We the women by Emilie Gambade “It’s in the reach of my arms, The span of my hips, The stride of my step, The curl of my lips. I’m a woman Phenomenally. Phenomenal woman, That’s me.” Maya Angelou I once wrote In one …
The idea of “rape culture” has become increasingly prevalent in discussions about sexual violence in South Africa. Black feminist student activists, in particular, have made visible the ways in which university campuses are steeped in “rape culture”
The publication of a cartoon by satirist Johnathan Shapiro in April of this year, in which he once again depicts a woman being raped in order to comment on the state of politics, facilitated widespread outrage [https://www.iol.co.za/news/politics/latest-zapiro-rape-cartoon-creates-storm-on-social-media-8620542]. There was much talk about this cartoon as an example of rape culture. For example, Kathleen Dey (2017), director of RCCTT, remarked that the cartoon “is a strong example of how rape culture works in our society and how even the most self aware among us are often quite blind to it.”
I have, until recently, regarded the uptake of the term “rape culture” as a positive step towards promoting gender equality (and non-violence) in South Africa. If we can see and talk about the ways in which our everyday practices are making violence possible, surely, we can disrupt these everyday practices and make violence less possible, even impossible?
However, a comment made by Nomboniso Gaza, the gender and anti-apartheid activist and researcher, at a recent conference on Violence Against Women, has compelled me to think about the limits of the term “rape culture” for explaining sexual violence in South Africa. Gasa asked, “should we not be talking about rape cultures?” She pointed out that the notion of “rape culture” was developed within the context of the (white) Feminist Movement in the United States (US) in the 1970s. The origin of the term “rape culture” has been credited to Susan Brownmiller who argued that the US is a “rape-supportive culture.” Also speaking about the US, Buchwald, Fletcher and Roth [https://books.google.no/books?id=4JDaAAAAMAAJ&q=Buchwald,+Fletcher+and+Roth&dq=Buchwald,+Fletcher+and+Roth&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjixbKW1dbWAhUhLZoKHQ0fCwUQ6AEIJjAA] provide the following definition of “rape culture”:
the complex of beliefs that encourage male sexual aggression and support violence against women. It is a society where violence is seen as sexy and sexuality is violent. In a rape culture women perceive a continuum of threatened violence that ranges from sexual remarks to sexual touching to rape itself. A rape culture condones physical and emotional terrorism against women as the norm.
This definition highlights the way in which the term emerged in relation to a very particular set of gendered relations – those of cisgender and heterosexual rape.
The notion “rape culture” has undoubtedly been significant in developing an understanding of rape as not merely an individual act of violence, but rather as a symptom of a broader socio-cultural system. However, given its rooting in particular social dynamics, should we not be asking more critical questions about the usefulness of “rape culture” beyond this context?
Questions such as:
How does the notion of “rape culture” (singular) invisibilise/ trivialise/ smooth over the different patterns of sexual violence in South Africa?
Does the idea of “rape culture” allow us to think critically about the violence that is perpetrated against queer bodies, against men, against womxn who are positioned unevenly in our society?
Does this term “rape culture” allow us to think carefully about the inequality/imbalance/variability in responses to sexual violence (for example how we fail to respond or even recognise certain instances/types of sexual violence)?
In order to more fully elucidate the complex and contradictory nature of sexual violence in our contemporary local (and global) contexts should we not, as Gasa remarked, “be talking about rape cultures?”
The simple answer to this last question is yes. But the question of how to develop the theoretical concept of “rape cultures” is far more complex. I hope to be able to do this as part of my Phd.
The idea of intersecting “rape cultures” has the potential to challenge how we are currently thinking about, talking about and responding to sexual violence; challenges which are necessary in order to more meaningfully and appropriately counter the tides of sexual violence that continue to wash over all of us.
Rape-Crisis-Memoir https://rapecrisis.org.za/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/Rape-Crisis-Memoir.pdf Rape Crisis celebrates its 40th anniversary! Happy birthday! This memoir, compiled by Helen Moffett, attests to the phenomenal work done by the organisation. In the aftermath of #metoo, which has given us some insight into how endemic sexual violence and harassment is in our society, …
Ma Rongrong – The Tale of a Thousand Women
Ma Rongrong, a 26-year-old Chinese woman, was admitted to the First Hospital of Yulin on 30 August 2017, already 41 weeks pregnant. She was expected to give birth shortly. The married woman was in extreme pain. According to medical records, the fetal head circumference was larger than normal, putting both mother and baby at risk. Natural birth was therefore compromised; the medical team suggested a caesarian, a procedure formerly very common in China and favoured in these circumstances.
