself – an awakening that was both crippling and liberating.

I know enough about the lives that women lead, the statistics on rape and sexual abuse, the incidences of domestic abuse, and the children who are raped, to know that we live in a sick society. I also think that even though I am merely experiencing it second-hand, doesn’t mean that I don’t feel a general low level of anxiety, all day, every day. It’s always there, this fear, and it’s not baseless or silly, but derived from our everyday experiences, the thoughts we have, the stories we hear, the people who are affected.

I was shocked to read about Post-traumatic Stress Disorder in women in South Africa, that our levels are so high that they are practically at the level of warzones. What kind of world do we live in where a vast percentage of women show symptoms of PTSD, even though the country itself is at peace?

What is unbearable for me is the knowledge that this is not one, or ten, or even one hundred men who are raping or abusing women, but thousands. That is the nature of patriarchy. Men do not have to be evil or stupid or crazy to be part of it, as long as the culture permits them to practice patriarchy. In a blog posted on the Guardian website, Jessica Valenti writes the following:

The truth is that there is no such thing as a lone misogynist – they are created by our culture, and by communities that tells them that their hatred is both commonplace and justified. So when we say that these things are unstoppable, what we are really saying is that we’re unwilling to do the work to stop them. Violence against women does not have to be inevitable, but it is almost always foreseeable: what matters is what we do about it.

So how can we cope with the violent nature of our society; not just to overcome the abuse of women and children, but to stop all forms of violence directed at all citizens of this country? My doctor said something interesting which I want to share with you in the same form of analogy she used.

She described how, when she first started working at her new practice, she found her colleagues disrespectful. She wasn’t sure what to do about it but she decided to work really hard, stay long hours, and be really good at her job in order to earn their respect through her actions. But after months of doing so, she wasn’t any closer to getting their respect. That was when she realised that she permitted the disrespect in the first place.

How people treat us is not really about who we are, but who they are and the kind of society they function in. If we want to stop violence and abuse, we should not allow it to be permitted. I am not sure how to do this, how to make our worlds safer, but I think we may start with the little things like rape jokes, belittlement, catcalling and the rest. No one should ever feel powerless. Men should never feel entitled, or that we are ornaments for their own lives.

There are violent individuals who commit horrendous crimes, and we may feel unable to do anything about them, but we can try to change the manifestations of patriarchy, and not necessarily ourselves, so that society can stop breeding the types of people who commit crimes against women. We cannot compromise, the results are fatal.

If you want to read some various takes on the #yesallwomen campaign, the following are a few links I found interesting:

28 – 30 October 2013: Challenging Patriarchy: A virtual conference


Challenging Patriarchy: New Spaces and Strategies for Advancing Gender Equality in Africa?

28 – 30 October 2013

The background

In many other parts of the world, movements for democracy opened opportunities for equality advocates to advance their claims for full representation of women in political systems. For the past three years the HBF offices in Nairobi, Cape Town and Abuja, have jointly provided gender advocates the space to share, question and discuss their experiences and strategies to promote gender equality in Africa. From these discussions it has become evident that despite the enormous gains made by African women – gender equality remains an elusive goal. Efforts are frustrated by interpretations of societal norms and values rooted deeply in patriarchal structures and mindsets.

The method

The conference will be hosted virtually. Interactive sessions will be running from October 28-30 on the special conference website: after which the dialogue will continue on the website and through the Twitter hashtag #endpatriarchy.

For those in Cape Town, HBF’s conference room will be open for the duration of the conference for those who would like to participate from our offices.

The themes

The Conference aims to provoke new thinking and ideas on strategies for advancing gender equality. Aside from discussing how to strengthen state led interventions such as gender machineries and political measures such as quotas, panels will also look at challenging patriarchy in the economic and public spheres.
28 October: Opening panel & keynote address; 11.00 – 13.30 (SA time)

  • 29 October: Morning panel – Challenging patriarchy through state interventions and gender machineries; 11.00 – 13.30 (SA time)
  • 29 October: Afternoon panel – Challenging patriarchy in the economic sphere; 14.25 – 17.00 (SA time)
  • 30 October: Morning panel – Challenging patriarchy in the formal political sphere; 11.00 – 13.30 (SA time)
  • 30 October: Afternoon panel – Challenging patriarchy in the public sphere; 14.25 – 17.00 (SA time)

A full programme will be sent shortly.

In case of any questions / queries please do not hesitate to contact our colleague Claudia at claudia.lopes AT Kindly RSVP if you intend to participate from HBF’s offices.

What if marriage wasn’t anti-feminism?

Athambile Masola
Athambile Masola

By Athambile Masola

I’ve been contemplating marriage. Not as an abstract idea but as someone who has come face to face with the prospect of marriage. My partner and I have always spoken openly about marriage and after running away from the relationship for five years I’ve decided to consider marriage. While trying to make sense of the women who has taken over my body and having conversations about marriage on my behalf, I’ve been reading Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex: one of the most groundbreaking texts about the position of women. De Beauvoir articulates the plight of women by looking closely at the historical context making a case for feminism in the 1940s, when the book was first published. Central to de Beauvoir’s treatise is an exploration of marriage and the role it has played as a social practice that is an example of patriarchy.

It’s impossible to write a book about the liberation of women without talking about marriage. And it’s impossible to identify as a feminist and not wonder about the institution of marriage. I realise that there are many feminists who have overcome this angst and decided on marriage in spite of the naysayers who simply denounce marriage as an example of why patriarchy still exists. It’s too easy to say that marriage is absolutely bad for women. When women are no longer property, moving from their fathers to their husbands, the terms and conditions of marriage must change because a woman is choosing to be with someone in spite of the social expectations.

