Note from a recovering jerk

2016-05-12 06:00

I WAS once a jerk about breastfeeding in public. I remember in one instance I asked the mother of my firstborn child to cover up her plump-with-milk breasts while our baby assuaged her hunger.

I was a young parent, a young man whose thinking had been shaped into believing that men hold authority over women, and their bodies.

A friend and I were talking recently about how absurd it is how we men, “police” women’s actions.

Earlier this year a popular soapie sparked a debate across social networks when its lead female character said she wanted to take a second husband.

The bone of contention was that culturally this is unacceptable, yet we live in a country that promotes gender equality. In this regard, if men can have a polygamous marriage why can’t women?

The soapie and subsequent discussion around the issue revealed how we live in a society structured to benefit men and oppress womenfolk.

On a lighter side, we men constantly question our partners about their whereabouts and the company they keep, and even want to be overnight stylists by suggesting how they should dress, which is usually what we deem as decent. Besides the fact that such behaviour reveals one’s insecurity, it is just senseless because what a woman decides to do with her body, what she decides to clothe it with and who she decides to do it with is none of our God-damn business. We do not own women, we do not authority over them.

A conversation between a woman acquaintance and I that started out based on a question posed by one Sunday radio show went, “are marketers guilty of perpetuating the sexual objectification of women?”, eventually became an eye-opening chat for me.

She told me how she once posted on a social network a picture of herself at the beach wearing nothing but a skimpy bikini she felt comfortable in and felt it was appropriate for the day’s occasion. The picture drew negative attention and comments, she told me.

My dear friend told me that what really irked her was that men post photographs of themselves in swim wear, sometimes underwear, while at the beach but never receive the same negativity.

“Women just get the short end of the stick when it comes to a lot of things,” she said.

And we have all seen men clad in nothing but their boxer shorts take a morning stroll to the local spaza and yet nothing is said about or to them. However, if a woman were to do the same one is certain she would be covered in slut-shaming. Women end up being the victims of so called traditions that favour their counterparts.

Speaking about the lesson she learnt from her transgression of posting a seemingly sexually provocative picture on a social network, my friend said: “It is sad, but anyway it made me realise that I have the power to be what I want to be and I can’t let any man define me. Actually, what went on about the bikini thing taught me to be comfortable with who I am and not do things that benefit other people because I will end up losing my sense of self.”

Back to breastfeeding in public - when I asked the mother of my child to cover up it wasn’t about her, or her dignity, rather it was about me and the false idea that her body belonged to me, that only I was meant to see her breasts, and I had the right to dictate when and where her breasts should and should not be covered.

This all disregarded what she wanted to do with herself, her body, her breasts. She was probably more comfortable bare breasted, or she hadn’t even thought of covering up because the most important thing in her mind at the time was feeding her child.

In hindsight, why my comfort levels mattered in all this - our child being fed - beats me.

I remember in one instance I asked the mother of my firstborn child to cover up her plump-with-milk breasts while our baby assuaged her hunger.

Women just get the short end of the stick when it comes to a lot of things

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