Women's Day Must Fall

Saccharine rhetoric and pink pampering offers for the ladies? It must be August! This year my brain started bubbling like lava before Women’s Month even started, what with the Marie Claire #InHerShoes debacle (the silver lining: these fab takedowns by Pearl Boshomane and Louise Ferreira) and a myriad other WTF moments, including the Department of Women’s high-heeled-foot-in-mouth Tweet “What is to be done with women who withdraw charges [against men who assault them]?”

What’s changed since I first lost my cool about Women’s Day in 2012? Way too little. The Department of Women no longer bundles together vaginas, minors and people with disabilities, but it’s moved under the sheltering wing of the Presidency. Whahahaaaa! WAIT, THAT’S FOR REAL? SERIAAS?

In 2012, I raged “Our rape stats are a global disgrace, black lesbians have ‘carve me up and smash my brains in’ signs stamped on their backs, rural women and children live in relentless, grinding misery and poverty…. We are failing, no, betraying, no, ABUSING children by callously pissing away their only shot at an education, a form of abuse that will affect girls worse than boys; we’re losing ground in terms of infant and maternal mortality; women without cash are being denied C-sections at state hospitals and giving birth to stillborn babies on the floor.”

There’s no doubt that to solve systemic problems like these, WE NEED STATE SUPPORT. Instead what we get is the same old system of patriarchal patronage, the same cynical gauging which side of the gender divide the icing is spread. Lulu the Useless has been replaced by Susan the Shameless, whose main contributions so far have involved buttering up traditional leaders with gender attitudes apparently dating from the 1700s, and the novel idea of reinventing the wheel AGAIN: “We will be going on a nationwide campaign to understand the society we are living in and find out what makes men become so brutal and evil.”

It would be so easy to rant about this kind of GIBBERWITTERY. For starters, men are NOT brutal and evil. I could publish an entire essay on how this “monster” narrative of rapists demonises black and poor men and exculpates white and middle-class men, while masking a rape culture reinforced by a deeply hierarchical and patriarchal society, in which most of us are complicit. OH WAIT, I ALREADY DID. BACK IN 2001. Yes, FOURTEEN FUCKING YEARS AGO.

As for the “nationwide campaign to understand the society we’re living in”, THIS WORK HAS BEEN DONE. By a brace of tireless scholars, researchers, writers, activists and journalists: not only veterans like Nomboniso Gasa, Lisa Vetten, Mmatshilo Motsei (who paid a high price for telling home truths in her book The Kanga and the Kangaroo Court), Carol Bower, Sam Waterhouse, Elaine Salo, Jane Bennett, Makhosazana Xaba, Sindiwe Magona, Mary Hames, Farieda Khan, Pregs Govender, Desiree Lewis, Kopano Ratele and many more; but also a new generation of brilliant, social-media-savvy voices such as Karabo KgolengDanai MupotsaMilisuthando BongelaSisonke MsimangMichelle SolomonT.O. MolefeZethu Matebeni and all the voices I’ve linked in this piece.

Meanwhile, there’s enough noodle-brained patriarchal bullshit in headlines and everyday life to dislocate my jaw. I expect to keel over with a rage-induced thrombosis around 2019, by which time the renamed Department of Ladies, Girl-Children and Self-Congratulation will probably be marking Women’s Day with free virginity testing and apron-stitching competitions. (See Rebecca Davis’s very funny and razor-sharp account of our Women’s Month as explained to a Martian here; also this poignant blog by Jen Thorpe for an account of how for too many women, the workplace is still a sexist timewarp.)

But I give up – for now. It’s no good trying to shame or swear the state into action. As sincere efforts at structural change seem about as likely as the rapture, let’s look at ways we can support the sheroes and heroes who battle the odds to provide practical support to those ravaged by patriarchal violence, whether the kind administered by fists and penises, or the socio-economic kind.

Which means I’d like a little word with South African businesses. WHAT THE FLYING FUCK ARE YOU DOING, OFFERING US DISCOUNTED TEA PARTIES AND SPA DAYS? You already get Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day to patronise us girlies and sell us crap chocolate and plastic shit from China.

