Sexism: Will no one talk about it?

2011-04-02 12:08

The Oxford Concise ­Dictionary defines sexism as “prejudice or discrimination, especially against women, on the grounds of sex.”

As the public debate rages around race relations and transformation I’ve been struck by the silence about other forms of oppression that also distort our country.

In particular, I’ve been wondering why discussions about sexism seem to generate so little heat and traction.

How many of us ask the question: “Is sexism not as urgent a problem as racism?”

Have we asked ourselves why the devastating manifestations of sexism remain unattended to?

Have we asked why we have the highest levels of domestic and sexual violence in the world;

uneven access to the medication needed to prevent HIV infection after rape; disproportionately large numbers of women relegated to low-paying jobs or unemployment;

or why the millions of women failed by a maintenance system that ­allows men to skip out on child support remain unattended to?

These are just a few of the ways in which women’s human rights are routinely violated in South Africa.

Is it because we simply don’t care much about the physical and emotional scars left by sexism?

Sexism encourages our society to continue to view and treat women as lesser human beings, thus less deserving of respect and dignity.

The treatment of women in the corporate world is indicative of how ingrained sexism is.

Women are accorded less ­respect for their capabilities ­because sexism has taught men that women are inherently less gifted than they are.

When women succeed in their chosen careers we cast aspersions on their abilities by asking questions such as: “Has she slept her way up the ladder?”

We never ask this of men ­because we have been taught from a young age that men have natural leadership powers.

How different is this from apartheid?

It is crucial for us as a country to begin to grapple with what sexism continues to bequeath us.

This process will not be easy or comfortable because in doing so we will be attacking the notion that what patriarchy has taught us is “normal”.

We have a responsibility to vigorously challenge sexism.

I continue to be inspired by OR Tambo’s words: “In the ­oppression of women lies the oppression of men and in the liberation of women lies the ­liberation of men.”

» Botha is a media-relations manager for the Sonke Gender Justice Network

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