Is marriage fundamentally anti-feminism? My partner and I haven’t answered this question. We think of ourselves as feminists. We are also products of our cultural backgrounds: I’m Xhosa and he is Zulu. In talking about marriage we have come to the following conclusions: I will not change my surname, there will be no lobola, I have decided against having children and we will not have an elaborate wedding (I will not wear a white dress, we will not profess any fancy vows about me submitting to him as his wife). Ours will hopefully be a marriage of two minds who are seeking companionship rather than a slave for a wife and a hunter-gatherer for a husband. And yes, ours will be a monogamous marriage.

My parents got divorced when I was young. As a result of this I was not keen on marriage until recently. My partner and I are constantly contemplating what it means putting our lives together. He doesn’t want a traditional wife and I have no desires of being a traditional wife (whatever that might mean). We’ve spoken openly about our fears given the broken marriages we’ve seen and lived through. There are few examples of marriages or partnerships where two people do not compromise too much of who they are, but can exist in a relationship that is meaningful. Friends have asked me, “Why marry at all? Why not simply live together?”. My sister is surprised that I am seriously contemplating marriage at all given that I’m a feminist. I still can’t fully grasp why I would consider marriage (the legal and the social contract) except that I’m a romantic: I ran out of reasons not to be with him and I want to grow old with him. I’ve had to deal with the voices in my head that have told me I have no place in marriage. Black women who are educated are often seen as a threat to the institution of marriage because we’ve been accused of bringing our politics into the bedroom.

But is it that simple? Is it enough to jettison the performances of marriage but still enter into a marriage with an awareness of the complexities of a marriage? Marriage is both a private and social agreement. For Xhosa and Zulu people it is also a contract between two families. The real questions about equality, fidelity and sharing the responsibilities of housekeeping (cooking, cleaning, paying the bills) are not cast in stone. There are some non-negotiables: fidelity. But it seems everything else in a marriage is about negotiating and learning what it means to love another person without losing yourself in the process. I’ve been surprised at the level of communication my partner and I have had (coupled with a long distance courtship) and thus far we’ve been able to put everything on the table. And perhaps de Beauvoir would be disappointed to know that many decades later feminists such as my boyfriend and I are still contemplating marriage.

We’ll probably go through with it: move in together, get married and hopefully live happily ever after. Choosing to give into a social and legal contract like marriage has heightened my awareness of choice. For centuries, marriage was never about choice but for me it is. I’m choosing monogamy. And the fact that I am choosing monogamy as opposed to having my parents make the choice for  me has to count for something rather than make me appear as a bad feminist.

Men as active members of women political organisations

Stefan Frederick
Stefan Frederick

By Stefan Frederick

A patriarchal society has suppressed women’s voices and dominated political and social discourse to the benefit of men at the expense of women. 

Thus for some women it is problematic that I as a male within this patriarchal society want to sign up as a member of the Democratic Alliance Women Network (DAWN).

For the past year I’ve been asking myself the question ‘should men be allowed to become members of female political organizations or could they even lead such organizations’.

Within the feminist movement there is a group who believe that men can be pro-feminism and anti-sexist but not a feminist as such. Those who deny that men can be feminist argue that men can’t exclude themselves from the patriarchal system which is based on their power and privilege in relation to women. They believe that in order to be a feminist one must be a member of the targeted group (women).

Should or could the same logic be followed that men can be pro-feminist and anti-sexist but one must be a member of the targeted group in order to become a member of DAWN or ANCWL?

Since the late 17th century, the majority of pro-feminist authors emerged from France who were men. Charles Louis de Montesquieu introduced female characters like Roxana in his work Persian Letters, and subverted patriarchal systems which represented his arguments against despotism. Men have taken part in a significant cultural and political response in the history of feminism. Parker Pillsbury and other abolitionist men held feminist views and openly identified as feminist, using their influence to promote the rights of women and slaves respectively.

It is crucial for men to be part of organizations like DAWN as well as ANCWL. I firmly believe that if feminism is to attain its goal of liberating women, men must be part of the struggle.

In “To Be a Man, or Not to be a Man — That Is the Feminist Question,” in Men Doing Feminism it is maintained that identifying as a feminist is the strongest stand men can take in the struggle against sexism and for liberation. It has been argued that men should be allowed or even encouraged to participate in the feminist rights movement.
One idea supporting men’s inclusion in women political organizations is that excluding men from the organization labels it as solely a female task, which could be argued to be sexist.

It has to be asserted that until men share equal responsibility for struggling and finding solutions to end discrimination against women, women political organizations will reflect the very sexist contradiction it wishes to eradicate. A focus on developing a bridge between women and men, it is an important revolutionary bridge, and we should all take part in building it, to support the struggle against discrimination. Contribute to the development of new techniques of decision-making to ensure equal opportunities for women. So we can encourage and support women in acquiring the skills and knowledge; necessary to enter or to progress in politics and public service.


Event: My Body, My Choice exhibition – 4 December

My Body, My Choice, an exhibition highlighting women’s autonomy and their right to choose is leaving the small university town confines of Rhodes and Grahamstown and bringing its message to Cape Town.

The City of Cape Town’s Arts and Culture Department, in collaboration with Rhodes University present a demonstration of female empowerment. Running from 04 to 08 December 2012, to coincide with the 16 Days of Activism for No Violence against Women and Children, the exhibition highlights objectification, one of the root causes of rape.

The exhibition creates a space where women can respond to the victim-blaming, secondary victimisation and social stigma they face when they speak out about the violence they have experienced.

The message of My Body, My Choiceis that women are more than just the sum of their parts and their autonomy and choice is not diminished by what they wear, or do not wear. Nobody has control over your body except for you. Your body, your choice.

In a patriarchal world, which commodifies and objectifies women’s bodies, reclaiming agency is a powerful statement by the women of Rhodes that ‘women have the right to determine their own destinies.’

For the past five years, Rhodes women have put their bodies on the line to publicly proclaim that their bodies are their own and that they always have the right to choose – no matter what they are look like or what they wear. All women have the right to decide what to do with their bodies.

