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Adv. Saras Chettiar
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#YesAllWoman: I want my daughter to be free

30 May 2014, 15:24

The campaign started by @Gildedspine , on twitter days after a 22 year old man, who made statements based on misogyny in a manifesto and YouTube  prior  to going  on a rampage in Santa Barbara, California , killing 7 people is trending worldwide.   The campaign is endorsed by many celebrities and has also been popularized by  mainstream media influencers  like MTV. Her first tweet, “ let’s discuss what all men might not do but woman must fear.  The campaign ‘s core message is that while not all men are guilty of crimes against women but all women are affected by misogyny.

Is  this type of campaign relevant in South Africa  or even in the rest of the world ?  I think it is relevant to create awareness, to ensure that the issues of sexism are in the mainstream media and start a conversation on how we can improve the situation. In a recent article that appeared in the mail and guardian ,  the writer believes that  it  will probably  not change the world  or develop a new wave of thinking to the advocates of misogyny. Yet despite this rather naive  and narrow minded interpretation of the campaign, the campaign continues to trend on twitter and various media platforms.   The writer and many people opposed to the campaign fail to realize that, ‘A bird doesn’t sing because it has an answer, it sings because it has a song.” ( Maya Angelou).  The campaign has fuelled a worldwide trend of women expressing their darkest hours of being a woman and of the frustrations at being a woman in a patriarchal society.  The tweets range from anger, to extreme sadness to finding peace. The most striking feature is  the  enormous number of women that experience daily discrimination  violent or nonviolent, direct or indirect.  The foundation   of the campaign was driven by  the harsh realities of misogyny in society.

 Sociologist Michael Flood, at the University of Wollongong, defines misogyny as the hatred of women, and notes:“Though most common in men, misogyny also exists in and is practiced by women against other women or even themselves. Misogyny functions as an ideology or belief system that has accompanied patriarchal, or male-dominated societies for thousands of years and continues to place women in subordinate positions with limited access to power and decision making. Aristotle contended that women exist as natural deformities or imperfect males . Ever since, women in Western cultures have internalized their role as societal scapegoats, influenced in the twenty-first century by multimedia objectification of women with its culturally sanctioned self-loathing and fixations on plastic surgery, anorexia and bulimia.”(source Wikipedia)

 An analysis of the tweets of the various woman and men in this campaign clearly demonstrates a strong parallel between men who commit violent crimes against women and the man who expects his women to cook, clean and look after his children while he reads the newspaper or the women who critics and alienate the women who choose to not play into the stereotypes that society places on her. Irrespective of the non violence  and of the perception of extreme love shared in any  relationship between men and women, there is this underlying untold threat made to women, “ if you don’t behave in a manner acceptable to me ( as an entitled man) or act in an acceptable manner according to  stereotypes expected of women, there will be consequences.  “A woman knows very well that, though a wit sends her his poems, praises her judgment, solicits her criticism, and drinks her tea, this by no means signifies that he respects her opinions, admires her understanding, or will refuse, though the rapier is denied him, to run through the body with his pen.” ( Virginia Wolf)

 Have you ever wondered, “ if one day we all woke up not bound by gender into any specific role? Would you as a woman be wholly accepted ? If you chose to not cook or clean, would there be consequences in the relationship? Would it change the dynamics of any relationship ? What if we told our little boys and girls to be free to be  who they want to be, play with what they wanted to play with or choose the colour they like. I observed over one Christmas, when a little boy wanted to play with a stove that Santa got my little girl(which she asked for) for Christmas. His grandmother was so offended, and quickly scolded him, making it very clear that boys don’t play with stoves. When I questioned this rather illogical approach, the answer : “ it’s not what boys do or else he will become gay”( as if gay was a something bad which was  equally illogical). I questioned even further ( I have no idea why I continued- I guess I just needed to sing- thank you Maya Angelo). Are the top chefs in the world not men ? The reply:- “ It’s the women’s job to cook at home. My other grand daughter used to love only pants and boys clothes so my daughter has now introduced Barbie in her life and she is back to being a girl.( let me leave the feminist perspective of barbie and the prejudice relating to gay and lesbians to a different article)

In many sectors (certainly in mine), these responses would be frowned upon but a deeper analysis of the inner workings of society does infact confirm that this stereotypes exists in every facet of society, whether it is spoken or not. We live in this society oblivious to the underlying threats , to the unfairness of the inequality that we impose on women and girls until  a young man guns down girls because he was rejected by them or when a young man stabs his girlfriend in a Durban college because she broke up with him or when a man keeps his wife  hostage , or a man kills his wife because she was unfaithful to him, or when a young girl is brutally raped and murdered or a model is killed by her boyfriend, or a woman is beaten to death  by her husband then all of society  questions ,

 WHY ??? ( distancing ourselves from the violent act of so-called crazy men). The answer my friend lies in the inner workings of the belief and ideology of an entitled society strictly biased on the side of men. There is an untold and in some cultures blantant philosophy thaught  to boys and men from a young age. They are thaught entitlement when they relate to women. While in some cases, a mentally ill may commit the  violent act, the ideology of entitlement stemming out of misgoymy remains deeply embedded in our society. I just listened to the rap by Jay z  in the beyonce song “drunk in Love”  and it speaks volumes of misogyny. It is so popular. There is no outcry, there is no picket demonstration. There isn’t even a discussion. It has raised to a no.1 spot.  

