#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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Is immorality just the new norm?

It is a extreme statement. The optimist within me is screaming, “DON’T SAY THAT!”

But I say it for a reason.

I say it because the events in South Africa have highlighted this fact.

[Disclaimer:This is a cynical, opinionated article. I know. I’m sorry. But we all just need a rant once in awhile.]

What I’ve noticed in the society where I live, is that human behaviour works in trends. People always seem to revert back to the same behaviour, if not enough intervention occurs – and this has been exactly the case for xenophobia in South Africa – it is something that has been a pertinent issue from 2008, and yet again this hatred of foreigners is resurfacing. A part of me feels like it never stopped.

This brings me to another factor influencing how we perceive this issue: the media. So often, we only perceive reality to be what we read in the newspapers – and somehow we sort of just follow the media’s trend to focus on some issues, and we forget about things. I mean, think about whether you know what went down in Crimea? And how there is still conflict in Palestine, even though we don’t see it in the newspapers.

A part of me thinks that something similar has happened with xenophobic attacks in South Africa. If we’re honest, the government didn’t really do much to stop the attacks in 2008. They almost seemed to ‘disappear’ – an the scary thing is that this isn’t what happened; not at all. These stories ‘disappeared’ because the media found something better to report on – there was something else that was a new, sensational story that would sell papers. Be read on websites. Sell advertising space.And now, almost 7 years down the line, we’re back here: a trigger almost seemed to ‘reignite’ this hatred, meanwhile the hatred was there the whole time. It is scary.

This then brings me back to society, and how we react to the issue. If we’re lucky, the horrific pictures, videos and statistics will shock us! How could humans do this to other humans! We protest, pressure government, and it feels like this is the only cause we care about, just for a while.

However, in the majority of cases, this initial uproar fades. It may be because of time, or it may be because another, new, even more horrible issue comes into focus.

And we forget.

That’s if we’re lucky.

If we’re unlucky, the story doesn’t affect us. We read another “just another rape case” or “just another murder”, and we forget that that is someone’s friend; sister; brother; loved one. What happened to empathy?

I suppose here could come another essay on the reasons why we have lost this empathy when hearing these stories, or why we just forget: many blame the constant bombardment of information that we receive. Either way, it will be a complex analysis.

So rather than getting into all of that, I would rather challenge you to be the person that changes how society operates. Don’t just brush off these stories. Don’t just forget. Find something that you’re passionate about, something that fires your soul to TAKE ACTION – and define the new new norm.