Patriarchy is pervasive, to the point where rather than identifying it as an oppressive ideology, it is simply deemed ‘the natural order’, much like ‘scientific’ racism became the pervasive European belief that white people are ‘naturally’ superior to black people. This form of ‘othering’ results in a complete inability to view objectification as wrong, let alone a form of oppression.

This exhibition challenges that ideology, creating a space for women to experience their bodies as whole, beautiful and above all, their own.

Larissa Klazinga, Rhodes University

In a display of solidarity, Rhodes women reclaimed what was theirs and removed their clothes to create images of triumph, of struggle, and of self- declaration. These images include naked women with messages written on placards and on their bodies: messages of happiness and hope as well as of anger and frustration, messages calling for an end to violence against women.

The message of the exhibition is an echo of the defiance which characterises the other Rhodes anti-rape initiative, the annual Silent Protest and is also as a means of illustrating the greater issue of the objectifying of the female form that pervades our patriarchal world.

By juxtaposing these images of joy and liberation with the stark images of thousands of women gagged with black tape in a show of solidarity with women silenced by rape culture, these two protest actions highlight the work being done at Rhodes University combat gender-based violence and promote a new generation of women leaders to continue the struggle for liberation.

Some of these ground-breaking Rhodes graduates will be participating in events throughout the exhibition including Jen Thorpe, editor of the My First Time volume of short stories, historian and HIV expert Dr Rebecca Hodes and leading scholar of transgender issues in Africa Bianca Camminga.

Events for the Week


11h00 “And Sarah Laughed: Religions’ language and God.” Dr AzilaReisenberger

14h00 “We Must Choose: Reflections on a woman’s right to choose” Dr Rebecca Hodes

16h00 My 1st Time: book discussion and readings by authors Jen Thorpe & Athambile Masola

18h30 Formal Exhibition Opening Night Cocktail Party and Belly Dancing Exhibition by Cherith Sanger



10H30 Body Image Workshop Larissa Klazinga

13h00 – 19h00 Naked Photo shoot (Body image workshop participants only) Sian Cohen

20h00 for.GIVEn choreographed and performed by Nadine Joseph



09h00 Printmaking workshop

14h00 Photography Discussion led by Jean Brundrit

16h00 “Bodies in Trans-ition” Bianca Camminga

20h00 Danielle Bowler Live

21h00 Lucy Kruger Live

How far is South Africa from a female president?

Jen Thorpe
Jen Thorpe

By Jen Thorpe

The road to Mangaung is paved with good intentions, but none of these intentions include advancing women to the position of President or Deputy President.

This year’s race is patriarchal to the core – just have a look at the effort that has been put into pushing the Traditional Courts Bill through the system despite outcry from Civil Society and the Minister of Women, Children, and People with Disabilities (that’s right, the Ministry of everyone except able bodied men doesn’t want the bill). The votes the ANC leaders care about are the votes that are rooted in sexism and the suppression of women’s voices.

We’re not unique. Whenever male politicians need to send out their fishing lines and draw in the old chauvinist stalwarts they try to take away women’s rights. Cast your eyes to America and their race relies on the control of women’s bodies too – sexual and reproductive rights are being denied, revoked and altered across the States. It is a sad state of affairs.

This weekend the ANC Women’s League Gauteng conference couldn’t decide on a presidential candidate. Perhaps it’s because the pickings are so slim. Despite being one of the bodies with the power and opportunities to push female rights forward, and to advocate for female political representation in the executive, the ANC Women’s League has not done much for women since 1993 when they protested the objectification of women in the Miss World Pageant. [I’m begging you to prove me wrong with examples. It would make my day].

South Africa’s female representation in the executive is still less than 50%. We have 13 female ministers (we had 14, but Dlamini-Zuma went to the AU) out of 34. They hold portfolios such as Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries; Basic Education; Communications; Defence and Military Veterans; Energy, International Relations and Cooperation; Labour; Mineral Resources; Public Service and Administration; Science and Technology; Social Development; Water and Environmental Affairs; and Women, Children and People with Disabilities. Many of these departments are in crisis. The Limpopo textbook saga, the decision to pursue nuclear and coal powered plants despite ample renewable resources, the increasing number of wage strikes in the mining sector, the funding crisis in the social development sector (strange when the Minister is a convicted fraudster, no?), an impending water crisis, and the fact that women, children and people with disabilities are still regarded as a minority group with minority rights by the President.

The women who are in government have been placed in difficult portfolios. Some like Naledi Pandor have done an incredible job. Others are flailing. So even if the ANC Women’s League were to choose from this bunch, it would be the best of the worst. The reality is though, that the ANC Women’s League wouldn’t choose from the options of female leaders.

The ANC is not likely to lose political power in at least the next two elections, despite the fact that only 38% of eligible voters voted for them in the previous election (and only around 59% of eligible voters voted at all), so opposition leaders like Zille and Mazibuko are unlikely to come into power any time soon.

We are painfully far away from a female president, especially one who is likely to get the job done Joyce Banda style. It’s really sad. Women’s political representation is key to inspire young female leaders to enter into politics. Most women my age wouldn’t even consider getting into politics because it is so tarnished by the corrupt, the ineffective, the lazy, the greedy, and the sexist. What now?

Street harassment – part of our daily life

Maduduzo Rebecca Sibanda
Maduduzo Rebecca Sibanda

By Maduduzo Rebecca Sibanda

Street harassment is any kind of action or communication that is unwelcome, disrespectful and even threatening in a public space like the street. Street harassment is normally gender motivated and men are usually the perpetrators. It is unquestionably an issue of patriarchy as it displays the ability of men to make women uncomfortable and feel unsafe in public places, as it has a profound effect on women’s full participation in the public domain.

Behaviour that constitutes street harassment includes winks, vulgar gestures, catcalls, remarks that are normally sexual in nature and evaluate a woman’s physical appearance. One can safely say that 100% of women have experienced street harassment at some point in their lives, with some women even experiencing it every single day. A typical scenario is a woman walking down the street and a man that the woman is unacquainted with trying to force an uncomfortable or even embarrassing conversation with her and disrespecting her in the process.

