Women

To jus­tify the vi­o­lence, it is as if the women’s at­tire, looks or be­hav­iour gave the per­pe­tra­tor the right to vi­o­late and even kill them

CityPress - - Voices - Thabang Pooe voices@city­press.co.za

The re­cent surge in re­ports of vi­o­lence against women has brought femi­cide and gen­der­based vi­o­lence as a dis­cus­sion squarely into the pub­lic space. How­ever, dis­cus­sions about the women in­volved of­ten take an all too fa­mil­iar twisted turn. “Oh but o ne a phapha” [She was for­ward] or “Ne a rata banna badi chelete” [She loves rich guys] or even “Ke yel­low bone wago rata di-in­sta­gram” [She is fair in com­plex­ion and loves In­sta­gram]. This serves as some sort of jus­ti­fi­ca­tion for the vi­o­lence that these women’s bod­ies were sub­jected to. What’s worse is that some of these un­for­tu­nate re­marks come from women them­selves.

Per­haps the start­ing point is the ob­jec­ti­fi­ca­tion of the fe­male body. So­ci­ety – and even women them­selves, de­lib­er­ately or not – teaches women from an early age to view them­selves as ob­jects. They are taught that in or­der to at­tract a man they need to look a cer­tain way, be a cer­tain weight and present them­selves in a par­tic­u­lar way. This man­i­fests it­self in young girls of­ten pri­ori­tis­ing body image over all else.

This in­ter­nalised ob­jec­ti­fi­ca­tion can lead to low self-re­spect, body image is­sues and lack of aware­ness of one’s own au­ton­omy. It is of­ten at the root of many fem­i­nist is­sues. This of course re­sults in the misog­y­nis­tic idea that women are ob­jects, not sub­jects. By “ob­ject” I mean some­thing that ex­ists to ful­fil some­one else’s de­sires, and by “sub­ject” I mean some­body who has their own de­sires. We re­duce women to com­plete ob­ject-hood. If you are so­cialised as a woman, it is very likely that you have learnt to view your­self as an ob­ject.

So many women, es­pe­cially in this era of so­cial me­dia, spend much of their time try­ing to look insta-per­fect: with flaw­less skin, wear­ing the hottest out­fits and sport­ing the lat­est ac­ces­sories. This is hardly frowned upon – af­ter all, they are liv­ing up to the ob­ject that they need to be in or­der to be loved and adored by so­ci­ety, es­pe­cially men. This is all good and well un­til some­thing goes wrong.

So, say you are abused, raped or even killed – as op­posed to look­ing at the con­duct of the man and the norms that al­low ag­gres­sion against women to be ac­cept­able – we more of­ten in­ter­ro­gate the woman’s life, char­ac­ter and even looks to jus­tify why this hor­ri­ble thing could have hap­pened to her.

In the cases of the young women whose bru­tal mur­ders were in the news more re­cently, the at­ten­tion slowly turned to pub­lic per­cep­tion of their looks and con­duct. Soon their lives were im­pugned as peo­ple said things like “that one was known to like rich men”, “she was loud and into night life” and “that is what hap­pens when you are a gold dig­ger”.

All this is said in or­der to jus­tify the vi­o­lent acts per­pe­trated by the men in­volved in these in­ci­dents. As if the women’s at­tire, looks or be­hav­iour gave the per­pe­tra­tor the right to vi­o­late and even kill them.

It is as if there is an in­vis­i­ble line be­tween when a woman aims to be­come the ob­ject of men’s af­fec­tion and when their con­duct goes too far such that it be­comes ac­cept­able for them to be sub­jected to the cru­elest of acts. It sud­denly seems more tol­er­a­ble … well be­cause she was a slut, whore or gold dig­ger…

Much of the time it is as if we need to jus­tify their very be­ing for them to be im­por­tant – be­cause they don’t fall into the cat­e­gories of spe­cial ex­tra­or­di­nary blacks (those who are edu-macated or celebri­ties) – there is no rea­son for us to care. Surely we should stop! Over the weekend we saw how var­i­ous news­pa­pers quoted Karabo Mokoena’s un­cle when he talked about how, “When a girl child is un­em­ployed or still in school‚ and she brings all those ex­pen­sive bags‚ while she isn’t work­ing‚ as a mother … just ask her to re­turn those things to where they come from.

“… You are giv­ing power to that young man over your child be­cause that young man thinks he owns your child.”

Again we look to the con­duct of the young women and not the men who use gifts and money in an ef­fort to con­trol women. And even here, so­ci­ety ex­pects women to bear the bur­den of re­spon­si­bil­ity while men po­lice how women ought to be or what they should do in the name of ‘moral’ pre­serve. Should the mes­sage not be that no amount of money or gifts ever give you own­er­ship over a woman’s body? Should we not teach girls and women that their self­worth is not tied to be­ing some­one’s ob­ject of af­fec­tion? Should we not stop judg­ing young women for do­ing that which we said was nec­es­sary for them to be worth­while? Should we not en­cour­age women to take charge of their lives, have full agency to make de­ci­sions, ex­press and iden­tify them­selves in the way they are most com­fort­able with, and re­ject the nar­ra­tive of be­ing sub­servient to or at the mercy of pa­tri­ar­chal stan­dards and ex­pec­ta­tions? And fi­nally #MenAreTrash be­cause they con­tinue to ob­jec­tify women but, as a com­mu­nity, we are prob­a­bly junk too be­cause we feed into this nar­ra­tive and con­tin­u­ously shift the blame to vic­tims who need our sup­port and un­der­stand­ing. We need to be bet­ter than this! Pooe is a re­searcher at Sec­tion27

TALK TO US Could abuse against women be re­duced if par­ents taught their daugh­ters to be au­ton­o­mous?

KARABO MOKOENA

POPI QWABE

BONGEKA PHUNGULA

REEVA STEENKAMP

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