I understand that there’s a recession and you need to make a living. I get that marketing is crass by definition. I realise advertising companies hitch their bandwagons to all our public holidays – I keep expecting to see “Come dressed as Hector Pieterson and get a free burger!” offers on Youth Day.

It’s the sickly sentimentality, the reverent hush as you grab at the coattails of that brave march by 20 000 women in 1956 that makes me nauseous. If you’re going to reference that iconic moment in South African history, could you not at least support the organizations which seem to be the ONLY structures trying to improve the lives of SA women?

Instead of offering us a discount, a free glass of plonk, a pink cupcake, ask us if we’d like to add R10 to our bill for Rape Crisis – and THEN MATCH IT. Instead of a half-price facial, ask us to donate sanitary pads for girls for whom menstruation means missing 20% of their schooling. And don’t even think of offering us some sort of fluffy pink deal unless you (a) employ women (b) pay them exactly the same as your male workers and (c) treat them all as human beings.

Finally, is there good news? Yes. Read the fresh voices I’ve listed here (there are many others), look at the multiple ways they suggest we tackle gender oppression (which affects everybody), and you’ll feel flickers of hope. Plus I hear an increasing clamour from men, both straight and gay: what can we do, how can we change this horribly broken system?

So this month, I’m going to focus on the practical stuff. For starters, I’d like for Rape Crisis to get enough funding donated this month to cover their operational costs for a year. Please give generously here. And go pounce on every business you see offering “Women’s Month Specials” and encourage them to donate, if not to Rape Crisis, to a local NGO/NPO offering support to women and/or gender-based violence survivors. In fact, to form ongoing funding relationships with them.

For my part, I’m going to give a fundraising party for Rape Crisis (I’d MUCH rather take the mega-mountains of cash sloshing shadily around the nuclear and fracking deals, and spend them on things like, oh I dunno, functional schools and libraries and decent reproductive health care and poverty alleviation, but I have to start somewhere).

And once a week this month, I’m going to write a blog about practical things we can all do to rid this country of the scourge of gender-based violence. Coming up next: what men can actually do about rape, and a shout-out to Pumla Dineo Gqola for writing one of the most important books you’ll ever read (and you ARE all going to read it, right?): Rape: A South African Nightmare.

Do you have good gender news? Ideas for practical, positive change? Please share them (but no harking back to patriarchal “utopias” or conservative religious and traditional frameworks). Let’s all roll up our sleeves and get stuck in.

Nick Mulgrew
Fuck Women’s Day. FUCK IT.*

Don’t ask me to celebrate Women’s Day. Don’t offer me ten per cent off beauty products or a free glass of cheap bubbly. Don’t even ask me to commemorate the historic women’s march on the Union buildings – a milestone event whose noble essence has been sold down the river by leaders who are eager to claim some sort of retrospective credit for it, but don’t even pretend to honour its values.

Last year, I was in an epic rage. This year, I’m in despair.

Because the front page headlines the last few days have been about baby rape – AGAIN.

Because yesterday’s headline was “W. Cape cop ‘murdered wife’”.

Because Reeva’s Steenkamp’s death by shooting underlined what Lisa Vetten has been pointing out for years – South African women are more likely to die at the hands of their partner or spouse than through any other form of violence – including car crashes. What happened to Reeva reminded us that no amount of money, beauty, celebrity or middle-class comfort renders women exempt from this risk.

Because Lulu the Utterly Useless is still in charge of the Department of Everybody Except Able-bodied Men (henceforth known as the Department of Utter Uselessness).

Because the Department of Utter Uselessness still exists, feeding off the public purse like some ginormous swollen horror-movie leech. As Verashni Pillay says, “The … money would better be spent on funding existing researchers and activists. You know, the sort who work on issues related to ‘women, children and people with disabilities’ 12 months a year – not just in August.”

Because Mad Bob Mugabe referred to a senior female South African diplomat as a “street woman”, and our government chastised HER.

