A video of an aggressive confrontation at Spur in The Glen, Oakdene Johannesburg went viral this week. In the footage a large white man, Nico Viljoen threatens to hit Lebohang Mabuya, who is sitting with a number of children at one of the tables. Viljoen accuses her daughter of hitting his daughter, the parents shout profanities at each other while the children watch and Viljoen proceeds to shake the table aggressively, saying that he will “p***klap” Mabuya.
I've been in three big public altercations similar to these in my life: One while I was waiting in line at Steers, one at a McDonalds drive through; and one at a bar.
Two of them were racist interactions and one was just your regular dose of everyday abusive misogyny. All of them took place with aggressive men after they accosted me. All three times, I was threatened with physical abuse, and all three times, I dared them to lay hands on me.
"Do it. Hit me", I said. It’s not because I have utter disregard for what it means for women who have to face violence on a daily basis, and it's not because I have a fantasy about being beat up by huge men in public for no reason- it's not because it's pleasurable.
On all three occasions, I wanted to be struck, so that I could have a solid reason to strike back.
As women, we're taught that our role is to submit, be passive, mediate, listen and if all else fails, run. But I didn't want to do any of those things, and why should I?
The systemic treatment of how a woman should/should not behave in a conflict situation means that we teach the public to expect passive women. Why, I wondered, are we as women constantly being taught to avoid a conflict situation, instead of win a conflict situation? I looked for answers.
As I expected, Google offered more of the same. Paper after paper on “Just walk away”, “mediate”, “diffuse the situation” etc. Then of course, there was the “call for help”, “dial 911”, “always wear a whistle” advice.
Dispersed between these bits were the martial arts training and the odd advertisement for self-defense classes. All of these nuggets of wisdom were pieces of advice for women who wanted to avoid being mugged, or stalked or becoming the victims of sexual predators.
But I wanted to know what to do if a strange man starts bullying me in public and threatens to hit me for no reason? I got nothing.
I became more convinced that a women’s right to fight is not her right at all. She has the right to ask for help, to shout for it and she even has a right to expect it. But the right to fight for herself does not exist, at least not in the literature. And if it doesn’t exist in the literature, then unfortunately it does not exist in life and this becomes a problem when we start to realise the conversation that took place around the Spur incident.
“She deserved it”, “Why is she swearing?”, “What kind of a mother is she?”, “She should have just kept quiet”, “Why did she shout back?”
These were just a few of the reactions that came from social media after viewers saw the video. And as ridiculous as they sound to me, they also sound really, really reasonable. Because those are all the things Google just told me to do. That’s what the “professionals” are saying as well. If I, as a woman, do not “diffuse”, “mediate”, “walk away”, then I am asking for it. Really?
Would it be cool if the other men realised the abusive problem and jumped in, sure.
Would it be cool if the waiters did something? Yeah.
Would it be amazing if another white dude walked up to this guy and squashed him? That would be the best.
But we need to stop convincing ourselves that the only way a society operates smoothly is if someone else is fighting on behalf of the woman.
We need to learn and accept that women can fuck things up too. We can swear, scream and fight. We can hit back. And that is exactly what Mabuya did. We should be talking about her right to fight.
Because truly, if a man needs to walk into a Spur swinging his penis around, let him, but let's get one thing straight… if anyone is going to be handing out poesklaps kind sir, it is going to be me.