We need MATRIARCHAL LEADERSHIP
Women often fall victim to men’s political power games. We need leaders capable of caring and respect
The global Me Too campaign is a creeping, viral exposé in which women across the world post just those two words on Facebook – Me Too. This signals that they too have been subjected to sexual violence and harassment by men. The unintended consequence is that women have begun to bare their bodies in the process. Women in South Africa and around the world are exposing the details of their assaults, and more seriously, their violators.
A recent shock disclosure was that by singeractivist Jennifer Ferguson, a former ANC MP who did what so many women do – acquiesce to a request by a male because they do not want to be impolite and suspicious. It is as simple as that: someone who on face value is a respected politician, dignitary, husband, uncle: you are hesitant to betray your distrust, so you let them into the lift, you let them into the lounge of your hotel room, you follow the request to enter the room. All the time you are thinking that there must be some other (decent or kind) reason for their request and that your uneasiness is an overreaction: only to be overpowered, sometimes by persuasion, but many times violently.
The senior sports administrator-politician – named in Ferguson’s post “took her from behind”, in her words. Twenty-four years later, she is exposing his bestial, two-minute rape.
In two minutes, he took her dignity and floored her personhood. On the night of that brutal act, she stepped back into the public space – the hotel entertainment hall – and hid her distress for the sake of a larger cause, as we so often do: for the family’s unity, to save that very violator from humiliation, to not upset others. This is the calibre of matriarchal leadership in our society.
Post-apartheid politics, once a revered affair, has begun to look like the popular SABC soap opera Isidingo in recent years. Riddled with sexual and political intrigues, the bodies of women are often at the centre of political squabbles.
Axed Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi claimed, like Bill Clinton, to have had “sexual relations” in his office. At the time, Economic Freedom Fighters’ leader Julius Malema was judging the guilty parties and promoting both economic freedom and safe sex. But the safe sex he had in mind was not HIV prevention. Instead, Malema was tutoring his comrades that they needed to remember their enemies when they were having illicit affairs. Political enemies would wreak havoc with your sexual pleasures so, while you were in the limelight, have some self-control. It was not about sexual morality, but strategic political calculation. It was not about what you actually did, but what you were seen doing. Juju the judge was faltering in his judgement.
Today, infidelity is alive and thriving in Isidingostyle gloss. Recently, ANC presidential hopeful Cyril Ramaphosa was in the spotlight for marital infidelity. Analyst Steven Friedman said these personal matters were secondary. But political ethics are by no means secondary and there is a strong link between personal and political ethics, as the feminists have been saying for a long time.
Politicians now are “players”: you exercise your masculinity through the accumulation of women. Your status is built not only by your political office, but by the position of women in your office, preferably prostrate and open-legged. The body of the young black woman is the new plaything of the masculine leader and, as their toy, she is not to be taken too seriously.
In June, musician Busisiwe “Cici” Twala’s pelvis was broken by her manager-boyfriend. Today she still struggles to heal and set her life back on course. Treating women’s bodies as status symbols for accumulation of power by all means has dangerous consequences, particularly for young black women who get ensnared in these games. Their sexual power and prowess becomes the very path to their brutalisation and humiliation.
Powerful political players know this, and they wait like pythons to devour these vulnerable young women.
The sewage of South African sexual relations is rising to the surface. Today, like the famous scene from Michael Jackson’s Thriller music video, our stories are rising from the graves where we have buried them. The corpses of our stories are writhing in a contorted howl of anger, righteousness and a call for justice. Our gnarled fingers are pointing at our violators to reclaim our pasts and bury these tarnished men in the holes of our emptied graves.
There is an alternative vision of women, one that emerges within societies in which women are linked to goddess cultures. In the midst of the Arab Spring in Egypt in 2011, a vibrant national graffiti movement emerged. One of the groups in this movement was called the Women on Walls project. A large portion of the collective’s work features women, some of whom are well known cultural or political figures. The images on the walls affirm the various roles of women in society.
The Women on Walls project highlights the importance of re-centring the matriarch and embracing a politics and leadership that have been pushed into the “private space” – emotionalism, sharing, caring, locality and reconnection with Nature.
The re-centring of the matriarch does not imply the promotion of “nanny-leaders” who fear sex, sexuality, pleasure and play, but the grounding of politics in a healthy body – a freer and fluid body politic and a kinder and caring individual citizen.
We need our own Women on Walls project with all talented artists in this country. And the women we want are not the women who behave like men – the masculinist “femocrats” (Amini Mama, 1996) who adopt the leadership styles and techniques of men.
We need true matriarchal leaders.
Darlene Miller is a senior lecturer at the Wits School of Governance
Will matriarchal leadership help reduce the abuse of women by men?
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ENOUGH! Women march in June against the violence against women and children