#PatriarchyMustFall: Tears, Complexities and Realisations

As published in UCT’s Varsity News – http://varsitynewspaper.co.za/opinions/4259-patriarchymustfall-tears-complexities-and-realisations

The oppression of women is normalised in our current society. We talk about rape on a day-to-day basis without flinching – we forget the emotion behind individual experiences. This all changed for me on Wednesday night at Leo Marquard Residence, as I stood and listened to women share their stories of being molested as a child, of being publicly shamed by males for being ‘ugly’, or of being cat-called. For the first time I felt like women were able to voice their pain. Tears rolled down my cheeks.

It was a process of realising that so much of what I have experienced – catcalls, guys who make lists of girls according to attractiveness, low self-esteem – is actually symptomatic of a bigger experience of patriarchy in our society. The process of unleashing these stories and emotions has affected me deeply over the past few days. Flashes of bad memories of being used and objectified have filled my consciousness.

However, my experiences are those of a white, heterosexual female. I may be oppressed based on my gender, but I recognise the privilege that I hold because of my race, my sexuality and by being a cisgendered being. I cannot speak on behalf of all women, and I cannot understand the pain that people of colour, those within the LGBTQIA+ community, and non-binary individuals face.

My conscientisation is another reason why the #PatriarchyMustFall movement and other discussions is so powerful: for the first time, intersectionality is not just a buzzword, but a way of understanding. Gender equality is really complex, as we are all individuals experiencing different manifestations of the patriarchy, and so hearing about these different experiences is helping everyone passionate about the cause understand some of these complex nuances. This is why inclusivity within this discourse is so important. By hearing the stories of women with different identities, I was given insight into the complexity which has helped me position myself within our society.

While, as a movement, we have shown a great sense of camaraderie – specifically when we all went back into Leo Marquard to find the person who threw eggs at us – the complexity of gender equality means that we don’t necessarily agree on everything.

This is why, when a male got up to speak at the mass meeting with Kopano Residence, and a female expressed her disapproval and he subsequently stormed out with other males, a difference of opinion arose. Some believed that we should not have silenced him, while others felt like he was intruding on the space that we had created for ourselves.

As I sat in the front row watching this transpire, I understood where she was coming from. As the man got up to speak, he appeared arrogant, entitled, and condescending. The need for her to express her contempt was valid, and should not have been questioned.

This has called into question many beliefs about the involvement of men in the process of dismantling patriarchy. Depending on how the space is defined, and the intention of the gathering, it is important to gauge what sensitivities are at play. While some believe that they should not have the right to comment at all, in any circumstance (as they will never understand what we go through) I think that they are important allies within this process and they can perform such a role if they are more aware of the sensitivity of this process.

There is a lot of listening that needs to be done – there is so much that men donot understand about our experiences as women, just as there is so much that I do not understand about the experiences of black women.

By listening to understand, and not necessarily to respond, constructive learning can take place. Furthermore, if men are able to check their privilege before they speak, and not necessarily assume they understand how we feel, it might help them to navigate the sensitivities of this issue.

Discussions about patriarchy are often hard to navigate because of the multiple intersections with other issues such as race, class, and ability. This is why many people find it hard to engage in these topics.

These discussions are necessary to shift the status quo, because they are actively changing the entrenched mind-sets which are the very beliefs that have institutionalised sexism within the University of Cape Town. Unequal residence rules, an underrepresentation of women in leadership – specifically women of colour – and systems which are ineffective in stopping rape and sexual abuse are all sexist devices.

As more people join in with the #PatriarchyMustFall protests, and the UCT for Women dialogues and other programmes, the dismantling of these mindsets and institutions starts to take place. With this, hopefully more individuals will experience the eye-opening, tear-inducing realisation that I had , so that we can start turning tears into plans,  and plans into change.

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Reality > Expectations, if you want it to

‘Many people die with their music still in them. Too often it is because they are always getting ready to live. Before they know it, time runs out’ – Oliver Wendell Holmes

It’s true. Our whole lives we’re told to be goal orientated – we’re told we have to work towards a goal, one day hope to get a job that will make us successful enough to make money to have a car, get married, have children. Live an ordinary life. And so we work for it.

Alternatively, we think that’s not going to be our future – we think that we are going to spend our lives fighting for human rights, and making an impact on this god-forsaken world. But we have the same dilemma, don’t we? We picture our future lives, working for the Human Rights Commission, or something similar, yet we struggle through our present to get there. We tear our hair out. We struggle to find money to live off we don’t know how to get to that ideal, precisely because it’s an ideal.

I promise you, ask people at university WHY they’re here, and I bet 80% of them will tell you it is to improve their future – to get a good job.

Even me. I spend every moment that I don’t have to study or write an essay dreaming about where I’ll be able to travel when I have the money, or my life working for the African Development Bank. I do not “live it the now.”

Mostly.

And that makes me sad.

Another great guy agrees with this testament of “living in the now,” and Mr John Maynard Keynes says “In the long-run, we’ll all be dead.” (LOL sorry to all the economists who are having a heart attack because I took this out of context so dramatically) .