Because Vavi (a man I used to admire) can’t keep his pants zipped, not even when his wife is about to give birth to twins.

Because Vavi-gate means we learned absolutely nothing from the Zuma rape trial (what Margie Orford calls a case of deja Zuma).

Because Rape Crisis is now subsisting on the charity of individual donors in spite of the fact that (let me say it one more time) IT IS DOING THE WORK OF THE STATE.

Because a friend of Sarah Lotz’s was [allegedly] raped in the police cells of a small Cape town in 2008 (this was the impetus behind Sarah’s novel, Exhibit A), and the case hasn’t even come to trial yet. FIVE FUCKING YEARS LATER.

Because even when we KNOW that we (or a family member or friend) have been raped, we have to use the word “allegedly” when speaking about it publicly unless we belong to the 1% of rape survivors who see their attackers go to trial and get convicted.

Because this grinds into us that we are inherently untrustworthy and unreliable, that something that still gives us nightmares “didn’t maybe really happen” – or, as a man once said to me, “When a woman tells me she’s been raped, it means some guy grabbed her boob, right?”

Because there are so many men (and some women) who think that rape is a terrible thing, and Something Must Be Done – but on closer inspection, they still believe it’s something that only poor, ignorant, crazed, barbaric, drug-addled men do to poor, ignorant, downtrodden women.

Because so many men (and some women) are terribly angry about rape, and call for the death penalty and castration – but they’re thinking of an armed stranger breaking into their house and attacking their family, not about all the “regular, ordinary” blokes they know who have raped women… because that’s not real rape. Hey, the girl was coming on to him, she was drinking, it’s not like he used a knife or a gun…

Because unless about fifty women I know are psychotic, delusional, hardened and consistent liars, there are at least fifty rapists walking around doing things like playing golf and drinking beer, having got off absolutely scot-free.

Because so many men (and some women) have NO IDEA that non-consensual sex is rape. (Most of the women I know above fell into this category at the time they were raped. Many didn’t even know you could report men you actually worked, played or studied with, or had dated, or once had consensual sex with, or lived with.)

Because there is only one thing worse than being raped: being raped and then having to report it to the cops. Wait, there’s something even worse: being raped, reporting it, and then going to trial. I’ve been a witness in a criminal trial twice: appalling ordeals I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy. To be the principal witness in a rape trial? I don’t know how any woman, man or child has the courage.

Because the reason so many men (and some women) have no idea that non-consensual sex is rape is because we’re absolutely marinated in rape culture.

Because Yale University, in its recent investigation into sexual violence on campus, redefined rape as “non-consensual sex” (see above) and recommended “written warnings” for offenders.

Because sometimes the same people who get all hot under the collar about rape also defend the “freedom of speech” of internet trolls who make rape threats.

Because so few of those who are rightly appalled by the rape of children grasp that it’s the extreme end of a continuum of rape culture – which can be summed up as the increasingly explicit patriarchal message that women are either objects for consumption or objects of contempt.

Because there is literally nowhere to go to escape rape culture. In that supposed bastion of civilisation (ha), the UK, a 13-year-old girl was described as sexually predatory not just by the defence lawyer, but the prosecution and the judge – and the 41-year-old man who molested her got probation.

Because I have nieces who are fourteen and thirteen (also a nephew of almost fifteen), and when they were born, I really believed that by the time they reached young adulthood, we would have this patriarchal shit thrashing on the mat. Or at least MORALLY defeated.

Because I want the world to be a safe and EQUAL place for them, and we’re running out of time.

So fuck Women’s Day, and fuck Women’s Month. Instead, as a gesture of grief, rage and general gatvol-ness, please join me in making a donation to Rape Crisis: http://rapecrisis.org.za/support-us/donate/.

*I was going to issue my usual swearing and shouting warning, but I think the post title is a giveaway.

Nick Mulgrew
Take your Women’s Day and shove it*

[Warning: this post contains a lot of bad language and shouting. My parents should stop reading now.]

