Women’s Month gives men a free pass

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The concept of Women’s Month has perfected the fine art of useless – often offensive – rhetoric, treating the issue of gender inequality as a special cause and, more importantly, giving men, who are the beneficiaries of patriarchy, a free pass.

Much like Youth Month, where only black youths, who must also deal with a variety of intersecting oppressions, are expected to do something about fixing society, the work of ending female oppression in South Africa is largely seen as the work of women themselves.

This is best encapsulated in the department of women’s theme for 2015: Women united in moving South Africa forward.

It’s catchy and has the right sentiment – but for another year we will focus on what women must do, which women are already doing.

This is after we’ve carefully separated gender issues from the bigger liberation struggle (black consciousness is not automatically feminist – it’s generally run by men).

Women’s rights are treated as an afterthought.

Earlier this week, the 2015 Women’s Report confirmed what we already knew. Women in South Africa are still, on average, paid 15% less than men in the same positions.

And that’s a conservative estimate.

Who is this equality for? Who benefits from women being oppressed?

In whose image has the global patriarchal world, and the strong black woman trope, been built? Men’s.

And the extent of their contribution is maybe a igama labafazi malibongwe (women must be thanked/praised) or, if we’re knocking it out of the park, some high heels. But that means nothing.

South African society is built on the backs of women, and yet women must unite and unshackle themselves when they neither hold the keys nor institutional power.

The category of men who “don’t know what to do” because “they don’t feel accommodated” in campaigns driven by women are even worse. As if there is something preventing men from having the real, difficult conversations among themselves.

This rhetoric of gender empowerment is perfect for men to (happily) benefit from the oppression of women.

This kind of empowerment means we can keep the status quo while paying lip service to change. It further absolves the beneficiaries of inequality.

Women can unite all they want but it won’t undo – in any radical, meaningful way – systems that have been put in place to benefit men.

Follow on Twitter @GugsM

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