OPINION | Women of South Africa, we are unstoppable

Demonstrators against gender-based violence protest outside Parliament on 30 June 2020. (Picture: Nardus Engelbrecht/AP)
Demonstrators against gender-based violence protest outside Parliament on 30 June 2020. (Picture: Nardus Engelbrecht/AP)

The next generation of women are taking up the fight for gender equality and proving that women are unstoppable, writes Juliana Claassens.

As a feminist mother, I probably am bound to raise feminist daughters.

I was once more struck by this realisation recently when my 8-year-old daughter sent me an audio clip from an episode of The Who Was? Show she was rewatching. The Who Was? Show is a funky history show on Netflix that depicts a group of high school pupils creating fascinating encounters between two likely, and at the same time unlikely, historical figures.

The episode that made such an impact on Suzanne, and indeed could be said to be one of her first lessons in feminism, portrays the stories of Susan B. Anthony and Frida Kahlo – Susan B. Anthony, in particular, striking a cord with my daughter. From an early age, Susan B. Anthony could look at the world and say "Hey, that's messed up!" and do what she could to resist the fact that girls were not allowed to go to school, own property or vote.

When Susan B. Anthony finally manages to get her vote into an obstinate voting box that keeps on spewing out her ballot, she is stopped by a police officer who wants to arrest her. At that moment, Frida Kahlo, whose story is just as delightfully told alongside that of Susan B. Anthony, appears and tells the police officer: "Wait, she is with me".

Together Susan and Frida walk hand in hand, multiplying until there is a multitude of Susans and Fridas singing these words:

You can make up lies to slow me down, but it does not mean I'm going to break my stride. We're going to step right over it, we are arm in arm, and side by side… Because we're picking up speed and we're flying, straight on a line, unstoppable. We are unstoppable.

This is the song my daughter sent to me, and I think it is quite fitting as we are thinking of the significance of this year's Women's Day (9 August).

When listening to this song, I also thought of the book Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls we are currently reading. A friend gave this book to Suzanne on her recent birthday, saying she is giving this book to all the little girls she knows. The dedication of this book reads:

To the Rebel Girls of the world:

Dream bigger

Aim higher

Fight harder

And, when in doubt, remember

You are right.

Suzanne has been mesmerised by this book, reading on her own, looking these women's stories up on the internet. Her only gripe with the book is that Susan B. Anthony is not in it! But she has been introduced to so many other rebel girls from around the world, who have looked, or are looking at their world, and said: "Hey, that's messed up!"

These women, young and old, from our current context and from a distant past, all sought to do something creative, out-of-the-box, to try to make their world a better place. For themselves, but also for other little girls after them. We are indeed unstoppable…

I also thought of this song when thinking of another feminist daughter I have helped raised – my stepdaughter, Jana, who I got when she was 7 years old, and with who I have had epic fights about feminism.

When she was a teenager, she told me: "This feminist stuff is so your thing!" This only for her to go on to study feminist philosophy with my friend, Louise du Toit, in the process also falling in love with visual studies with another friend Stella Viljoen.

When she was a student at Stellenbosch University (SU), we once more had fights about feminism, but this time she told me I am not radical enough. For instance, she asked where I was when they all marched at two o'clock in the morning to "take back the night" after a student was raped at one of our university residences.

Jana and her friend Nicolene recently started a podcast series called Air It (available on Spotify/Apple iTunes – go listen to it, I am a "fangirl" and not just because I am a very proud stepmother).

In these podcasts, which seek to "uproot, unpick and redefine contemporary modes of thinking within the South African context," these two friends, both recent alumna from SU (one in Philosophy, one in Fine Arts) have the most interesting, nuanced, and thoughtful conversations on subjects pertaining to the question of their own positionality as white Afrikaner women today.

We are not alone

Engaging with culture, philosophy, and art, they have conversations with fellow SU graduates like Azille Coetzee, who recently wrote the book In My Vel (In My Skin). Coetzee is another feminist philosopher who studied with Louise du Toit and who is currently doing a postdoc with another of our friends, Amanda Gouws, in Feminist Politics.

Listening to their conversation with Azille on white Afrikaner femininity, as well as with one of our Theological Faculty's PhD students Ashwin Afrikanus Thyssen on Queer Theology, I was struck by the creativity and passion with which the next generation of thinkers, graduates from the institution where I work, can look at the world and themselves critically, and with humour, to "air" what has so often not been discussed.

What excites me about these examples close to my home and to my heart, and what I will hold on to this Women's Day, is the underlying theme of the song my daughter had sent to me. We are not alone.

Feminists have known all along our power is in being together. In the women's marches all around the world, and also in the one of 1956 in which thousands of South African women from all walks of life, of all colours and creeds, walked together to tell the government: "Hey, that's messed up!"

We, feminists, know this as we gather with our feminist friends to "wine and whine" or for "tea and sympathy". And I now see with the feminist daughters and the feminist students we are raising, that from across the generations, our daughters and sons are telling us "we are unstoppable" as they take the struggle further.

Prof Juliana Claassens is Professor of Old Testament and Head of the Gender Unit in the Faculty of Theology at Stellenbosch University.
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