Women of­ten fall vic­tim to men’s po­lit­i­cal power games. We need lead­ers ca­pa­ble of car­ing and re­spect

CityPress - - Voices - Dar­lene Miller voices@city­press.co.za

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

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