David Moseley

Do we have to talk about rape every day?

2013-07-30 14:05

David Moseley

Whenever I mention that I've been cycling my gran likes to tell me a story. When she was a wee lass (she's Scottish, you see) some friends coerced her into taking a bike ride from their town down to the seaside. It was great fun, she recalls in every telling (she's getting on, so I hear the story often now), just a gaggle of carefree girls in the mood for an adventure.

As with any good yarn, delight turned to disaster when the pedalling posse realised that their ride to the beach was such a lark because it was entirely downhill. Riding uphill back into town was not something that our cycling novices had anticipated.  "So there we were," my gran always says, "standing on the side of the ride as the sun set, crying our eyes out because we thought we'd never get home."

Thankfully, dear reader, this was still an age of valour and good deedery. A lorry driver, upon spotting the teary cyclists, pulled over to offer assistance.

He loaded the sorry lot onto his vehicle, instructing them to perhaps consider their route profile more thoughtfully on future rides, and transported them all home safely.

Sweet story, hey.

No rape

But something is missing. Can you tell what it is? You're smart, I know you can figure it out.

Yes, that's right. There was no rape.

It's just a nice story about a few girls on a day out, with a minor mishap included for narrative tension.

How many of those do you hear today? Very few I'd wager. Granted, post-war Scotland and present day South Africa are vastly different universes, but wouldn't it be nice if you could send your daughter off to the seaside (or park) this weekend and not worry whether she'll make it home untouched by some vile creature's penis or not.

To answer my question in the heading and the column blurb, yes, we do need to talk about rape, and sexism, and woman abuse every day.

We need to talk about the abuse of women until it's not only a handful of dedicated activists trying to change the way we act towards our women, we need to discuss and engage until the day we can send our daughters out without fearing the worst.

I didn't want to write another column like this. I wrote something similar last year. My work was done, I surmised. But I realise it's never done. It's never someone else's problem.

Small things need to change

When I open a magazine produced for one of South Africa's top marathons, and I see that interviewees (five men, one woman) have been asked: "Eye-candy on the road; pass to impress, or run behind to admire the view?" I realise that some people just don't have a clue. I realise that the smallest things need to change.

Sure, comments like that can be passed off as banter, but it gives you some insight into how some men think of women. That is, if you run past a woman during a marathon, she'll somehow be impressed by your athletic prowess. Would she really? Is that how feeble-minded woman are? I'm not so sure.

Yes, it's a long leap from pea-brained sexism like that to rape. Or is it? I don't know. All I know is that if you respect women, you're far less likely to end up raping them.

Call to action

I've spotted on Twitter recently the activity of a journalist by the name of Michelle Solomon. On her website she calls herself "Journalist, feminist researcher and rape survivor rights activist". She also curates the very worthy website and twitter handle of @SexismSA, where women can share their experiences of sexism "big or small". I encourage you to take part.

I know some people recoil at the word activist, and want to pick arguments over the way people like Solomon go about their business. And that's your right.

But for me, in recent years, women abuse has become very black and white. Simply, it's just not on. I say to anyone banging on about rape and sexism and related issues, keep going. Don't stop. Let them have it.

In light of the recent Zwelinzima Vavi story, Solomon has piloted a bloody marvellous thing in the last few days called "Why I Didn't Report". It's a call to action for rape survivors to share their stories of why they kept or remain silent, and to hopefully shatter rape myths that quite clearly plague South Africa.

Writing on her site, Solomon says, "Rape myths abound after the Vavi rape accusation was brought to light. These myths hurt all rape survivors  - and if you ever experience sexual violence, these myths will hurt you too."

What stories do you want your daughters to tell?

In just a few days Solomon has published 19 submissions. Here's an excerpt from the most recent, a woman who says she will probably never report her rape:

"I had a boyfriend who would never listen when I said no and I would eventually just lie there and let him do what he wanted because he would hold me down and it hurt so I would just give up...

"There was one night I was staying over and he left to fetch his cousin from somewhere. When he came back he wanted sex. I said no and he just carried on (while his cousin was in the room). Half way through he stood up, passed a condom to his cousin and he joined in. I joke about it if I ever tell people because it makes me feel better than admitting that it was something absolutely disgusting, and I prefer not to feel dirty about it."

I'm not sure I'm in a position to comment on that, suffice to say it makes me sad, angry and sick to the stomach. The very opposite of my gran's happy cycling tale.

The point is, South Africa, what stories do you want your daughters to tell one day? What do you want them to remember of their lives?

- Follow @david_moseley on Twitter.

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