Rape’s no game

Laments the ex­tent to which vi­o­lence against women in SA has been nor­malised

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Women’s Month always comes with bad news. It’s one of the rea­sons I dread it. Of course, the month of Au­gust has noth­ing to do with it. It’s just where we live, a coun­try where vi­o­lence against women is now tightly stitched into the fab­ric of our so­ci­ety, and Women’s Month of­fers no re­prieve. In yet an­other mind-numb­ing con­fir­ma­tion that rape is com­mon­place here, City Press re­ported on Mon­day that chil­dren in a Cape Town pri­mary school were play­ing “rape games”. What an in­dict­ment on us – the adults, the par­ents and the com­mu­ni­ties.

And yes, the en­tire coun­try. Be­cause this is what we’ll do: we’ll read fur­ther down in the ar­ti­cle that th­ese kids are from Mitchells Plain, then we’ll write off the story as some­thing that only hap­pens to “them”.

And this marks the sec­ond thing I hate about Women’s Month and me­dia cov­er­age dur­ing it – the per­pet­u­a­tion of stereo­types. Rape and vi­o­lence is for the poor go­gos in the ru­ral ar­eas, teenagers in coloured town­ships and black kids in the shacks of Diep­sloot.

They are a muddy muddle of mostly no-name vic­tims and the most we re­mem­ber about them are the de­tails of what was in­flicted on them – such as their dis­em­bow­el­ment.

Iron­i­cally, even in death, white women are vic­tors. I know about Reeva Steenkamp’s life in full, Tech­ni­color de­tail. Her friends have been given air­time to ex­tol her virtues. Ditto Ina Bon­nette, whose ex-hus­band or­dered her gang rape, mu­ti­lated her body and shot her son to death. I will re­mem­ber her brav­ery and her choice of hair colours that be­came sym­bolic of her de­fi­ant spirit.

But do you know the name Dolly Tsha­bal­ala? Do you know who she was, or just the de­tails of her death?

There should be the same care and con­sid­er­a­tion in cov­er­ing her story. There should be the same nu­ances in re­port­ing to show she had a life, too, so as to send a mes­sage that her death should also not have hap­pened.

This leads me to the third rea­son I dread Women’s Month. We are so fix­ated with the two-di­men­sional “vic­tims and vic­tors” nar­ra­tive, we for­get about the day-to-day re­al­i­ties.

We ig­nore the ev­ery­day in­equal­ity per­me­at­ing our en­tire so­ci­ety – from the street to the work­place and the home, and the pat­terns of ev­ery­day sex­ism that be­gin in child­hood and ex­plode in adult­hood. We are pay­ing no mind to the re­al­ity that is cur­rently be­ing in­grained in the minds of those boys and girls play­ing “rapey-rapey”, that a woman’s body is a con­tested battleground. It’s a les­son most women have to learn as girls.

I re­mem­ber my first time. I was a teenager walk­ing in­no­cently to the shops when I was con­fronted by a drugged-up boy with a gun who wanted to be my boyfriend. He threat­ened to bust both my knees if I did not give him my home ad­dress.

Luck­ily, he let me go, un­harmed, a har­row­ing hour or so later af­ter he’d made me walk with him from spot to spot. I walked home to re­port the story, but we didn’t tell the po­lice. In­stead, I swal­lowed the ter­ror and hu­mil­i­a­tion, and went about the busi­ness of grow­ing up. But I think in many ways it taught me to man­age the many in­ci­dents of gen­der con­flict I’ve faced.

And to­day as an adult, in­stead of rag­ing, I find ways to evade th­ese is­sues. For ex­am­ple, I take a dif­fer­ent route on my morn­ing run to avoid the con­struc­tion men who, though they’ve been sta­tioned there for months now, never tire of the cat­calls.

Or I sigh and walk away in­stead of slap­ping silly the Ger­man tourist who made lewd and un­wel­come sex­ual sug­ges­tions. I too am cul­pa­ble, and my in­ac­tion is nor­mal­is­ing what should not be al­lowed.

I should speak up, scream and push back, if need be. I should re­port th­ese ex­pe­ri­ences, how­ever seem­ingly small, so ev­ery­body learns, es­pe­cially those kids, that this is not a game. It’s ab­nor­mal.


DE­SEN­SI­TISED Rape is such a part of the fab­ric of our so­ci­ety that sign­posts are erected to warn peo­ple

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