In line with Chinese tradition, the family’s permission should be sought where invasive medical treatments are necessary. In light of this, Ma had signed an authorisation letter allowing her husband to make medical decisions on her behalf.
Seems pretty normal, right? In the case of being unable to make sound medical decisions, who better than your spouse to make such decisions both for your own wellbeing and that of your unborn child?
Mr Zhuangzhuang, Ma’s husband, and his family reportedly rejected the suggested method of birth, opting for a natural delivery. Her mother-in-law has been said to have encouraged her to push through, for this is what women do – birth children and persevere. For Ma Rongrong, things did not work out that way. She experienced extreme pain while giving birth, leaving the birthing room on two occasions to beg her husband to consent to the C-section. Both times he refused.
The next time he would see his wife would be when she was being picked up off the ground after a fatal fall from the hospital’s fifth floor. Ma had succumbed to her pain and possibly the frustration of the situation, taking both her own life and that of her unborn baby.
A serious game of blame-shifting ensued.
Mr Zhuangzhaung and his family argue that they immediately agreed to the C-section, however no paperwork has surfaced to support this. The hospital has been ruled negligent by an investigation and deemed unfit to deal with emergencies and the doctor has been suspended as well. Labelling this as an emergency is apt. In terms of Chinese law, a person reserves the sole right to make medical decisions. Furthermore, in the case of an emergency, the hospital (read medical team) can and should make the final decision in the best interests of the patient. China has no law stipulating in what conditions authorisation letters should be signed in medical practices.
Ma’s death around 20h00 on 31 August 2017 sparked a national debate on patients’ medical rights in relation to traditional family values. Many argued that the family rejected the proposed course of medical care due to the high costs associated with it. However, it should also be noted that the Central Party has been taking measures to control caesarean births in the past few years. This comes after a report published by the World Health Organisation in 2010 showing that in China, caesarian births accounted for 46% of all the births in 2007 and 2008 – much higher than the 15% that WHO suggests.
The topic was trending on China’s Twitter-like microblogging website, Weibo. One user commented: “A married woman is not some tool for producing babies.” Arguably though, historically, married women in China and across the world have indeed been a tool for producing babies. This continues to ring true today as oppressive reproductive policies continue. The one-child policy in China saw many women (and men) being sterilised and millions of forced abortions taking place, in favour of birthing boys. More recently, women have been called home to bear a second child as China faces a slowing and greying economic downturn.
Women, who were once described as holding up half of the sky by Mao, in reality continue to be systemically oppressed. The abolition of the one-child policy in October 2015 has also added to the push against once popular C-sections, fearing it would negatively impact on women’s ability to bear a second child. The abolition has been celebrated as a move towards women gaining control of their reproductive choices. This however is not true for all women. China maintains strong policies prohibiting single women, regardless of their sexual orientation, from parenthood. While married couples are actively encouraged to have another child, singletons continue to be condemned.
LBGQT marriages are illegal, thus women are viewed as single and denied birthing rights; children born outside these regulations are not issued houku’s – similar to a registration card in other countries – thus denying them access to basic social services (both private and public) such as education. Furthermore, parents are fined exuberant amounts in such cases. Latanya Mapp-Frett, Executive Director: Planned Parenthood Global, rightly argued that until China promotes a fully rights-based, voluntarily family planning programme, it is supporting the continued oppression of Chinese families through coercive reproductive policies. As the state moves closer to Confucian values, it is proposing polygamy; suggesting that monogamy, much like democracy and feminist theory, are foreign concepts imported from the West.
Ma Rongrong’s story represents the struggle of many ‘modern’ Chinese women, pressurised by the state and its institutionalised patriarchy and misogyny into marriage, bearing children and abiding by archaic family structures – even if it kills them, which in this case it did. Donald Trump’s reinstating of the global gag order places women’s reproductive rights at risk. Globally, pregnancy is especially risky for poor and marginalised women; this has been exacerbated by one swift move of the Trump administration. Developing countries especially depend on funds from the US for women’s sexual health and reproductive rights. This gag order stops the flow of funds to any organisation which promotes abortions and other services of this nature.
