And finally: adios Women’s Month, good riddance, and let’s shove postfeminism too
Thank all the heavens August is done and dusted. Women’s Month has been absolutely, stinkingly awful for women – Verashni Pillay hits some of the lowlights here, as does Marion Stevens – not just here in South Africa, but across the globe.
Three young women were packed off to a Russian penal colony (polite term for gulag) for singing a song in church that dared criticize a patriarchal leader and a patriarchal religion. Todd Akin, a dingbat senator in the US, pronounced that women’s bodies had special powers that enabled them to halt pregnancy in its tracks as long as they were “legitimately raped”. This poor man clearly shouldn’t be allowed to cross the road without an escort, but his slip revealed the truly medieval values of the Republican Party – all of whose senior leaders believe that women impregnated by rapists should be denied abortions.
The horrors kept coming thick and fast. Someone spotted that in the US, rapists have the same rights of access to the children of their victims as other fathers in THIRTY-FOUR STATES. Sweden, that supposed bastion of gender equality, had its laxness in prosecuting rape exposed. Rape jokes were all the rage at the Edinburgh comedy festival. Oh, and our old friends the Taliban executed a bunch of folk for attending a mixed-sex party.
Right here at home, the spouses and children of the miners mowed down in what looks increasingly like a reprisal massacre at Marikana are being either ignored or exploited. And in all the blame-mongering, responsibility-dodging and handwringing, STILL not a word on the toxic combination of patriarchal structures and cultures that made this explosion of brutality and violence inevitable.
As the country reeled in the wake of this tragedy, our Prez appeared on telly blethering on about how women needed to marry and have children – apparently we need “training” or we risk being sad unfulfilled little creatures. Now if ANYONE should keep tjoepstil on matters of familial and marital responsibility, it’s a bloke who needs to be trained to use a condom when cheating on his multiple wives. He and Senator Akin should get together over a cigar or two: not only are both men stuck in a timewarp where it is eternally 1953, but they seem utterly unaware of the depths of their own prejudices. They don’t see anything amiss (or unconstitutional) in clinging to views that relegate us ladies to the status of chalices for carrying their holy seed.
And as anyone within yelling or wifi distance of me knows, this was the month Rape Crisis — currently the oldest organization of its kind not just in the country, but in the world — had to retrench its staff due to lack of funding. I’ve screamed myself hoarse about this, and it still feels like a kick in the guts, and I’m still waiting for a response from the powers that be.
Is there a silver lining to these clouds that are forking down lightning upon women worldwide? Well, yes. No-one will ever be able to use the word “postfeminism” again without being run out of town. Many moons years ago, at a lecture I gave in the US, a beautiful blonde student announced: “I can see why feminism was necessary for women your age, but I don’t need it. I’m not oppressed!” Today, I can’t think of a single place in the world where a woman could say this without being led away and gently quizzed about her mental health.
It’s becoming clearer that even in the most “civilized” countries, the notion that women are equal and independent human beings is at best a thin veneer. It’s becoming harder to disguise the underpinning of bigotry and cruelty and stupidity and insecurity that sustains all patriarchal cultures. We have learned, the hard way, that the feminist revolution needs to start almost from Ground Zero, or risk losing the gains made during the last four decades of the twentieth century.
And this revolution has to include men, not least because they’re paying a hideous price for the dubious “privileges” patriarchal society confers on them. In a column prompted by my initial rant, David Moseley writes movingly of his worst fear: getting the news that the woman he loves has been raped. Others have pointed out how awful it must be for men who are NOT rapists or abusive or violent (sadly, a smaller category than you might think) to be constantly suspected of evil intent.
To go back to my blonde student who didn’t feel “oppressed”: for years I have felt guiltily critical of those younger women who seem to think that feminism means the freedom to get falling-down drunk in public, hire male strippers for hen parties, or “choose” to hook a wealthy sugar-daddy. But to my great joy, there is a new generation of young feminists, and best of all – they’re funny. As the gloves come off, more and more folk are responding to idiocies like those listed here with a horse laugh.
Given that this is after all a book blog, I’m going to insist that everyone read Caitlan Moran. She’s rude, eye-wateringly funny, very clever, brutally honest and moving. Did I mention funny? Her How to be a Woman should be prescribed reading for senior high school pupils, girls AND boys. Writers like her and Jessica Valenti (don’t miss her Seven Stages of Feminist Grief), along with websites like Jezebel (it’s not just schleb schlush, check out their regular columns on rape, Roe v. world, race and such-like), are using fresh tactics to tell old truths. Like me, they’re appalled at how little has changed since women were all expected to be barefoot, pregnant and in the kitchen. But they have new angles and approaches, and even though they’ve encountered thousands of fuck-witted men (and not a few brain-dead women), they don’t assume men are the problem – they know it’s much bigger than that.
The magnitude of the need for change is made clear in this punchy blog by feisty local writer Zukiswa Wanner – and this is where it all gets extremely unfunny, I’m afraid. We can’t afford fence-sitters anymore. You either believe women are human beings, and that men should behave like human beings, or you’re supporting a status quo in which millions of women and children are being raped, trafficked, enslaved and abused, right now, right here. Our survival as a continent depends on whether we jump over to the right side of the fence. So join the groundswell Zuki talks about — I promise our jokes have gotten better. And why not start by donating to Rape Crisis — here’s the link.