Most men however in some peculiar way believe women actually want to be affirmed of their looks and be told that they are beautiful or sexy by complete strangers. They even justify their behaviour by saying that they help women that they deem not so attractive gain self-esteem by complementing them and trying to strike conversations that reassure these women that they are appealing and desirable to men. But is it really a complement when someone who knows nothing about you wants to give you validation about your looks?

If we however look at it from a difficult angle, how many women actually do feel violated when men harass them? A conversation I had with my female colleagues about street harassment revealed that it really did not bother them when men tried to strike conversations with them or catcalled them on the streets. They explained how the practice reflects the uninterrupted role that men take up in society as the species that initiates any form of engagement between people of the opposite sex. In my view this shows how society has embraced patriarchy and accepted that it is inherent of a man to assert his “right” to infringe on a woman’s attention by forcing her to interact with him.

In cognisance of this, I may not be speaking for all women when I say being whistled at, being called “baby girl” like I do not have a name, shouting that I am sexy is not only disrespectful but a defilement of my right to feel safe and exist freely in public. However,I for one most certainly do not feel the need to get validation from a complete stranger about my looks nor do I feel important if a strangerasks to walk me home. It does not in any way add worth to how I view myself, if anything the pestering makes me feelviolated.

In the past, I normally gave a fake telephone number to men who asked me for it -just to be polite. In an attempt to minimise the number of times I was harassed,I even became careful about how I dressed, I watched my conduct when I was in public and tried as much as possible to be inconspicuous. I have however realised that street harassment has got nothing to do with how women look or behave when they are in public.  Street harassment has got everything to do with a society that endorses men to validate the appearance and conduct of women. I have therefore learnt to stand up for myself and tell men who harass me to stop it.

Lessons from Auma Obama

Tammy Sutherns
Tammy Sutherns

By Tam Sutherns

Auma Obama – US President Barrack Obama’s half sister – is most definitely not a politician. With tiny dreadlocks and a booming voice that could engulf the whole of her home country, Kenya, she makes no apologies for being who she is.

Which is why being at her book reading at the Goethe Institute in Johannesburg a few weeks ago was such an experience. Her book, entitled ‘And Then Life Happens’, is all about her childhood, her struggles with her father, Barrack Obama Senior, and her studying years in Germany where she got a scholarship. Despite being told as a young Kenyan woman that because she was a girl, a certain path was already carved for her, she managed to get herself to Germany, receive an education and thwart a patriarchal culture. And yet it is a culture she still loves and calls home.

When you hear Auma speak, you think, “Now that’s a woman who knows what she is talking about.” It’s the same thought you can see crossing over every other enthralled-listener’s face. Passionate, bold but level headed she explains at her book launch how she had to rebel patriarchy in her culture very quietly and subtly. Children, and especially girl children, where seen and not heard in her home after all. At her book reading she explains, “I didn’t accept that answer – ‘It’s because you are a girl’. So I would politely ask why. The best we could do to rebel in our home was to sulk.”

So one can imagine it came as quite a shock to Barrack Snr when his only daughter fled Kenya without his knowledge to Germany. In fact when he came to visit her months later, she was terrified he was going to haul her back to Africa. However the book portrays the complexities of patriarchy, describing instead how Auma’s father sat on her bed in her university residence and looked incredibly sad, asking why she had not told him she had received a scholarship to study. He then goes on to tell her how proud he is of her. Auma explains, “I think it was a painful revelation for him because he realized that he had lost his little girl forever. For the first time he was forced to see me as a woman in my own right and as an adult and as an individual.”

Interestingly enough however, Auma does not call herself a feminist, asking instead, “What does being a feminist mean?” It’s hard to know exactly what she means by this but it seems to be more a question of definition, challenging the audience, than it is a refusal to categorize herself. It is as if she wants to take the concept and have it explained to her in real terms and then personified into real people. A woman who uses her influence to ensure other young African woman get a chance at education and a future as well as someone who speaks out on a number of issues worldwide, one cannot imagine not calling Auma a feminist however.

And this is what I took away from it. It’s easy for us as feminists to call on women and men to overthrow patriarchy, but what if patriarchy has your father’s face on it? It’s easy for us to fight institutions, but it’s people who make up those institutions. So what struck me about Auma Obama was how she manages to embody such a fearless woman who refuses to be a victim of her circumstances, but still manages to retain such incrediable compassion. And compassion is easy to forget when we’re fighting our daily feminist battles.


“Compassion alone stands apart from the continuous traffic between good and evil proceeding within us.” – Eric Hoffer


#Zumaspear and the politics of the cock

By Jen Thorpe

When I first saw the painting of the Zuma Spear I instinctively felt that it was wrong for one reason – if it had been a painting of a female politician with her genitalia (however small) displayed at a public art gallery, I would not have supported it. I would have felt that it was an insult to her dignity, and that it would have showed a clear lack of respect for her actions. So, I argued that this was not OK. It felt weird to be on the same side as government, I’m not going to lie.

Many people that I am friends with on Facebook and follow on Twitter thought otherwise. They argued various things along the following lines:

  1. Art is art – artists have a right to make political commentary, when you start saying that people can or can’t paint/draw/write particular things you tend to become a bit, well…dictator-like
  2. Women in SA are frequently equated with their bits, their hormones that come from those bits, and are told that they are nothing more than their bits. In fact, women’s bits are EVERYWHERE in art and in media. As yet, there has been no outcry (except before the 1993 Miss World when the ANCWL said they didn’t want such sexist pageants in the new SA – nothing since then though)
  3. Brett Murray (artists of the Zuma Spear) is making a commentary about the way that the President has led so far -i.e. the president leads from his crotch, or perhaps that the President’s leadership style has been, well, flaccid (re Zim, women’s rights, education, poverty)
  4. We don’t have to respect the President if he has not earned respect
  5. Zuma has not voiced sentiments (apart from perhaps occasionally taking over a women’s day rally with pro-ANC rhetoric) that support women’s rights, or even said anything useful about women in his whole presidency, and so as women we shouldn’t be uncomfortable making fun of him and his ntonton
Image from Zapiro in the newspaper

I am sympathetic to some of these, and so my feelings on the painting became more muddled.