He’s right. So is Holmes. But so what? How is reading those words actually going to change anything Reading words always changes things for me for like a day, and it’s back to procrastination station, it’s back to day-dreaming and shirking the responsibility f today.

HOW DO WE SAY NO TO THIS? HOW TO WE MAKE IT MATTER?

Maybe the first thing is realising that controlling our heads is really powerful; and it’s hard work. And it’s the first step. Think about the beauty of the day as you wake up. This about h lucky you are to be on this planet – how lucky it was that hydrogen collided with hydrogen and created helium.

Secondly, try to accept the fact that you’re future won’t necessarily be perfect. Life often gets in the way of our perfect ideas, and other things fall into place. Be versatile. be open to change.

And lastly, don’t take yourself too seriously. There are already enough people in this world who are going to criticise and insult you, you need to at least surround yourself with smiles and happy thoughts.

THE WORLD IS BEAUTIFUL, RIGHT NOW!

Racism is pretty crappy.

Disclaimer: I know that whatever I write about this issue, someone somewhere is going to disagree with me. So whoever you are, don’t hate me . Just give me a chance to have a say.

South Africa is a complex country. We have had a past of one specific group of people invading another, violating their rights, enslaving them to an inferior state of mind, and over the years this has formed the norm, until relatively recently, when there was enough civil unrest to tip the scales, so to speak, and finally we could have laws that WEREN’T discriminatory; we set the foundation for equality.

Looking back on the past, it’s very straight-forward: colonialists were the bad-guys. They did horrible things. They stole the African identity, westernised it.

And it’s for that very reason that I find movements like the Black Consciousness Movement so important – everyone should be able to reclaim their identity; to not be defined by what someone else thinks you are! Amandla! The 1970s was just the beginning for South Africans to take back their identity, and here in 2015 this goal is still far from being achieved: western culture has dictated our measures of “good development practice,” our understanding of popular culture, religion… The list goes on.. I can’t even imagine how it must feel to try to find a place among all the chaos of the different views on identity, self-empowerment, and the tradition vs modernization debate.

And then, there’s me. I’m white. There are many struggles I have not had to deal with: I have been ’empowered’ by birth. I know that I have benefited from white privilege.

As far as my culture goes, I get slightly more confused because I don’t really want to respect my British ancestors, and they were probably pretty cruel, although I suppose it is quite interesting to hear about their endeavors in the war and things like that.

A big part of my identity is also South African. I am a fourth generation South African, and I really consider myself African before anything else. I love this continent: the vibrancy, the beauty, and all it has to offer (even though it has its problems).

So, in all of this #RhodesMustFall pandemonium, this background has informed a few thoughts.

First of all, I believe that Rhodes must fall. As  I mentioned earlier, I despise what colonialists have done to other humans, and I don’t think someone like Cecil John Rhodes, who symbolises this, should be the face of our University. I also feel like it is up to our generation to make noise about issues like this, so that we can truly transform our country.

 

BUT (There’s a big BUT): I feel like there’s a certain way to go about it. UCT, during transformation month, gave students many ways to make their voices heard. My opinion is that throwing human excrement on UCT property, no matter what the cause, creates an unpleasant environment to students, and disrespects those who had to clean it up. I feel like we shouldn’t just set the precedent that just because someone’s cause is justified, their actions should be allowed. This would create mayhem on campus.

 

Secondly, I don’t like how people are using this opportunity to be racist, on both sides. Racism is bad. That is what the movement is trying to stop. Just stop. This includes people who have been posting things like “White people must just go back to Europe,” and the fact that we don’t care enough. I take personal offense: I fully support the cause. Moreover, I think it is unfair to judge someone’s involvement in a campaign based on something as arbitrary as race. We do not choose our race; we didn’t choose to benefit from colonialism, and so it kind of sucks that I feel guilty for something I didn’t actually do. But I do feel guilty.

 

So I gets the moral of the story is, don’t be racist. Don’t be ignorant. Be open-minded. And actually THINK about why things are the way they ARE. And be nice to people.

That’s what I’m trying to do, at least. 🙂

The Big Bang .

On my first day of university, I learnt about the origin of the universe (casually; as one does).
It simply blew my mind.

What I can’t stop thinking about now, over a week later is what a miracle it all is. It is utterly amazing that the very particular sequence of millions of events which resulted in our existence – the cosmic singularity, hydrogen converting to helium, supernova explosions and so forth – all happened as precisely as they have.

The probability is ridiculously slim. Thus, I say it is a miracle.

So now I have formed the awe-inspiring habit of really trying to take it all in. Even when I’m feeling sick or grumpy, I just try to look around, and realise that the utter fact of existence is enough to be celebrated. And it’s s easy to be reminded of that, staying in Cape Town.

For every meal, I have to walk up a bit of a hill to our brother residence, and on the way there is the most spectacular view of Devil’s Peak, and Table Mountain to the left. Every single mealtime, it makes me stop. The crevices in the rock, the way clouds tango with the peaks: it reminds that I am alive, on this profound planet in the middle of a stupendously giant universe that extends into infinity.

From the Big Bang, to my birth – I am grateful for everything that brought me to this precise moment in time, because in this moment lies all possibilities. Think about it.