In response to the twitter campaign, the hash tag, #FemlePrivledge and # Bringbackourhoodies( response to #bring back our girls campaign) demonstrates the thought process that exists in society. We must at least admit that we live “ in a culture that constantly devalues woman in a million different ways, and that culture has evolved to include a vast online community of men who take the devaluation to its natural conclusion: brutal, violent hatred of women. I don’t mean that all these men  are physically violent towards women but rather they use violent, degrading language when discussing woman( whose bodies they feel entitled to)” ( The belle Jar- Elliot Rodgers and the men who hate women). In India a supreme court ruled that a husband cannot rape his wife. The theory of entitlement is a common ideology that permeates many facets of daily life for most women( it is noted that if you don’t cook for your man, he may be excused for infidelity because he was not taken proper care of or when we question rape victims as to what they were wearing at the time they were raped because men are entitled to violate your body( not because he is a criminal and has poor control over his sexual desire ) but  because you as women  did not take proper precautions. You must understand that proper dressing will keep you safe or a man is entitled to “have you” if your arose his sexual desires. It is  an illogical argument but is widely practiced and accepted by both men and women in the most normal parts of society.

How do we adjust this mindset that has become entrenched in society despite quota’s and legislation to facilitate this process. South Africa has the most progressive parliament regarding gender representation in the world( 40% women ministers).  However despite the fact that women have  attained legal equality, like suffrage and control over their wombs, reaching executive level in the corporate world and politics, we are still not free or safe. The time has come to move beyond legal equality , it is time for social equality.

The fundamental key to changing  civil society  lies ( in homes, schools, religious structures and media).   I believe it has become fundamental to provide legislation and policy changes at government level to guide civil society to change this mindset ? The new cabinet appointing the Office of the status of the women (OSW)in the office of the presidency is a unique opportunity to transform civil society through policy and legislation( unique opportunity because in every other country of the world , the gender issue has to be advocated before policy is acceptable). The mandate of the  OSW is “to  ensure that Government lives up to its constitutional, political and international commitments by translating these into measurable and meaningful programmes, thereby making a non-sexist society a reality.”

 Trevor Manuel  said in the  eighth annual Peace, Safety and Human Rights memorial lecture in memory of the late minister Abdullah “Dullah” Omar and PAC stalwart Joe Moabi at Unisa,“Change is not automatic. It is determined by measurable action of many..”

In my opinion the  some of the critical programmes need to be introduced  by the OSW :-

1.      A   well designed programme of gender sensitivity introduced into school curriculums nationally for young boys and girls.

2.      A transformation in policy where a woman’s surname is automatically changed when marriage is registered unless it is stipulated otherwise.

3.       Amendment to the Basic Conditions of Employment Act to adequately address issues faced by breast feeding mothers in the workplace.

4.       An efficient vehicle to provide access to justice for women especially rural women.

5.       An efficient police service trained in gender sensitivity issues to address crimes against women. ( there have been many failed programmes in this regard due to poor enforcement)

6.      Policy and legislation regarding gender sensitivity in the  main stream media ( including how women are portrayed in advertisements etc.). However a fine balancing between media freedom and policy needs to be adequately addressed by  the legislation or policy.

7.      Efficient funding of ngo’s who deal with gender sensitivity groups  ( advocated by men)that have grassroots support. There should be a special emphasis on men’s groups have grown support from masses of men at grassroots level who understand that equality is a human rights issue and have a mandate to teach, advocate and address non compliance with non sexism.

I write this article from a perspective of a parent of a girl child who wants her to always be safe and free to develop into her full potentional . I also write  from the perspective of compassion for the million of girls and woman that suffer as a result of the normalized  thinking in society which has a foundation in misogyny. I also write from a perspective of a self proclaimed feminist with the understanding that, “We need to bring compassion, understanding, and civility back into feminism. We must be kind and ignite meaningful and civil discourse about sexism. We must redefine and reclaim what it means to be a feminist”  ( The bull and bear 14 April 2014). I also  write knowing that the views expressed in this article will bring out the misogynist in many people online. The poem by Maya Angelo( RIP great soul)  summarizes my reactions and those of many women and men who understand that woman rights are human rights,

You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may trod me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I’ll rise.

Does my sassiness upset you?
Why are you beset with gloom?
‘Cause I walk like I’ve got oil wells
Pumping in my living room.

Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I’ll rise.

Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders falling down like teardrops.
Weakened by my soulful cries.

Does my haughtiness offend you?
Don’t you take it awful hard
‘Cause I laugh like I’ve got gold mines
Diggin’ in my own back yard.

You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I’ll rise.

Does my sexiness upset you?
Does it come as a surprise
That I dance like I’ve got diamonds
At the meeting of my thighs?

Out of the huts of history’s shame
I rise
Up from a past that’s rooted in pain
I rise
I’m a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.
Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
I rise
Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear
I rise
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
I rise
I rise
I rise.

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