Zapiro, quick penman that he is, made a similar drawing with apologies to Brett Murray arguing that unless Zuma was ready to earn respect he should get over the fact that people will make fun of him.

Today, two men defaced the painting at the Goodman gallery. They walked in and painted over something which had obviously upset them. Under whose direction is not yet clear. They have now been arrested. The picture now looks like this.

This defacement, and the court case that Zuma has now started, say to me that this painting went right to the core of what is not right about the President’s leadership style, and more than that what is wrong with masculinity in SA.

Zuma has characterised himself as a man’s man. He celebrates a masculinity that emphasises sexual virility and supports polygamy in the face of an HIV epidemic spread by multiple concurrent partners, a masculinity that emphasises that men take sex when they want it and despite being accused of rape never once says that violence against women is wrong, a masculinity that is heteronormative and homophobic (see comments about pushing down gay men, and appointment of John Qwelane and Mogoeng Mogoeng). His masculinity has been the core of his politics thus far, and perhaps the core appeal to those who vote for him. When it is under threat the very core of what he stands for is under threat. That the painting was defaced by men is interesting and reflects that perhaps these scary sentiments about manhood and its untouchability are shared by many other men, not only Msholozi.

For now we’ll have to see what happens in court for Zuma and for the two men who defaced Murray’s painting. In the meantime state resources will be spent in court cases that focus on what it means to be a man. The politics of the cock are alive and well. And this whole saga had taught us all that they are not up for discussion

I’d like to know what would have happened if instead of a tiny, floppy penis, Brett Murray had drawn Zuma with a vagina.

What’s in a name?

Jonathan Smith
Jono Smith

By Jonathan Smith

What value should one place on a name these days? A woman I know recently got married and hers was a story I have seen with many woman. She has her doctorate degree and holds a very powerful position at a major South African company; being in her mid-thirties she will probably go very far. After the wedding, everyone asked her what her new surname was. She was married; it was expected of her to take on her husband’s name.

It seems to be a common story these days; powerful women who have in some way fought for equality, who have power and have the brains and the skills to change the world, change their surnames when they marry.

I suppose marriage itself can be defined as either a sharing of two lives, a growing together of love of two people and a safe and secure place of realness. Marriage can be the ultimate celebration of commitment. Or marriage can be seen as the perpetuation of sexism, of roles that place one individual below another and of a lack of freedom between two people.

Marriage is an ancient patriarchal tradition, and it obviously carries practises and traditions within it that are sexist and need to change. Now the changing of a surname of a woman getting married points to the days when women were little more than property to be traded between their fathers and their future spouse. Thus a woman would move from the household (surname) of her father to continue being submissive under the protection and name of her husband. Her surname was never actually hers; it was an indication of whom she belonged to.

Society has changed greatly, and a lot of heterosexual marriages are between men and women who value and benefit from equality. These woman are often the primary ‘bread-winners’, and more than likely have an equal say in the decision being made in that relationship.

So why do so many women still change their surnames? And why does this practise, which is rooted in a patriarchal control system, continue almost unquestioned? In the movies we still see little girls dreaming of becoming “Mrs Jones” as they take on someone else name. In fact, part of the mythical ideal of a happy marriage seems to be for the women to gladly take on the name and delight in being called “Mrs John Jones” at her wedding ceremony.

When I got married, we were young and only starting our feminist journey. We never questioned this practise. So Candi has my surname. If we had gotten married six months later, she would have kept her name. Currently we are seriously considering whether we spend the time and effort in changing her name back to what it was because we believe in equality. And just because I am the man, it does not mean I am the leader, the head, the one to be identified.  But many people think we are being stupid.  It just a name they say.

So is there anything to be said for this continuing this tradition? Is it just that; a tradition that makes marriage complete, and makes it easy for your children to have one surname? And how are you challenging those around you to at least consider these aspects before they amrry and accept what has always been done.

Reconfiguring ‘The Violent Black man’, and the succesful black woman: a critical response to Jonathan Jansen

Gcobani Qambela
Gcobani Qambela

By Gcobani Qambela

I have just read a highly disturbing and problematic piece by the Vice-Chancellor of the University of the Free State, Professor Jonathan Jansen. In this piece he notes that

“more women, compared to men are graduating from high school and from university with dire consequences for our still patriarchal society.”

Understandably, he questions the sociological impact that this will have on South Africa’s patriarchal society, with a large focus on the impact on heterosexual marriages.

In this piece Jansen, using American focused research in the book ‘Is Marriage for White People‘ by Stanford University’s Ralp Banks whose research shows that as black women succeed, many black women remain unmarried (as they do not want to compromise or settle for a less educated man). Jansen correctly notes that many men in South Africa have been socialised as the head of the household, however I disagree with his gloomy and pessimistic, almost urgent conclusion that these

“emasculated” (black) South African men who in ten years time will find themselves overridden by women occupying important and influential occupations will result in “tension and violence in many homes as men struggle to come to terms with their changed status.”

I do not agree with Jansen because he wrongly equates women’s access to education as a threat to (black) men, and that is not correct. While Jansen has colourblinded and tried to keep his article race neutral, his utilisation of American centric research amongst black African-American men, implies his piece is focused primarily on black South African men, and not all races.

Jansen sees black men as inherently violent and patriarchal, so it’s only natural to him that if black women assume powerful positions of power in both academic institutions and the corporate world, then necessarily black men (seeing their status threatened by black succesful women) will retaliate in violence and consequently continue to fill up the prisons. Jansen further goes on to perpetuate the racist stereotype of the political arena in South Africa being a domain for only uneducated black men who cannot find occupation anywhere else. He says he imagines

“more and more of these emasculated [uneducated black] men following their role models into politics, where in this country you need neither a degree nor any limits on your appetites for the intimate.”

