Ex­plor­ing myths and the awak­en­ings

The Sunday Independent - - FRONT PAGE - LES EGO MA KG AT HO Two lead­ing writ­ers ex­plore the myths and the awak­en­ings

THERE lies a con­sis­tency in the nar­ra­tive brought across in books ex­plor­ing the im­por­tance of fem­i­nism. This ro­bust and de­lib­er­ate con­ver­sa­tion brings it­self through the works of au­thors Pumla Di­neo Gqola and Malebo Sephodi.

Gqola is an as­so­ci­ate pro­fes­sor of African lit­er­ary and gen­der stud­ies at the Uni­ver­sity of the Wit­wa­ter­srand and Sephodi is an ac­tivist and writer who takes spe­cial in­ter­est in gen­der, de­vel­op­ment, science and eco­nomics in Africa.

If you are ac­quainted with Gqola’s work, you will know she does not mince her words.

In Rape: A South African Night­mare, pub­lished in 2016, she un­packs the nu­ances of rape cul­ture in South Africa. What she brings to light, among other is­sues, is the nar­ra­tive of how sex work­ers are put in the “im­pos­si­ble to rape” cat­e­gory.

“Not all peo­ple are seen as pos­si­ble-to-rape. Sex work­ers, wives, slave women and men are all cat­e­gories of peo­ple that, at dif­fer­ent stages, have been placed in the cat­e­gory of ‘im­pos­si­ble to rape’.

“This does not mean that no­body raped them. It means that when they were sex­u­ally vi­o­lated, it was not recog­nised as such, legally and so­cially.

“Peo­ple who are placed in the cat­e­gory ‘im­pos­si­ble to rape’ are rou­tinely dis­be­lieved when they re­port rape.”

Fur­ther­more, she ex­plains that “be­cause so­ci­etal at­ti­tudes to rape con­tinue to frame it as a kind of in­ap­pro­pri­ate sex, sex work­ers have a harder time con­vinc­ing peo­ple they have been raped. Sex work­ers be­long to group marked as ‘im­pos­si­ble-to-rape’.

This is be­cause of what they do for liv­ing and pa­tri­ar­chal at­ti­tudes to women who have sex”.

Gqola re­it­er­ates that our re­sponse to vi­o­lence mat­ters.

She writes: “How we speak about and re­spond to vi­o­lence mat­ters.

‘It hap­pens all the time’ points to the cri­sis, de­bunk­ing the myth that it is shock­ing and ex­pressed in iso­lated in­ci­dents.

That phras­ing also sug­gests that is com­mon­place, nor­mal: ‘All the time.’ It hap­pens.

The truth is that it does not just ‘hap­pen’. In­di­vid­u­als choose to rape and they make this choice be­cause it is an avail­able one, one that is mostly with­out con­se­quence to them­selves.”

In her col­lec­tion of au­to­bi­o­graph­i­cal es­says, Re­flect­ing Rogue: In­side the Mind of a Fem­i­nist, Gqola chal­lenges us on the beauty of fem­i­nist rage.

She writes: “Ev­ery Au­gust mil­lions of South Africans move col­lec­tively in a care­fully chore­ographed dance called ‘Women’s Month’.

For al­most five dizzy­ing weeks women are praised, pa­tri­archy de­cried and women’s gains cel­e­brated.

“We catch our col­lec­tive breath to catch stock of far we have come, and to re­flect on how rocky the ground be­neath our feet re­mains.

“The chal­lenges are dif­fer­ent. The en­emy is more elu­sive if we need to think of what we fight as that which re­sides in a dis­cernible en­emy.

“How­ever, there is no dearth of fem­i­nist ac­tivism, women’s ac­tivism, in con­tem­po­rary South Africa. It is sim­ply that many are ask­ing the wrong ques­tions, look­ing for the wrong form – a form of fem­i­nist ac­tivism that will not help us shape the kind of so­ci­ety we need to cre­ate.”

Sephodi be­lieves fem­i­nism has been ro­bust for many years; dif­fer­ent eras play a role in how strongly the con­ver­sa­tion is brought for­ward.

