Rape’s no game

2014-08-27 06:45

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Joonji Mdyogolo laments the extent to which violence against women in SA has been normalised

Women’s Month always comes with bad news. It’s one of the reasons I dread it.

Of course, the month of August has nothing to do with it. It’s just where we live, a country where violence against women is now tightly stitched into the fabric of our society, and Women’s Month offers no reprieve.

In yet another mind-numbing confirmation that rape is commonplace here, City Press reported on Monday that children in a Cape Town primary school were playing “rape games”. What an indictment on us – the adults, the parents and the communities.

And yes, the entire country. Because this is what we’ll do: we’ll read further down in the article that these kids are from Mitchells Plain, then we’ll write off the story as something that only happens to “them”.

And this marks the second thing I hate about Women’s Month and media coverage during it – the perpetuation of stereotypes. Rape and violence is for the poor gogos in the rural areas, teenagers in coloured townships and black kids in the shacks of Diepsloot.

They are a muddy muddle of mostly no-name victims and the most we remember about them are the details of what was inflicted on them – such as their disembowelment.

Ironically, even in death, white women are victors. I know about Reeva Steenkamp’s life in full, Technicolor detail. Her friends have been given airtime to extol her virtues.

Ditto Ina Bonnette, whose ex-husband ordered her gang rape, mutilated her body and shot her son to death. I will remember her bravery and her choice of hair colours that became symbolic of her defiant spirit.

But do you know the name Dolly Tshabalala? Do you know who she was, or just the details of her death?

There should be the same care and consideration in covering her story. There should be the same nuances in reporting to show she had a life, too, so as to send a message that her death should also not have happened.

This leads me to the third reason I dread Women’s Month. We are so fixated with the two-dimensional “victims and victors” narrative, we forget about the day-to-day realities.

We ignore the everyday inequality permeating our entire society – from the street to the workplace and the home, and the patterns of everyday sexism that begin in childhood and explode in adulthood.

We are paying no mind to the reality that is currently being ingrained in the minds of those boys and girls playing “rapey-rapey”, that a woman’s body is a contested battleground. It’s a lesson most women have to learn as girls.

I remember my first time. I was a teenager walking innocently to the shops when I was confronted by a drugged-up boy with a gun who wanted to be my boyfriend. He threatened to bust both my knees if I did not give him my home address.

Luckily, he let me go, unharmed, a harrowing hour or so later after he’d made me walk with him from spot to spot. I walked home to report the story, but we didn’t tell the police.

Instead, I swallowed the terror and humiliation, and went about the business of growing up. But I think in many ways it taught me to manage the many incidents of gender conflict I’ve faced.

And today as an adult, instead of raging, I find ways to evade these issues. For example, I take a different route on my morning run to avoid the construction men who, though they’ve been stationed there for months now, never tire of the catcalls.

Or I sigh and walk away instead of slapping silly the German tourist who made lewd and unwelcome sexual suggestions. I too am culpable, and my inaction is normalising what should not be allowed.

Rape is such a part of the fabric of our society that signposts are erected to warn people.
Picture: Alon skuy

I should speak up, scream and push back, if need be.

I should report these experiences, however seemingly small, so everybody learns, especially those kids, that this is not a game.

It’s abnormal.

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