It is not clear if this is directed at a particular political party or not, but I wonder where he places all the black people in South African politics with Masters degrees and PhD’s from reputable institution?

I see his piece as not only  deeply  sexist, but also an innately racist piece of writing, and contributes to essential white supremacists colonial misrepresentations of black men. In ‘We Real Cool: Black Men and Masculinity‘ American feminist scholar and cultural critic bell hooks for instance notes that black men are often easily

“seen as animals brutes, natural-born racists, and murderers, black men have had no real dramatic say when it comes to the way they are represented. They have made few interventions on the stereotype. As a consequence they are victimised by stereotypes that were first articulated in the nineteenth century but [still] hold sway over the minds and imaginations of citizens of this nation in the present day.”

While Jansen notes that patriarchy is learnt through socialisation, I am surprised that he seems so ardent and sure that amongst black males it cannot be unlearned through the same process of (re)socialisation.

Jonathan Jansen misses the point that women, especially black women doing well professionally and academically, could be an important teachable moment in the lives of South African men, especially for black men to rise up. I’ve been blessed to have been surrounded by incredible young black succesful women during my time at university and in my working life, and most of these women were not only working to pay off student loans and supporting their families, but were often educating their younger brothers and sisters. Many leading world thinkers including Oprah Winfrey, (who was awarded an honorary doctorate in 2011 under Jansen’s leadership at the University of the Free State) have long recognised ‘to change the world, educate a woman’, for women as opposed to males are able to use their education to further advance their families, as opposed to the common focus on self-enrichment amongst men.

Jonathan Jansen further sees stay at home fathers, as inherently emasculated consequently perpetuating harmful patriarchal understandings of fatherhood, with men being portrayed as incapable of being nurturers, and women bearing the sole responsibility for rearing children. He sees fathers who stay at home (whether by choice or circumstance) to raise their children  as beaten down, emasculated and failed men.

It’s highly problematic that a man of stature such as Jansen would not see the fringe benefits of educating women. Jansen in his piece does not question patriarchy and the negative remnants its left behind for men and women. His piece assumes that just because a black woman is successful, then that necessarily puts her in danger of the failed violent black South African man, so as to assume women less are less likely to suffer violence when their economic circumstances are less than those of men.  With SA’s painful history of forced marriages, I am surprised that Jansen assumes it to be a bad sociological choice for women to choose NOT to get married where they feel they are better able to support themselves/happier alone.

Masculinity, patriarchy along with violence are all learnt, and can similarly be unlearned. Unlearning however is the hard part, but it is possible to break the cycle of patriarchal thinking and violence. It seems to me however, Jansen has given up that we can reconstruct and reconfigure masculinity and patriarchy, but it appears to me that he is preoccupied with managing it, than overhauling it completely.

Since Jansen is using American research to understand black South African males, I would further counter the book (which he uses to support his predictions), by directing him to a 2012 study released by the University of Pennsylvania’s newly founded Centre for the Study of Race and Equity in Education which actually highlights that the achievement among black male undergraduates often goes unnoticed by most education experts. Dr Shaun Harper focusing on black undergraduate males notes that for instance

“To increase their educational attainment, the popular one-sided emphasis on failure and low-performing black male undergraduate must  be counterbalanced with insights gathered from those who somehow manage to navigate their way to and through higher education, despite all that is stacked against them.”

This is further supported by bell hooks who notes that

“negative stereotypes about the nature of black masculinity continue to undermine the identities black males are allowed to fashion for themselves.”

Jansen, makes the same mistakes that these education researchers Dr Shaun Harper is talking about, by focusing on studies of black men who have strayed, as opposed to looking at those who have succeeded not only professionally and academically, but as whole and fully realised black men in stable non-violent relationships with women (or even men)  who earn more/less than them.

There are many powerful and succesful black women in South Africa and internationally who command a lot of money and power (with relatively less affluent black husbands/partners), who don’t seem to fall into violent patriarchal blanket  terms that Jansen seems to us to address all black men.

I don’t see a pessimistic future for relations between black women and men, I see a more equitable one, where women have choices, are increasingly free from violence and better educated along with their black male counterparts. Just last week for instance we were celebrating one of Jansens black students, Sibusiso Tshabalala (20) who has recently been named one of Google’s top 10 young innovators, and there are many other young black males doing extraordinary things right next to the females.

As we highlight and celebrate them, along with their female counterparts, I believe the few left behind/straying will gather inspiration to become more better self-aware men. That’s why the work of organizations and programs such as One Man Can and Brothers for Life are important in introducing young men to new forms of masculinity, to counter patriarchal socialisation. It’s too early for Jansen to promote such a negative image of black men, especially when he himself is in a position to help change it.

Teaching boys in a sexist society

By Athambile Masola

Athambile Masola
Athambile Masola

I am a teacher. Part of the joy of teaching is interacting with my learners. I teach in a co-ed high school. I spent 12 years in an all-girls’ school and I come from a matriarchal family so my experience of boys has largely been through interactions in public spaces, friendships and university. However, as a teacher, I now have to interact with teenage boys daily.

The boys I teach are mostly pimple-faced, scrawny-looking and some are shy. Those who aren’t shy are usually the ones with the loudest voices, often get attention from girls easily and don’t mind telling me how charming they are and how girls fall for it. There are also the burly characters who communicate an aggressive demeanour simply by sitting in my classroom. They all wear their insecurities as teenagers in different ways, beneath the “too cool for school” swagger. I’ve already witnessed a fist fight between two boys; however, within two weeks of the fight they were friends.

