The politics of miniskirts and marches

2012-02-25 09:02

The ANC Women’s League is back in grand style and not a moment too soon.

Too little has been made of last week’s march, headlined by the league.

They marched to the neanderthal Noord Street taxi rank to protest against an attack on two women who dared to walk through it wearing minis, and who had to eventually be rescued by the police as
groups of drivers and their hangers-on taunted, chased and pinched them.

I love this image to the right of a gorgeous Women’s League member hiking up her skirt to say “Up yours!”

The march was undertaken by a coalition of interests: from government, represented by Minister for Women, Children and People with Disabilities Lulu Xingwana and Gauteng Premier Nomvula Mokonyane, to the league and various civil society organisations.

It was cross-generational, including young and old women.

It made me nostalgic for the strong women’s movement born in the 1950s, which withered in the late 1990s after we had secured a floor of progressive women’s rights that has made South Africa the envy of many.

These rights crisscrossed society: from the deep political rights enshrined in quotas for female public representatives to economic policies including black empowerment laws (which include all women) and employment equity laws that set targets for female advancement in the workplace.

Policies to stamp out sexual violence and ensure better conviction rates are excellent. Only a strong, conscious, non-partisan and united women’s movement could have achieved such a floor of liberation.

That all these rights exist largely on paper is surely cause to pause. To pause, and remember that the march is a chimera, a one-off event. Political leaders have largely been swamped by patriarchy.

Civil society leaders are so busy writing funding proposals that they have forgotten how to be activists and have become professional, single-interest consultants instead.

Media women like me seem to be more interested in the gymnastics of Khanyi Mbau than being a watchdog of the female fruits of liberation.

In business, female progress has halted after the heady days of former president Thabo Mbeki, who prodded the corporates to fast-track women’s advancement. (This may have been the hidden hand of our progressive former First Lady, Zanele Mbeki).

I love the images on this page because they take me back to a time when the public face of the political woman was as her own agent, a strong fighter
for freedom.

Now, the public face of the political woman is of wives in polygamous unions, led by the first citizen.

I know that it’s the traditional rights of men, enshrined in the Constitution and all that stuff, but the march made me pause to reflect on how the political woman has withered since President Jacob Zuma came into office.

But for Home Affairs Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, a couple of other Cabinet ministers and a sprinkle of MPs, the women the ANC chooses to represent us are largely feminist no-name brands whose version of female advancement is a social project here or there.

Or they are simply useless totems, the unworthy political offspring of Lilian Ngoyi and Albertina Sisulu.

They must be turning in their graves at the apathy of the women’s movement today and the unambitious ways in which female political leaders interpret their roles.

The taxi rank attack has shown me yet again that we live in an age of deepening patriarchy. What women wear has come to define them as objects of acceptance or attack.

Professor Louise Vincent of Rhodes University has documented how women in miniskirts or trousers, or women who smoke, have attracted the negative attention of post-colonial political leaders since the 1950s.

In Malawi, Uganda and Zimbabwe, the miniskirted woman has been jailed, fined and harassed for placing herself outside the realm of male control.

In essence, it is a revolt against equality.

In what I interpret as a similar trend, presidential polygamy has made the much-married-at-the-same-time man the norm rather than the exception.

The wedding pages are now regularly filled with guys taking a bevy of wives, often on the same day.
Ask Tando Mabunu-Mandela, who is fighting a lone battle to stop her ex-husband, Mandla Mandela, from marrying a new woman every year before he settles his financial affairs with her.

In recent history, the Women’s League has allowed itself to be subsumed by the Youth League, a body which has unleashed a furious misogyny, a contempt of women upon our world, backed by the politics of posturing machismo.

Look how many times the league’s spokesperson, Floyd Shivambu, was allowed to swear at women journalists before he was upbraided.

The league’s leaders and their associates have perfected the art of Italian-style bunga-bunga parties where beautiful young women parade.

The new politicians (and the old) are the quintessential sugar daddies. Perhaps we should march against them next?

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