“I’ve been hear­ing a lot of peo­ple talk about the rise of the black fem­i­nist move­ment and I don’t nec­es­sar­ily think so. I think it’s been ro­bust for years, dat­ing back to colo­nial years.

Women have al­ways or­gan­ised them­selves and have con­stantly fought and pushed back against pa­tri­archy.

We have dif­fer­ent mo­ments in time and ex­pe­ri­ences in the era that we’re in and be­cause of the scourge of vi­o­lence that women are ex­pe­ri­enc­ing, it has called for the con­ver­sa­tion that fem­i­nism brings in.”

Sephodi reck­ons women are speak­ing out more now be­cause in the past it was costly for women to stand up to pa­tri­archy.

“Our voices are louder as the women of 2017 be­cause a lot of women be­fore us have done so much work to give us ac­cess, as op­posed to my grand­mother’s time when it was re­ally costly to stand up against pa­tri­archy, but the work they’ve done to stand up against op­pres­sion has made it a lit­tle eas­ier for us and maybe our voices will make it a lit­tle eas­ier for the gen­er­a­tion to come.”

Talk­ing about her book, Miss Be­have, Sephodi says that when she came across his­to­rian Lau­rel Thatcher Ul­rich’s quote “well-be­haved women sel­dom make his­tory”, she knew she wanted to cre­ate a con­ver­sa­tion around how women are con­di­tioned and so­cialised to be a cer­tain kind of way.

“In my book I talk about fem­i­nism with­out men­tion­ing the word. I only men­tion the word in the end. I wanted to show what fem­i­nism looks like with­out us­ing the word be­cause a lot of peo­ple have a push-back when you men­tion the word.

“The ex­ist­ing nar­ra­tive is that fem­i­nists are here to break apart black fam­i­lies, fem­i­nism is an­tiAfrican and is a western con­cept and you don’t know what you’re do­ing.

“It’s a very aca­demic the­ory and ide­ol­ogy and some­times the lan­guage around it can be very ex­clu­sion­ary, so let me take this ex­pe­ri­ence and trans­late it through my ex­pe­ri­ences for peo­ple to see what it looks like.

“The book is about my awak­en­ing into fem­i­nism and a lot of other things, as well such as black­ness and class is­sues.

“The base of it is about my fem­i­nism. I talk about a jour­ney where as a black woman, your life is al­ready planned for you – you’re go­ing to be a wife to some­one, you get told how ladies should sit. We learn and we con­sci­en­tise cer­tain things.”

Sephodi says we un­con­sciously per­pet­u­ate the pa­tri­archy that gets fed to us be­cause we don’t know oth­er­wise.

She be­lieves ev­ery­one has a mo­ment of awak­en­ing and at that mo­ment one can choose to ac­cept it or ques­tion it.

“I wrote the book be­cause I re­alise that women are at a point where they are awak­ened and are ques­tion­ing cer­tain things around them.”

On how far we are with em­pow­er­ing women, she thinks there is much more that needs to be done.

“On a struc­tural level, there’s not much progress made in em­pow­er­ing women. I look at how our coun­try is sit­u­ated and how we came out of apartheid into democ­racy.

“One of the things that was on the agenda was women’s empowerment. Racism op­pressed blacks, but also pa­tri­archy op­presses women.

“If you look at poverty rates, it’s women who are most af­fected.”

The book speaks to the myth around women con­stantly want­ing to break each other down.

“I’ve ex­pe­ri­enced a dif­fer­ent thing where I’ve had a lot ap­pre­ci­a­tion, mainly from marginalised cir­cles (women, queer peo­ple and peo­ple who don’t con­form to any gen­der).”

Sephodi says when she wrote it, she did not mean to be pre­scrip­tive, but as a way to start a con­ver­sa­tion. @Le­segoMak­gatho

OUR RIGHTS: Pumla Di­neo Gqola’s book, ASouthAfricanNight­mare, pub­lished in 2016, she un­packs the nu­ances of rape cul­ture in South Africa.

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