Gender in education is a minefield filled with many generalisations. Some are as simplistic as which subjects boys and girls show different performance levels in. The assumption is that girls are better at languages and boys are better at maths and science. As a language teacher I was fascinated when I discovered literature about the “feminisation of language instruction”. Educationists suggest that the way language is taught in schools is targeted towards a particular kind of learner: typically one who can sit in the class and listen quietly while the teacher speaks. Because girls are seen as compliant when it comes to classroom behaviour, they often do better in language education. Language classes require learners to be reflexive and this thinking is couched within the assumption that girls are better at this than boys.

I have tried to relate this to my lessons and I have noticed that beyond the behavioural problems I often have in my classes, the boys I teach simply want to play outside, where learning is about sport (life is a party and “boys will be boys”). Their writing is often not as verbose as the girls’. This is not to say they do not perform as well as the girls, but they are also more inclined to drift and lose concentration when I teach.

Apart from the academic aspect of teaching, I have tried to create space for conversation in my classroom. Where there are any sexist incidences, I try using these for further conversation and teaching. I recently witnessed a boy “tap” one of the girls in my class (on her butt). The girl’s response was that of any woman whose body has been made a toy: she retaliated by slapping the boy.

Anyone else may have suggested that this is the nature of teenagers who have raging hormones so I shouldn’t worry myself too much. When I intervened, the boy seemed confused. This is a common joke amongst boys and girls at school, but the girl was firm that she felt disrespected. I tried to ask why he thought it was an acceptable joke that he can “tap” girls and he simply saw this as a game.

My focus on boys in my classroom (and the school as a whole) is that there are enough positive images directed at girls for how they can be in the world. But I find there aren’t nearly as many positive messages indicating a different way of being for boys. It is accepted that teenage boys are violent, permanently horny, and disinterested in anything that might provoke any thinking. There are also underlying messages for what it means being a boy in a poor community and the norms that are expected in that social setting.

I have no doubt the challenges young boys are facing and the pressures to become “manly men”, but being a young feminist teacher I do not want to be the teacher that harangues boys about the gender question. When the gender debate emerges in class, boys are inclined to get defensive which isn’t a surprise because they are young boys growing up in a sexist society.

I don’t want to be the person who tells the boys who or what they should be, but I do wish I could engage them about the invisible sexism they perform daily without even realising it. And I would like them to seriously consider what it means being a man without dominating space or women.

This is a conversation for both girls and boys, it’s about being human. But between teaching grammar and “characteristics of a short story” it’s not that easy.

Why do some men fear Feminists?

By Nobantu Shabangu

I was sitting outside my father’s office waiting for the meeting he was in to end, my father’s sub-ordinates were there with me talking about Malema, government and all subjects made of small talk. Our conversations were funny and entertaining.  The question of who our next president would be was raised.

“It definitely won’t be a woman” said one of my favourite father’s colleagues.

Shocked at his statement I sat up and asked him why he thought so.

“Come on how can a woman rule a country, I mean she won’t be able to rule when she menstruates, what will happen when that time of the month comes?” he asked me. “She will wake up and go into her office and rule the country” I answered shaking my head. “No it will never happen, a woman will never rule this country” he said looking at me straight in my eyes.

I saw that I had no support, there were no other women with me and I was surrounded by a stern number of Zulu men, and I sunk back into my seat infuriated.

Men fear feminists…no, they fear any woman who may seem to encroach on their so-called territory of driving trucks, owning businesses, owning sexuality and (heaven help us) wanting to become president. I am baffled that some men see any confident and independent woman as a threat. What is it that they scared of?

Feminists are not out to castrate men.  Instead we want what is ours: equality. We have learnt that there is no such thing as a woman’s work or a man’s work, feminists understand this well, why is that men can’t understand that notion? Is it maybe because they feel emasculated by the sudden surge of independent thinking women?  Is it because they feel there is a war of sexes looming where eventually the feminists will win or is it simply because they are products of patriarchy and male chauvinism?

In the case of the men I was with, I think it was a number of factors that cause the feminist to be feared.

  1. They were men in a mainly male-dominated industry (taxi industry);
  2. They were Zulu. Zulus are notorious for being sexists (I’m Zulu and don’t like to adhere to this stereotype but it seems it was proven to me on that day);
  3. They were old men, all of them over the age thirty five. Persons born in the late eighties and early 1990s may understand feminism because they’re educated about it in their multi-racial schools but these men were definitely not, as most of them come from and were educated in rural areas;
  4. They subscribed to a culture that perpetuates patriarchy and male chauvinism hence the idea that a woman is weak when she menstruates and cannot do any work during those days of the month;
  5. They possessed a fear of being emasculated. For a long time the image of a man has been that of a strong, brave provider but now that image has changed and now includes the woman, and this unsettles the old traditional men; and
  6. There is a misconception of what the feminist ideal is.  Most men are poorly educated on what the feminist concept is and misunderstand it.

The fear of anything is caused by misunderstanding (e.g. homophobia, xenophobia and now feminists-phobia) and the only way to end this fear and cultivate understanding is through education. That being said we must teach our male counterparts how to use their common sense.  Women don’t complain when men choose to be cooks, or dressmakers or gardeners.  We invite this fluidity in so-called ‘gender roles’.

Feminism must become a practice seen in reality and not read about only in books.  For example, I was at a friend’s party when I overheard one of the girls tell the other girl to ‘man up’.  I immediately stopped dancing and told her “no you must woman up”. They both looked at me confused. “I’m a feminist” I told them. “Oh” they replied and we went back to our joyous dancing. You see it takes little things like speaking up in the midst of a noisy party to express your own views on feminism. If you speak up you might teach someone something new.

I wish I could have spoken up to those men who are poorly educated about women’s biology and the correlation to her intelligence and ability to work, but I couldn’t.  The circumstances wouldn’t allow me to.  My culture, which perpetuates patriarchy, forced me to shut up and respect the views of those old men.  Slowly I will teach them (in a safe atmosphere) that women are strong besides bleeding every single month and that the blood does not block their ability to work or think clearly.

