Recommended reading for men and women

2017-11-12 00:00

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The powerful predators are being dragged out into the sunlight. It is invigorating. It is cathartic. It is terrible. It is everywhere.

The only people who seem surprised by the sheer volume of #MeToo stories – referring to the social media movement encouraging women to share their stories of abuse and harassment – are men. I know what you are going to say: #NotAllMen.

So, let’s say these men – who presumably have mothers, sisters, aunts, nieces, friends with vaginas and daughters – cannot quite understand why someone would not say anything for 20 years.

Deep down, many of them harbour some sympathy for the guy whose marriage/job/reputation is now ruined (“he only fondled her”), with little thought for the victim, whose entire life has been thrown off course and possibly crushed (“she was 14”).

Even women do this, as the patriarchy is so entrenched in their world-view that they sometimes subconsciously value male life over women’s lives.

For mothers like me, it distils the crippling fear that we have for our daughters’ wellbeing. We have myriad strategies in place to try to dodge the obstacle course of paedophiles and predators that we know our daughters have to navigate. Because we navigated it before them, as did our mothers before us.

Strategies such as no sleepovers, no unsupervised private coaching, no changing to swim in front of male guests at a braai, no playing with older male children of friends without supervision, and regular discussions about secrets and how, no matter what the person says – “I will kill your mummy if you tell” – they must tell you.

It is exhausting. But it is vital.

The South African #MeToo story that captures why well-meaning campaigns such as 16 Days of Activism never make the society-changing mark they aspire to is Khwezi: The Remarkable Story of Fezekile Ntsukela Kuzwayo. Redi Tlhabi’s important book – which I read in one sobbing sitting – lays bare the patriarchal infrastructure that is designed to protect the predator and vilify the victim.

This book is so important, but I wonder how many South African men have read it cover to cover and internalised its lessons.

I fear the answer is: Far too few. All the mainstream reviews I have read are by women.

This 16 Days, let’s not “raise awareness”. Let’s ask South African men – fathers, husbands, brothers and sons – to buy Tlhabi’s book, to read it within 16 days and to tell us what they are going to change.

At the same time, let’s each read Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls to all our children, stories of women who have broken barriers and changed the world.

We have started to shed light on a system that allows predators to thrive in darkness. Let’s honour the courage of those who speak out and never allow the silence again.

Read more on:    khwezi  |  sexual assault

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