THE GENDER DEBATE
A female friend remembers with much disdain a column that appeared in this magazine aeons ago. It was an Off Ramp about the virtues of the independent black woman. The acerbic tone of the piece – which in parts ridiculed gold-diggers and gung-ho feminists – was unintended and in no way represented what I feel about all women. I only intended to highlight stereotypes that we perpetuate and the existence of a minority of women with ill intentions.
For example, there are men out there who still believe that women are out to get their money; that they have no place in serious business environments and are better suited to “lighter” pursuits such as public relations and so on. By the same token there are women who believe that the measure of success is showing off a R70 000 engagement extravagance from her “tycoon” fiancé and driving around in a BMW X5 paid for by the said banker, consortium chairman or newly moneyed cat with buddies in the government. I used these and other examples but my explanation was nonetheless lost on my friend who felt I had insulted women and was not sure if I was the man she has always known me to be. Whenever this pops up in conversation I maintain my stance and attempt to elaborate further in the hope of one day being understood. The importance of my resilience in this pursuit cannot be underplayed because there is a war going on out there and it is icier than the White House and the Kremlin in the days of the war that never was. It is the war between black men and black women.
In the red corner you have a black woman: qualified, outspoken, capable and gatvol. In the blue corner you have a black man: qualified, outspoken, capable and equally gatvol. Let’s get ready to rumble! The black woman throws the first blow: “I am as competent as any man and, if you give me the chance, I will show you just what a great job I can do. The man strikes back: “I have more experience, am more connected and do you really think a woman can do this job?
Elsewhere a group of successful black women have congregated over a bottle of wine at a trendy watering hole. The conversation moves from work to family and, inevitably, men. Black men are insecure, they are all the same (read cheats), they are abusive, I would rather date a “foreigner”/white man/Chinese man (take your pick) and they run away from their responsibilities. At a corner table single malts have taken control and the group of black male professionals keeps the low blows coming. Black women are full of sh*t (no explanation offered), black women complain too much, they are never satisfied, they say they want honesty but can never handle the truth and I’d rather date white women – they’re easy and have no issues.
Get the picture? The blows get more intense, brothers and sisters become fierce rivals and divisions widen. As we all know, in the past, blacks drew the shortest straw. Black men were seen by the white oppressors as worthless and not deserving of being treated with dignity. As for our sisters, it was discrimination to the nth power because, not only were they the wrong colour, but their sex tightened the noose of subjugation. When they returned home from abuse by madam or baas, they had to deal with a frustrated, sometimes abusive, man who had his own run in with another baas. Home was no longer the refuge it was supposed to be, but another war zone, and years later the war rages on more intense than ever.
Black men and women see each other as enemies rather than allies. Although I am not under the illusion that things are rosy, a lot has changed and continues to do so as more black women benefit from efforts to empower them. A case in point is our gender correct cabinet and, closer to home, this very publication, which would never hit the shelves if it wasn’t for the dedicated women who work on it. And lest I be chastised for sucking up, that is where I’ll conclude that particular example.
The advent of democracy eMzansi meant that for the first time the country was able to open up its past, dissect it, deal with it and put in place mechanisms to right past wrongs and prevent them from ever happening again. On the back of this mission the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) was established, opening the lid on Mzansi’s evil past life. Although the country is divided on the efficacy of this process the TRC was a necessary exercise if closure was to be reached by many families who for years lived with unanswered questions. Now I know how cynical Mzansizens can be about commissions – I’m a journalist, my middle name is cynical – but some sort of platform for dialogue between black men and black women is urgently required if we are to unite to uplift a nation that was built on sacrifices by both sexes.
We need to start talking about our differences, and I speak not of the usual directionless, rowdy debates that end up creating more of a rift than effecting change. Both sides of the debate offer valid points but also present plenty of hogwash born from lack of understanding. Such a debate would strip down the clutter and hone in on the appropriate areas.
