I have a complicated relationship with feminism.
Not the fundamental principle of gender equality. With that I have zero ideological dissonance. In fact, I find the notion of anything but unquestionable equality frankly, unbiblical.
You’ll very seldom find me engaged in outspoken activism for gender (or any other type of) equality. But you will always find me standing my ground, politely stubborn, on the assumption of equality. I don’t demand. I assume, and expect. I often offend people by having this smiling yet firm internal stance.
I expect to be treated with equality, because I perceive myself to be equal. As a woman, to men. As a white person, to all other races. As a single person, to married people. As a South African, to other nations. Etc. And I expect that everyone else in the room be treated in the same way. That is sort of the definition of equality, is it not? Do unto others …
Walking into a context where others don’t hold those same assumptions (a similar sensation for me than walking into a glass wall) has often been a cause of massive underlying conflict. But I’ll get back to that.
So, my relationship with equality is simple. It’s assumed, expected and reciprocated. This is my stand. You’re welcome to try and move me. In fact, I dare you … :).
But my relationship with the various faces of feminism got complicated again over the past few weeks as the public narratives around gender based violence (GBV) became mass outcry campaigns.
Perhaps I need to be clear before I sound like I’m approaching real pain from an academic perspective. This is just a deeply personal long-winded way of unraveling my own biases. Maybe, somewhere, you can relate, and it helps. That’s my hope.
Thousands of vulnerable people in this country suffer, and die senselessly, at the hands of depraved people who serve evil through their actions. I align fully with the demand on authorities to protect and bring justice. I anguish over violence (gender-based and xenophobic), and mourn the loss of life and of the sense of security. This is not a media agenda. It is an epidemic, and it has to be stopped. I fully agree. We all suffer from some form of PTSD. There are no easy answers. We need to do better, as a nation, on so many levels. We can, though. The police and justice systems needs to be capacitated. Mindset and systems much change. People need new hearts.
But I’m writing this to try to try and figure out why I haven’t been able to fully align my own heart with some of the GBV messaging that has trended on social media, and on the placards on display at the numerous (awesome) marches that have happened around the country, demanding action from authorities.
What I fully get, is that anger is a stage of grief. The expression of this grief-based anger is powerful and necessary, and it will confront complacency and denial. It has to do that. I get that shock tactics and -messaging are often a thin veil placed over desperation and real fear. Compassion and empathy sees through that veil. I hear you. I am you.
There is just some of the borderline hate-speech messaging and lines-of-thought that didn’t make sense to me. I know people have their set of arguments for each statement made. I can probably unpack your argument and explain to you what your underlying philosophical assumptions are in three steps :). Or, you can tell me where you’re coming from. But, let’s not go there now. This is not the time to school one another. You can express whatever you like. It’s valid. It’s necessary. It’s critical. I hear you. Cry, girl-child. Scream. Get it out. Keep going.
I am merely trying to unpack a few of the statements that seemed flawed to me in where the expectations are placed, juxtaposed over statements that make those same expectations void of substance. I’m trying to understand my own heart, where those same juxtapositions live.
I’m talking specifically about the “Men/Cyril/JSE Please Save Us” (or whatever iteration of that) vs. “all men/governments/corporates are Trash” (or whatever iteration of that) conversations.
Let me put it simply: I don’t understand how you can cry out for help from the same “source” that you are vilifying. If you demand principled behavior, surely you can’t be demanding that from trash?
You cannot expect “trash” to speak out on your behalf, to stand up for you, to protect you, to use its strength for your benefit?
You are demanding virtue from something you are declaring to be void of it by decreeing it to be trash.
I am perplexed by this.
So, let’s soldier on.
I’m of the notion that not all men are trash. The campaign messaging logic is flawed.
There, I said it.
Let’s distinguish, though.
Even-though I’m saying that I don’t align with #allmenaretrash, I understand that the cry of this global campaign is for men to recognize that, even-though they might not be directly perpetrating through physical violence or abuse, they might be perpetuating by keeping the strongholds of patriarchy (read: systemic unequal power-dynamics) firmly in place through words, actions and, notably, silence.
I know it sounds like I’m following a particular argument that casts the blame of GBV on patriarchy. I’m not suggesting it’s that simple, or that a sexist joke is the same as rape. Some might suggest that, though. I struggle with extremism, but I do get the logic behind the argument.
I get that we have to have a drastic approach to highlighting blind spots, and that those blind spots are no longer excusable. Boys will be boys, … but not if that is what it means to be a boy.
There are justifiable reasons to “keep the peace”. People who perceive themselves to be “powerful” don’t like when you don’t laugh at their rude jokes. You may be sidelined. I get that. The struggle is real. Leave the damn whatsapp group. Or stay, and school. It’ s the least you can do. Thank you for doing that, though. And for trying to get it.
Let’s take this on another rabit trail.
I saw a guy on Twitter not understanding why a memorandum of the #SandtonShutdown march against GBV was handed over to the CEO of the JSE.
Perhaps I can explain by means of a vague example.
Let’s just say I’ve been in corporate contexts where what I said bounced off the glass walls of patriarchy, only to be said next by a male, and then received with much enthusiasm and attributed to the male as the insight that brought the game-changing breakthrough to unravel a deadlock complexity … In this regard, I have been pissed off to the point of withdrawing wisdom and shutting-up. Which is a disservice to myself, and to the people that actually needed to hear what I had to say. Their loss. But mine too. Passive aggression is also a form of violence that damages trust in both parties. I’m guilty too.
And that’s just in the context of being occasionally patronized. Others go through far worse.
Do you understand now why corporate South Africa is also being called to task on GBV? Probably not … because what the hell does GBV have to fo with being patronized in a boardroom …? I’ll leave you to ponder that one.
I have another juxtaposition problem.
