The tragedy of the mass shooting in California and the #YesAllWomen campaign has brought the misogynistic culture of Americans to the forefront. But this is not just an affliction that is germane only to American culture, but to all cultures and especially here in South Africa. A country where rape is the order of the day, where young women are constantly judged by the way they dress, where a women being beaten into a pulp by her husband is responded by the question, “What did she do to deserve it?” This is a culture which should be listening to what all these women in the world are saying and need to start shifting their mindsets instead of just placating the monster.
Yesterday I had an interesting encounter while walking home. I walk down the same road everyday and my main aim is usually to walk as fast as I can so that I can just reach home unharmed. But this particular walk, a dodgy man started walking in front of me, he had haphazard dirty clothing and was shouting swear words at his friend across the road, so naturally I stalled a bit to put distance between us and held onto my bag a little tighter.
During this time, someone behind me made hoochie noises as I was walking and my immediate instinct was to ignore them as I usually do but the man in front of me turned around horrified to look at the one behind me, and then continued to say (in Afrikaans which I cannot write) “How dumb of a grown man to make sounds at you as if you are a dog.” I was shocked – not at the fact that this man was actually talking to me but more so that he was outraged by an action that I found so common place.
And that man’s reaction made me think, if a common man could be offended at the way women are treated why is it so easy for me to just brush it off? Yes, it makes me uncomfortable; yes, half the time I wish I could just beat up every man who passes a comment or makes some rude gesture or intolerable noise but yet I just suppress what I feel because this is how things are and I’m expected to accept it.
I’ve learnt to anticipate it, I know that even when the weather is scorching hot, I have to cover my legs and make sure that my tops are not showing too much flesh so that I don’t attract attention says a lot about the society we live in. I would rather perspire and wear unnecessary clothes than dare to encourage males to do something or say something.
One day when I was still in school, I was walking to the mall with my friends when a bakkie drove past and everyone from the driver to the workers at the back made lewd sounds and I was so beyond pissed that I shot out my middle finger in defence, it seems like it was one of my more classier moments…regardless just after I did that the bakkie stopped in the middle of the road. At that moment, my friends and I become scared, we feared for our lives, we were just three defenceless girls against an entire bakkie full of men, how could I have been so stupid as to not just tolerate this? We stopped in our tracks, but luckily just as we stopped the bakkie rode on, almost as if they were warning us as to what would happen when we stand up for ourselves, when we dare to defy this honour that they have bestowed upon us to treat us as pieces of meat.
When I told this story to my mother shortly afterwards, she was appalled at me, that I would do something so crude. She told me to just put up with it, because that’s just how men are, by fighting back I was just causing more trouble. Still now, when I tell people close to me that I am afraid to walk home because of the comments that are made, noises, advances, I’m told that it’s because of ‘the expression that’s on my face’ or ‘it’s because I look scared’ or many other pitiless reasons, but the fact remains it’s my fault that I am treated like an object, an animal (although the whole ‘they can smell your fear’ argument isn’t that the same ones they use on dogs, so which sex is the ones that are more like animals?).
Men in our society are excused far too often. They are not born treating women like objects, they are born loving their mothers, respecting their grandmothers, why then are they raised to disrespect their peers or younger women? Little boys learn from their fathers, from the grandfathers, that it is ‘fun’ to make women feel uncomfortable, to make them feel as if their purpose in life is to look good and be commented by you. And yet, every woman who just lets this slide, who sees it as some form of twisted compliment, who encourages this kind of behaviour is showing these young boys that it is okay to treat women as second grate citizens who exist for your gaze.
As South Africans we should not be complacent with this distasteful custom, we should not teach our daughters, our sisters, that they should just put up with men disrespecting them, men should be not excused, ‘oh that’s just how men are’ should never be uttered. If we are responsible for all our actions, then so should he. A man makes a conscious decision to pass a comment, to taunt a woman because in their twisted mind it’s funny or it’s make them seem cool, or it gives them some sort of power. As women we shouldn’t feel obliged to give them any sort of power, to let them silence us, but we do, because we fear our lives. We fear what would happen if we fight back, how they would retaliate. It is sad that we live in constant fear of the opposite sex, of the ones that should love us, that should see us as equals.
We all need to shift how we raise future generations, how we teach our sons to treat girls, how we teach our daughters to respect themselves. I would like my daughter one day to be able to walk down the street comfortably. I would like my daughter one day to be able to wear what she wants to without fearing that it would ‘tempt’ a man to mishandle her or treat her unsavoury. I would like my daughter to be able to see men as as peers, someone to be happy to see and not as someone to hide from, to be scared of what they will do to her. I would like my daughter one day to feel as if men see her as a human being, that she and her body is respected, and not treated as a piece of meat on a platter for men to grab hold of whenever they want to and to pass comment on as they pleased.
The #YesAllWomen campaign tackles a global problem. It tackles a greater society where misogynism is so ingrained inside that most people fail to see it as a problem until something drastic like a mass shooting and giant anti-women manifesto happens. But a huge culture shift needs to happen, especially here, we need to begin to raise our children better, to respect each other, to respect themselves. We need to learn to think of how others will react before passing comment, we need to learn to not be okay with others disrespecting us. We need to learn to stop excusing bad behaviour. We need to learn to change.