The fear of the feminist must be eradicated and a culture of understanding cultivated.  This does not mean that we stop being firm about our ideals, but as feminists we must build gates inviting in people into our culture not walls blocking them off and slowly we will build a world of gender neutral tones.

Clothes Maketh the Woman

By Cobus Fourie

I have cross-dressed only once. It was for a social awareness project that one of my graphic designer friends had chosen.  It was a horrifying experience. I was a horrifying experience. Stockings, high heels, hideous skirts and tarty tops aside, I could barely breathe. I fell off my platforms down a flight of stairs and felt like Tori in Playboy Mommy.

With the added benefit of a sprained ankle (and the terribly restrictive clothes) I hobbled almost like Courtney Love to the location of the photo shoot. I didn’t have to be in front of the camera to feel like I was on display. Everything I wore felt like a display item. I had to be terribly careful of how I sat, walked, the way I conducted myself. I had to make sure makeup didn’t smudge. I was for the first time acutely aware that unless you dress in a curtain just draping over everything, that you really have to be mindful to avoid wardrobe malfunctions and exposing yourself unladylike (whatever that means).

Last shot was taken of me, concussed drag queen, lying in a bath with my legs dangling out, sort of like I was thrown in, like a deadweight large and uncomfortable mess. One of the assistants shouted something along the lines of “maak toe meisie!”

Despite the obvious disturbing nuances of gender-based violence and identity-based hate crimes, which was the theme of the social awareness project by the way, I realised there was another evil at play: the Patriarchy enforcing itself on the female with something as simple as clothes.

We take clothes for granted. We obsess about this matching that and fashion and other practicalities, but we never or hardly ever examine clothes as a social construct. We take for granted the rules clothes impose on us, maintaining the status quo and keeping the masses submissive.

I could feel, tangibly, how the male gaze and the accompanying sexist mind-set was imposed upon me.  I realise on a daily basis how the power asymmetry is enforced by fashion, de rigueur, norms, traditions, heterosexism and an array of prejudices. I can see women subverting themselves by projecting gender norms and patriarchal structures upon other women, while feeling superior doing so. It never ceases to amaze.

Take a look at what you are wearing. Now stop thinking of it as a fashion statement. Think of it as an employment uniform of sorts, like a doctor’s scrubs, like a prison jumpsuit, like a curtain. These “garments” each have its own social significance and connotations. It is not by chance that doctors are required to dress formally, it is all about perception.

I feel rather restricted in formal wear required for work and cannot wait to get out of it each day. Why do we do that? If I were a woman I would have scoffed at the patriarchal hegemony and its requirements and impositions. Alas I am not. I am writing as an outsider. Women out there, you really know what it is like, why don’t we discuss this more? Will we be relinquished if we at least know and are aware but nevertheless remain oppressed? Something to think about…

Legislating sexual violence: policing the female body

By Ritsie Mashale

I was listening to the radio this morning and was shocked to hear that Minister Sbu Ndebele [Minister of Transport] has made a public speech yesterday saying:

“No miniskirts for women taking a driving test! They distract testing officers”. 

Really? Why is the testing officer looking there in the first place? Why is he not looking at the road and the woman’s head to see that she is doing her observations correctly as per the K53 mandate? Is she observing with her legs and breasts that the police officer needs to have his eyes located there? I know there are women who rely heavily on their assets [body] to acquire their driver’s licence and it’s proven to work in some cases. The sight of a woman skimpily dressed also makes the testing officer’s day, in my view.  This is a social dance that women and testing officers have had for years now.  I have not heard of a story where a testing officer has then stalked or gone out of his way to inflict violence on a woman who came to the test dressed in a miniskirt. He may make unwanted advances on the woman during the test, however, the woman is still at liberty to report him to his seniors and or choose to go to another testing officer or ask for a female testing officer. The latter defeating the purpose of the miniskirt.

In the case where women choose to wear miniskirts to their driver’s license test, women are exercising choice to use their bodies as objects of desire to acquire a license to “freedom”.  If the officer is naive enough to lose his judgement and issue the license to the woman, so be it.

However, I am concerned when the Minister decides that he can dictate what women can and cannot wear. Especially in light of the global Slutwalk movements happening across the world where women are reclaiming their right to wear what they please, without living in fear of violence.

I would like to draw on the work of Dr Nolwazi Mkhwanazi regarding women’s sexuality. Dr Mkhwanazi draws on the Zuma rape trial and the story of 25-year-old Nwabisa Ngcukanawho was sexually assaulted by taxi drivers at the Noord Street taxi rank in the Johannesburg CBD for wearing a miniskirt. Dr Mkhwanazi argues that culture has often been used to police and regulate women’s sexuality and more devastatingly to justify violence against women.

The Minister may not have used culture to justify his position, but his words are tantamount to the Canadian police officer who claimed that women should not wear skimpy clothing as they might be inviting “trouble”. My concern is who gives the Minister the right to dictate what women should wear when they take their driver’s tests? More importantly, why does he feel that he needs to police women’s bodies? Is he speaking for men in this regard?  If so, which men? Rapists and perpetrators of violence against women? Are the police officers not able to control themselves or ask to be swap with a female officer if they see a woman dressed in a miniskirt coming for her test? Are testing officers so out of control that they need a custodian to safe guard their interests? I doubt this very much.

In my view, Sbu Ndebele’s comments are problematic for a number of reasons. My first departure point is to reaffirm and remind the Minister that women are free to dress as they please without being told by men, it is after all their Constitutional right.

Second, the Minister is assuming that he has the Constitutional right to mandate what women can and cannot wear when taking their driver’s licence tests, or more broadly when performing other tasks in their daily lives.

Third, the Minister is making the assumption that men are not able to control their urges and need to be safeguarded against “temptation” brought on by women in miniskirts.

This last assumption is problematic for me as it relinquishes individual responsibility for men’s behaviour. It serves to justify and reinforce the notion that women who wear miniskirts invite violence.

Surely, we know this is never the case?