I opened a regional newspaper this morning. On the front page there is a potentially powerful advertorial and creed written for men to read out loud to show their solidarity with women in the fight against GBV. On the Lifestyle section front-page of that same newspaper there is a full page photo of a pop star pole-dancing, with gawking men throwing money on stage. I guess she thinks she’s exerting power. Some might argue that she is. But, hell.
Can we pause, please.
Firstly, the newspaper published this “totally acceptable” photo in the same edition where they are calling for a change to the gender narrative. Uhm. Can we be any more tone-deaf?
Secondly, and very critically … the pop star chose to pose in that way. Her PR team was mandated to distribute that image into the world. Don’t throw the “society has created that expectation of her …” line. She bloody-well takes her own clothes off, pays people to take photos of her butt and boobs and and makes a crap-load of money by perpetuating gender sexuality stereotypes on a global scale. Get off the pole, please, before you accuse others of objectifying you. If accountability is demanded, it needs to be demanded of all.
This is not about the clothing / dressing rabbit hole. She does not “give consent” in any way or form by exercising this choice of dress or pose. That is not at all part of this point. Consent is verbal, and it is spelled “yes”.
I am merely making the point that female “role models” are fully accountable for gender stereotypes too. For this statement, I was disqualified from the flammable student feminism gang at Rhodes :).
I guess this post has become about calling out societal “schizophrenia” when we try to deal with difficult and painful matters on a mass scale. You can take any one of the lines I’ve written in this post, and quote it out of context to drive your own agenda. Let’s not.
Maybe it’s time to simply be authentic, and not try and be politically correct or profound. I’m not a hardcore feminist. I don’t hold a social sciences degree that informs clever conversations around hypothesis of gender and power.
But I am a girl. And I do feel vulnerable. And often, highly frustrated by the status quo.
Grieve. Listen. Care. Do what you must. For your own soul. For others.
I was at church last week Sunday. As one does. Also a delicate personal matter currently, but let’s suffice to say that I was there. Holding on to institutional faith by my nails. But alas, I digress.
The pastor led the congregation in a service dedicated to lamenting the state of the nation in response to the violence that has been again brought into the spotlight by painful recent events. It was a powerful communal act of owning responsibility, acknowledging injustice, respecting different expressions of angry mourning, and communicating solidarity. It felt deeply prophetic.
But he had one line that made me realise that I may be harboring some underlying pain. He said: “To my sisters, we stand with you …”
I remember looking up from the prayer at the the guy from way back in the hall. He was doing really well in navigating through murky waters and delivering a powerful statement, but as he said that I thought suddenly: ”Dude, I appreciate your sentiment, but your promise is not practical and does not apply to me. I mostly walk very much alone in places you will never be near enough to do anything to help.” The unfair accusation popped up involuntarily.
I know he was making an important and heartfelt sincere statement. I discern these things. He meant what he said, and I’m sure his actions will follow through for the people in his world.
But my own sense of lack became acutely practical in that moment, and so far removed from well-meaning declarations and sentiment.
The entire thing came crashing down on me. I felt crushed by disillusion. And very much alone.
I simply don’t expect men to be strong on my behalf. I’ve had to be strong for myself. And even though I recommend being empowered, I don’t think hyper-self-sufficiency is a good thing, especially in close relationships.
I do however, know the root of this fortifying.
To put it bluntly, and dangerously out of the bigger context of much honour, love and respect: My primary male example was sadly often incapacitated by his own choices. He probably would have given his life to protect his family from physical danger, but his lifestyle habits often made that intention nonviable.
My father was sacrificially devoted to his family and work, a stubborn and gentle man, with moral integrity and a work-ethic like no one else I know. A highly successful and super intelligent, internationally respected business man.
And for all practical reasons, privately an alcoholic.
Never violent. Just passed-out often physically, and increasingly checked-out emotionally. And currently, frankly, dead.
So, I never did feel quite safe, and learned to protect myself. Fiercely independent, I believe some of the perceptions have been.
My relationship with feminism is complicated because of this very real innate desire for missing male protection, juxtaposed over this inner resolve and coping mechanism of successful self-sufficiency.
It’s a a bloody daddy issues case study :).
I will leave it there for now.
I’m not going to go any deeper by adding the obvious layer of having faith and trusting in God, and not in man. That’s good practice for us all. I don’t mean self-sufficiency in that way. I’m not relying on my own strength. But I’m also not relying on the strength of another human. Which I probably should consider doing if I’m ever going to move beyond the relational status of “it’s complicated”.
I’ve intentionally not alluded to the spiritual warfare dimension in all of this. I actually believe that none of this violence is primarily gender or race based. It is, and has always been, a war on humanity, fueled by a hatred of the image of God. Human free will that chooses to act out of selfishness, denying love, empowers evil to exert influence, marring both the one who wrongs, and the one who is wronged. Free will that chooses to love, empowered by grace, can stop evil. This post is however not written from the assumption that all its readers necessarily share that worldview.
This is not a metaphysical existential crises. It’s simply an attempt to grapple with public statements and positions that I should have been fully aligned with, according to my gender, but that I am not.
So, for the sake of the conversations that people are having: I don’t align with the “#allmenaretrash wording because the majority of my personal experience has simply not been that, and it doesn’t align with my personally held redemptive theology.
I’ve observed how men that I respect grapple sincerely with their roles and responsibility in this time. I’ve been spoken up for and physically protected from harm, by males. I really do appreciate it, when I perceive it to be safe.
But I don’t expect it. Maybe I should?
So, all men are not trash beyond redemption. But neither are they saints beyond reproach. None of us are either. Hence, the Gospel.
This has taken me more than seven hours to write, and I still don’t feel like I’ve nailed what I needed to get out.
And it is unraveling …
We do need to talk.