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.