Reclaiming the ‘F’ word

2014-09-09 00:00

MOST of us know the huge issues our country faces with regards to gender violence, but what we don’t know is how everyday sexism has an effect and what we can do to end it and win the war against gender violence.

Feminism has become a word loaded with negative connotations and one that people don’t like to associate themselves with.

This is because many people don’t actually know its true meaning. I understand that a feminist is someone who believes that men and women should be equal politically, socially and economically.

A sexist, in my opinion, believes the opposite; therefore if we are not feminists then aren’t we sexists?

Another issue is that people don’t believe there is a need for feminism any more because of the view that men and women today are, in fact, equal.

While I do not disagree that we have made great strides when it comes to women’s equality, we must understand that rights on paper do not automatically mean rights in reality.

I believe that the root of today’s gender violence is the way that educated people talk about women, especially in our schools. Everyday sexism is so discreet that many people don’t even notice it. Sexism seeps into our lives, our homes and into our communities; it eats away at our society one woman at a time.

The problems start in our schools. One only has to listen to a schoolboy conversation to realise the true extent of the issue.

When boys call women bitches and sluts, it has an impact; when boys refer to women as objects and not people, it has an impact; when boys tell sexist jokes and the people around them laugh, it endorses that behaviour and it plants seeds in the minds of future rapists.

Just because you personally are not raping or abusing women doesn’t mean that your actions and words aren’t contributing to rape and abuse.

Another issue is that people refer to rape and sexism as “women’s issues”, creating the idea that women must solve the problem.

Rape and sexism are not “women’s issues”; they are men’s issues. We need strong male leaders who are not afraid to call themselves feminists. We need to learn that how and what we say have an impact on women worldwide and the war against sexism, so that we can be empowered to solve it.

It is always good to link issues, to put things in perspective — sexism and racism for example.

Should white schoolboys start liberally using the “K” word to describe black people, there would be a major outcry; it would rightly be seen as racism.

When schoolboys liberally use the word slut, it is seen as normal, not sexist. So where do we draw the line?

Is it okay to use socially degrading words to describe women, but not to beat them?

We think its okay to call boys “studs” and girls “sluts”, and that it’s fine to attach labels and tags to women, such as “bossy” or “cheeky”.

The double standards we have created affect the way women are brought up and how the world views them. We need to stop condoning the use of such degrading words and start standing up, whether it’s to the boy who said “bitch” or the teenager who grabbed a girl’s breast or to the men who gang-raped a girl from a neighbouring community. We must stand up, as leaders, as feminists and as people.

The first step to standing up is understanding men’s issues. We need our schools to start educating us with a radical (discreet) feminist agenda (in both boys’ and girls’ schools, public and private).

If our schools really wished to stop the raping and abuse of women in our communities, they could.

We need to start appreciating women for what they can add to our community and not just what they can add to our egos.

We need the men in our communities to start standing up for every third South African woman who will be raped in her lifetime.

We need men and women to start reclaiming that F word. We need people to stop calling women “bitches” and “sluts” or any other degrading words. Sexism is not something that people like talking about; it makes us feel uncomfortable, and that’s exactly why we need to start talking about it.

• Nicholas Farrell is a 17-year-old political activist who attends a private school in Durban.


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