Faith Daniels

Suffering in silence or speaking up – the impossible choice

2017-11-06 09:00
A woman with the message "Me too" on her hand gives the middle finger during a gathering against gender-based and sexual violence called by the Effronté-e-s Collective, on the Place de la Republique square in Paris. (Bertrand Guay, AFP)

A woman with the message "Me too" on her hand gives the middle finger during a gathering against gender-based and sexual violence called by the Effronté-e-s Collective, on the Place de la Republique square in Paris. (Bertrand Guay, AFP)

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We're finding ourselves in the midst of a necessary and hugely important debate focusing on rape and rape culture. Talking about it, listening to people's stories, debating, opining are all necessary elements.

It's here though, in the application of all these elements, where in my opinion, we struggle the most as a society to make proper headway.

Rarely are we ready or perhaps able, in our discussions, to embrace or even just consider all views. We want to hear our version of things and it must sit well with us – for the most part. Last week strongly brought this to the fore.

Soccer boss Danny Jordaan finally broke his silence after being accused of rape by artist Jennifer Ferguson. We didn't hear his actual voice on the matter, by the way – his lawyer released a statement denying all the allegations levelled against him.

So there was no press conference and a chance to engage him or ask about his mentioned empathy for the victims of gender based violence articulated in the statement.

It took two weeks for that statement to surface. Two weeks in which media queries were just ignored. The prominence and public nature of Jordaan's job made little difference to how the matter was dealt with by the organisation he represents. The word 'lacklustre' comes to mind.

Another three women have in the meantime claimed Jordaan violated them at various times. They are treated as if they don't really matter in this saga because they haven't revealed their identities. They've been dismissed as "nameless and faceless".

But let's unpack what would happen if they do reveal their identities. Let's take Jennifer Ferguson as the example and what the response has been to her penning her blog.

She's received tremendous support from various quarters – that is evident from the messages on her blog. She has also been vilified, called an "old white woman" who is seeking attention because of a fading career. She has been slut shamed, her sexual past brought up, the father of her child brought into the fray and she has been called a liar.

A MetroFM listener told presenter Udo Carelse this week that Ferguson is just a bitter woman, after her relationship with Danny Jordaan soured. Because, why would she really do this? There must have been a relationship and now she's mad because it has been terminated.

Some also claim on various platforms that the women speaking out, are part of an elaborate conspiracy or plot to get rid of Jordaan.

Just a FYI here: the woman who told her story to me last week doesn't know Ferguson from a bar of soap. She's never met her, talked to her and I would venture to say – doesn't even remember Ferguson being an ANC MP back in the day. But of course, the conspiracy talk persist, it must be the case.

This is the environment and the backdrop against which these women now have to decide whether to reveal their identities or remain anonymous. They have to grapple with the very real possibility that privacy will not feature in their vocabulary anymore, that their current and past lives will be scrutinised, discussed and judged by all and sundry.

The option to keep quiet is made that much more appealing with every discussion had, with every passing day. With silence comes the guarantee that no one will ever bother you, that no one will ask you anything, that you will be able to navigate your life in chosen obscurity if you want.

I pose this scenario to the woman who spoke to me last week and claimed that Jordaan had violated her in 2004. She also claims that he propositioned her by explicitly telling her that he wanted more than just a working relationship with her.

I ask her what she's going to do. She's not sure about a lot of things. This however, she is certain of and expresses quite vociferously: "My anonymity doesn't mean that my story isn't true."

She's now taking time out and weighing her options, which includes whether she comes forward and reveal her identity.

In the meantime, we will continue to debate as if we live in a country with a history of women feeling safe, protected and believed when they speak out about abuse suffered.

We will await campaigns and broad plans announced for our 16-days of activism later this month. We will perhaps join a march – until next year.

It's at this point where I wish we who emulate Hollywood so perfectly in every other way – could follow the example of speaking out, speaking up and shaming perpetrators of violence into seeking help themselves.

The #MeToo campaign has had such a great impact, that a Harvey Weinstein who started off denying all allegations, had no power against the rising voices of a growing number of women, shutting him down and making him seek help amid a very real possibility of criminal prosecution. The Hollywood list is growing, so too the allegations.

We should take note here at home because this campaign is teaching us valuable lessons. It is not just focusing on rape and sexual violations, it is lifting the veil off the secret lives of those who prey on women in the workplace and everywhere else. It is calling out patriarchy and misogyny. It is calling out oppression.

It is successful because women are choosing to be brave. It is time that we too are brave. 

- Faith Daniels is a seasoned radio and TV journalist, and is currently head of news at Kagiso Media’s Jacaranda FM and East Coast Radio.

Disclaimer: News24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24.

Read more on:    gender abuse  |  gender violence
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