Over the past couple of weeks, I have slowly started realizing, that it’s mostly men who have written articles on the Oscar Pistorius saga, the ‘plight’ of women, as well as strongly object to the Lulu Xingwane debacle. With due respect, some women have added their comments below the articles.
As a white, English speaking, 60-year-old woman, who has been a documentary producer (travelled the country and world widely), who owns a gun, and is married to an Afrikaans man, I would like to add my personal interpretation of this country’s attitude towards women. I’m not a ‘victim’ crying out in pain, nor a breast-beating feminist, but am rather trying to look at this whole matter objectively. I certainly feel that many women are responsible for the situation as it is because they have bought into the patriarchal system.
My father died when I was a young teenager, but I always remember him as a kind and supportive person who encouraged me to be independent, outspoken and not to accept the status quo of the fifties – which was that women were expected to become the perfect little home-makers, smiling and kowtowing to their big, strong husbands. You only have to watch movies from that era to see exactly what I mean. I suppose it was post WW2, and nations had to build up their populations. But, I was lucky that I had a father who gave me the confidence as a girl to stand up for what I believed in.
The first sign that men, or in this case boys, didn’t quite like this attitude was when I used to beat them in class. Not physically, but with academic marks. They interpreted this as a real slight on their ‘intelligence’ that a girl was cleverer than them. The fact that I was a tomboy, and dared to even run faster than them was even worse. When my friends played with dolls and I played cricket in the street with the boys, there was much murmuring amongst mothers. I didn’t care – but it was pretty obvious that people didn’t like the fact that I overstepped the accepted female boundary. And, this was in an English speaking community.
In those days, if you actually wanted to work after school and before you got married, there were a couple of accepted options; a secretary, teacher or a nurse. I went to varsity to become a teacher and dropped out after a year or so because I couldn’t envision myself doing the same thing year after year. A stupid mistake I regret to this day. Nevertheless, I decided instead to become an airhostess. Horrors! While I traversed the world, my friends did the ‘right’ thing and got married. It was an experience that really opened my eyes to the rigid conservativeness of our country. Something that was confirmed when I joined the SABC in the late 70’s.
There were of course English Departments at the SABC, but as everyone knows, the Afrikaners in power ran it. There were a couple of female producers, but in the main (and I was told this in no uncertain terms), if you were a woman, you would be a production secretary and that’s where you’d stay. I was even called in once and berated because I wore jeans. The Afrikaans girls all wore pretty little pink suits, with flowers on their desks as well as photos of their boyfriend or families. It was all ‘Ja, meneer, sal dit doen meneer,’ and so on. They had all bought into the man’s idea of what they should be and how they should behave. I lasted there a year
Over the next 30 years, as a free-lancer, I travelled the country extensively. I have been fortunate to spend time in remote rural areas as well as township zones in cities. An experience I had during the pre-production of Shaka Zulu, was meeting with King Goodwill. I was the only woman in a team of eight people. I was completely ignored until teatime – when I was asked if I took sugar in my tea – my only contribution to the 3-hour long meeting. I also stayed in a Zulu Kraal and met the chief in the ‘meeting’ hut. All the women were on one side and the men on another. All the men had a say, but the women had to keep their mouths shut. Sounds like a few religions I know of.
But, talking to the women in these areas was really a treat. Many of them, they said, didn’t take contraception because their husbands worked in the city. If other women saw them going to the clinic they would suspect them of having a ‘boyfriend’ and tell their husbands. The fact that the ‘husbands’ had city girlfriends didn’t enter the equation of fairness.
I married an Afrikaans chap from Durban who has never tried to stop me, or even suggested that I stay at home with the kids or just run the home. He has ‘allowed’ me the ‘freedom’ to do what I have done. The reality, is that if he had tried to ‘control’ me, I would have left. Unfortunately, too many of my friends are not in the same situation and I keep hearing ‘but my husband won’t like it’.
It’s not only men that have to change their thinking - until women of all cultures and religions loose brainwashed ideas of ‘their place’, and continue to willingly submit to entrenched ideologies of men, the abuse will continue.