- Siphiwe Mpye is a writer for the Saturday Star.
love not hate.
peace not war.
sister not slave.
“Who doesn’t want to be validated and respected by other human beings? Some men think the answer to that is: ‘WOMEN, OF COURSE’.
I’m starting to wonder why men hate women so much. You see, the more I read newspapers and monitor what’s happening in our country, the more I feel that men must have something against women. If they don’t then why are they constantly abusing, raping or dehumanising women? Of course it’s not every man who behaves like this. But statistics are scary enough to make one wonder…
The government-funded Medical Research Council (MRC) released research findings earlier this year indicating that at least one South African woman is killed by her intimate partner every six hours. It also found that coloured women have twice the risk of being killed than other racial groups in our land with its brilliant and much hyped about constitution. Now that’s scary. Last year the MRC also found that women in abusive relationships with intimate sexual partners are more likely to get HIV from these men who deny them the right to be happy by instead making them their physical and emotional punch bags. This research study was done in Johannesburg’s biggest township, Soweto. The MRC found that half of 1 395 women interviewed experienced physical violence from their partners while 20 percent also experienced sexual abuse. A third of these women were HIV-positive and reported sexual violence more than others interviewed.
Okay, numbers aside, the bottom-line is that women are getting a double blow from men. Not only are they being abused but they’re also being infected with the incurable HIV-virus. Something seems rather unfair about all of this, don’t you think? It seems we are burying women alive in South Africa. It’s like we have no issues simply shoving them around. Sure, there are some shining examples of women who have made it in a seemingly man’s world. But that’s not the face of the majority of women, who live normal lives outside the bright lights, and who don’t have much.
By now we have to be asking ourselves some serious questions. Why are we allowing young girls and women to be raped in this country every day? Why are we allowing men to continue abusing women? What is it that we need to do to ensure women break free from oppressive men and stand on an equal footing as male counterparts?
I have learnt part of the answer in my young life. And it’s not an answer that I’ve hastily thumb-sucked. It’s a practical but also somewhat psychological approach. As a young man I have enjoyed good relationships with most women in my life. My mother, sister, all three grandmothers, aunts and female cousins are women that I have respected and grown up with. I never felt the need to make them feel lower than me because I am ‘The Man’. They kind of helped me understand women a bit better. And so I’ve learnt part of the answer to the problem of violence against women in South Africa. If we educate young boys to respect women from the moment they can say ‘Mama’ we may well have a society that is less violent towards women. It’s really no surprise that men who have good relationships with their immediate female relatives end up having better relationships with women generally as they grow up.
So perhaps, as part of Women’s Day celebrations during August every year, we should educate young men and women about respect. Women should feel respect for themselves and men should know how to respect women. You see, this is vital, as it’s hard for young boys to know the difference between how a woman wants to be treated and how they think she should be treated when living with a father who beats your mother all the time. It’s also hard to understand the concept of equal rights for men and women when you live in a world where men often progress sooner – purely because they are not women.
We can decide to allow South African men to continue beating and abusing women or we can try to put an end to it. But, trust me, men don’t really want to hear how bad we are. Telling men that they are bad fathers, husbands or brothers will not work. We simply want to know, and be informed, about how we can be better men. How can we take better care of our female partners and relatives? What’s the best way to make the women in our lives feel good?
And yes, you’ve already heard that old saying that respect is a two way street. Men demand respect and a platform and recognition and support not because they are men, but because they are human beings. And they get what they want because, unlike women, they automatically feel entitled to privileges – a right that society seems to bestow upon them from day one. But who doesn’t want to be validated by other human beings? Who doesn’t want to be respected? Who doesn’t want to feel that they are worthy of life? Some men clearly believe the answer to that is, ‘WOMEN, OF COURSE’.
And clearly it’s time we change the way some men think. So roll up those sleeves. We have work to do.
Yazeed Kamaldien is a Jozi-based writer and photographer.