Dear Government (big, small, national and local),

Here’s an idea. Take your pathetic, meaningless, mind-blowingly expensive and stomach-churningly patronising Women’s Day and cancel it. Cancel the entire idea of “women’s month”. Tell me, what is the FUCKING point?

Trash that ridiculous, pointless, bloated Dept of Women, Children and People with Disabilities (how’s that for neatly categorising us little ladies – not only does possession of a vagina constitute a disability, but vagina-owners are as powerless and lacking in agency as children). It’s no more than a particularly sanctimonious event-planning agency. The departmental mission? “Ooh, women and children are getting raped and abused, they bear the brunt of criminally lousy education and brutal poverty: LET THEM EAT CUPCAKES! Plus we’ll throw in some glossy leaflets, and send someone in a designer suit to pat heads and make a speech full of platitudes before we jet off for another shopping trip er international conference.”

So ditch the pointless sodding public holiday (estimated cost to the economy: SEVEN BILLION). Stop bleating about the month of women. It’s PATHETIC, considering it’s open season on South African women 24/7, year in, year out. Our rape stats are a global disgrace (Goddess, how many times do I have to FUCKING say this, the WORST in the world for a country not at war – the scale is unimaginable, the suffering ditto), black lesbians have “carve me up and smash my brains in” signs stamped on their backs, rural women and children live in relentless, grinding misery and poverty HUGELY exacerbated by patriarchal strictures, which are of course absolutely sacred (and the fact that the Traditional Courts Bill, which would render these women even more helpless and wretched, is actually allowed to pollute national airtime is a bloody disgrace). We are failing, no, betraying, no, ABUSING children by callously pissing away their only shot at an education, their ONLY chance of a life of decent employment, a form of abuse that will affect girls worse than boys; we’re losing ground in terms of infant and maternal mortality; women without cash are being denied C-sections at state hospitals and giving birth to stillborn babies on the floor as a result. SO DON’T TALK TO ME ABOUT FUCKING WOMEN’S DAY YOU BOZOS.

Here’s a better idea. Instead of the jamborees and a long weekend of more boozing and beatings and rapes, take the money – the obscene piles and piles of it you intend to waste – and use it to fund Rape Crisis, which is having to CLOSE ITS FUCKING DOORS because you don’t think it’s worth supporting, never mind that it does priceless work, not just in enabling women and their families to pick up their lives after they’ve been blown apart, but in taking an enormous burden off both the public health and criminal justice systems. Fund the Saartjie Baartman Centre for Women and Children, which is literally having bake sales to keep running. All those NGOs that have lost their overseas funding because of the economic crisis – how about funding them, the hundreds that work with the poorest of the poor (which, SURPRISE! equates women and children), which do invaluable work for women with TB or Aids, which support women who are raising grandchildren, running crèches, soup kitchens, micro-employment schemes, food gardens, hospices and all the heroic things that South African women do to keep this country running, NO FUCKING THANKS TO YOU.

Stop whining about the Lotto (an additional tax on the poor) and big business, and how “they need to come to the party”. International funders have been warning for South African NGOs for years, you’re not a baby democracy any more, YOUR government needs to start picking up the tab for this. And so you bloody well ought. What’s next, asking the Lotto or big business to supply the state with ambulances?

So grow the fuck up. Cancel the froth and bubbles. What you have reduced the 1956 Women’s March to is a travesty. That was an occasion of extraordinary dignity and power, and we’d like to remember and honour it without having to use sickbags, please. Lilian Ngoyi and Albertina Sisulu and the thousands of brave women who took part that day are squirming in their graves at your appalling, ongoing, almost CASUAL abandonment of this country’s women, especially the poorest ones. The public spectacle of hypocrisy that is Women’s Day is just rubbing salt into their wounds.

*Never post in a rage. But sometimes rage is appropriate.

Update, Friday, 3pm: I’m stunned that this has gone viral. Thanks to all for the support and interest. If this has touched a nerve then PLEASE copy, post and tweet Helen Zille, premier of the Western Cape, as follows: @HelenZille Rape Crisis is shutting down during Women’s Month. Insane! Fund it now! #SaveRapeCrisis

Nick Mulgrew