It is clear that globally there is a step backward with regards to women’s rights, especially reproductive rights. There is a growing void in financial and moral support services in this realm where country law’s vagueness, lack of political will, national dialogue and sheer oppression result in the death of millions of women and their unborn babies.
A story of gender inequality. A story of oppression. A story of fragile masculinity. A story of engrained and destructive patriarchy. A microcosm of a global issue.
Charlotte Maxeke – Remembering the Veterans During Women’s Month by Joy Watson Remembering our women veterans, the likes of people such as Charlotte Maxeke, upon whose backs our society is built, is a pivotal part of what women’s month is supposed to be about. The capturing of …
Before You Judge Me, Know My Story: Review by Joy Watson
‘Before You Judge Me, Know My Story’, is a participatory arts-based project, edited by Susann Huschke. The project entailed a collaboration with 14 sex workers and opened in Johannesburg in last week. ‘Before You Judge Me, Know My Story’ is an ethnographic study on the experiences, health practices and well-being of sex workers in Soweto. The sex workers involved in the project took pictures, created collages and wrote their stories, asking their audiences to listen to what they have to say about their lives, struggles and their reasons for selling sex. The stories and pictures give us a snapshot into the lives of these women, how they manage on a day-to-day basis, what is important to them and how they are claiming the writing of their own stories.
In the words of Chaniqua, a participant to the project, ‘We all want one thing, just to better ourselves and making ourselves be best we can be.’ This sentence sums it up really – the project is an unfolding of the stories of women who are trying to live the best kind of life that they can. Women who are working hard to live good lives and who take tremendous pride in what they have been able to provide and accomplish through their efforts.
Unsurprisingly, most of the stories of the women who participated are stories of unspeakable hardship and astute suffering, all brought about the socio-economic circumstances of structural oppression in South Africa. They illustrate how race, class and sex intersect to systemically disadvantage women.
Many of the women come from families who lived in conditions of abject poverty before taking it upon themselves to provide for themselves and their families. Some are mothers who juggle their work with their domestic responsibilities, making sure that their children have clean clothes for school, putting a meal on the table at night and helping their children with their homework. Others, like Penelope, became a sex worker when her mother lost her job. Her mother had been a cleaner and would put everything that she earned into transport costs to ensure that Penelope could get to and from school. Chantel became a sex worker because her mother was a domestic worker and could not afford to buy her the things that she wanted.
The thread binding the stories together is that most of the women use their earnings to support family and extended family, like caring for a grandparents who used to be domestic workers but are no longer able to work.
Some came into sex work after encountering traumatic loss in their lives. Chastiti says. ‘I was married and had two beautiful girls. Then they passed on. Then that’s where my life turns around cause I was devastated, destroyed and crushed and broken cause I felt that everything that I valued and loved was taken from me.’ Benefit, says “Death came to my house taking all the people I loved and who were supporting me financially and otherwise….. I had to come up with a plan and very fast, to survive the situation.’
The project explores different ways of being a woman – it captures the stories of those born as women and those who came to identify as women, bringing to the fore some of the specific experiences of trans women, but also illustrating how all these women live ordinary lives and the tremendous tenacity of their spirit in rising above hardship.
“Before You Judge Me, Know My Story’ is pulled together in a manner that is deeply sensitive to giving the participants agency and allowing them to craft the lens through which we see them. The stories told are brutal, honest and haunting. They are stories about the human spirit, what it means to live through difficulty and to claim the power to engineer your own path. The pictures are an alluring visual accompaniment, giving us a glimpse into the lives of the women. When engaging with the material, I found myself deeply touched by these stories of beauty and resilience. I was lulled into the stories in ways that made me enter into the world of the women on their terms, hearing their words, seeing their pictures. Which is exactly as it should be.
Review of In Whorefish Bloomers: The Waitresses’ Lament by Joy Watson In Whorefish Bloomers: The Waitresses’ Lament ‘In Whorefish Bloomers: The Waitresses’ Lament’, currently on at the Alexander Bar and Café, is adapted from a play written by Sue Pam-Grant and Sheena Stannard that first made its …