Nasty Women Talk Back Launches! Please join us for the launch of Nasty Women Talk Back at the Open Book Festival on 6 September from 20h00 -21h00 at the Fugard Theatre. Please note that booking is essential and can be done through the Open Book …
Tag: Feminism – Nasty Women Initiative – Joy Watson – South Africa
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 …
Review of “The Beguiled” by Ronel Koekemoer
The Beguiled, set in the American Civil War adds a feminine voice to an era that traditionally does not spare mushroom for women.
Mansplaining is one of the evils of our time. We’ve all been subjected to a man interrupting a woman when she voices her annoyance at a particular behaviour (or voices an opinion, or exhales). Man launches into explanation about said behaviour, casting himself as misunderstood underdog and woman as whiney bitch.
In that moment of mansplaining, however, there is one positive. It elicits an empathetic glance that is one of the greatest examples of solidarity between women. There are few connections more meaningful than that conspiratorial exchange of understanding shared by two women who have just found themselves audience to the defensive tirade.
Reading The Beguiled is a lot like that moment of connection.
Set at the height at the American Civil war, Thomas Cullinan’s 1966 novel plays out in the claustrophobic confines of ‘The Miss Martha Seminary for Young Ladies’. The school is furnished with all the God-fearing Southern sexism you would expect (“if you all feel you are innocent of your misdeeds today, I can only pray that God will enlighten you” admonishes the school’s matriarch, Martha Farnsworth). The plot is driven by the introduction of a wounded Yankee soldier, Johnny McBurney, to the women-only world of the school.
What makes ‘The Beguiled’ novel so fabulously feminist is that while a man is the central focus of the novel, the story is told by the eight women who populate the school. This melting pot of unreliable narrators gossip about each other and the world around them, ultimately revealing more about themselves in the telling of the story than the man who disrupts their lives. It is the varying ages and backgrounds of the women that adds textures of femininity to a novel that seemingly centres around a man. It is a powerful technique for the fact that while Johnny gets to disrupt, The Beguiled is one of the rare instances where the man does not get to speak.
The plot unfolds with the women seemingly divided, each vying for the soldier’s affection but the novel’s conclusion sees the women come together not in the bra-burning solidarity of the second-wavers, but in accordance with the repressive realm to which they are confined.
The Beguiled’s brilliance stems from Cullinan’s ability to write women characters in such a way that highlights the essential contradictions of femininity; where the same hands expected to do needlepoint are capable of amputating a man’s leg below the knee.
The Beguiled is a Southern Gothic gem peppered with sex, scandal, blood and humour. For example, when the youngest of the brood feels thwarted that her age excludes her from witnessing the amputation she remarks: “I wonder if when Miss Martha thinks about the afternoon when she cut McBurney’s leg off, she ever remembers the pretty vile way I was treated on that occasion”.
Originally titled The Painted Devil, the titular change and republication is the result of Sofia Coppola’s film based on the novel being released this year. Coppola won Best Director for the film adaption at the Cannes Film Festival—only the second woman to do so in the festival’s 70-year history.
Despite her brilliance, Coppola white-washed the novel by excluding Mattie (the all-seeing slave working for the Farnsworths) and by casting Kirsten Dunst as Edwina (who in the novel is a biracial character). The nuance of feminising the Civil War inevitably gets diluted by this move, but in the novel, both characters contribute to this project importantly.
The Beguiled is for anyone who enjoys a good Southern gothic (or who has not had the pleasure of indulging in one yet) and loves women and their world. And for those who dislike the aforementioned, read the book, as the fate of the beguiling Johnny may serve as inspiration to any woman looking for a solution for the mansplainers in her life.
President Trump has done it again! On a state visit to France, he told Brigitte Macron “You’re in such good shape.” And, is it my imagination, or does he look decidedly surprised as he says this? He then turns to President Macron and repeats his words …
Media, Race and Gender by Demelza Bush
Sandiswa Mhlawuli tried to obtain a restraining order against her ex-boyfriend, Nkosinam Xabadiya on more than one occasion.
She had repeatedly gone to the police only to be told that domestic issues are not for them to sort out. But after months of pleading, the 27-year-old single mother of two eventually managed to get her restraining order.
In fact, it was in her handbag when Xabadiya stabbed her to death in the back of a moving taxi, in December 2013, in the middle of South Africa’s 16 Days of Activism Against Violence Against Women and Children.
Sandiswa was from Chafutweni, a small village near Dutywa in the Eastern Cape. She was the sole breadwinner in her family and had started to save money to build a house for herself, her mother and her two little girls, aged 5 and 7, so they could move out of the tiny aluminum shack they all inhabited together.
After stabbing Sandiswa several times in front of the Grade 11 pupil who happened to be in the taxi with them, Xabadiya went on to threaten the learner with the knife.
Fearing for her life, she jumped out of the still-moving vehicle, sustaining several injuries to her ankles and legs, pain she still battles with today.
The police arrested Xabadiya and bail was set at R1000. Xabadiya claimed he could not afford that amount, or any bail for that matter. So in January 2014, only one month after he killed Sandiswa, he was released from prison, with no bail.
They just let him out.
Free to resume earning a living. Free to intimidate witnesses and Sandiswa’s family – he lived within walking distance of her mother’s tiny shack where her daughters were now living as well. Free to do just about anything he wished.
Sandiswa’s case didn’t make many headlines. In South Africa, more women are killed by their current or former male partner than in any other country in the world. On average, a woman is killed by her male partner every 8 hours. And Sandiswa was just another number.
She was a poor black woman from the rural Eastern Cape, so her death wasn’t afforded the same amount of media attention and public interest as the deaths of Reeva Steenkamp, Jayde Panayiotou and Franziska Blochliger.. And the details of her murder wouldn’t be considered as shocking as those of Anene Booysens, Karabo Mokoena and Nosipho Mandeleni. She was only stabbed in a taxi, after all.
Admittedly, the media can’t cover every rape and murder case in South Africa. If we did that our papers would carry nothing else and journalists would never sleep. But how do we decide whose rape or murder is worthy of our time or the public’s outcry?
We, as media consumers, have become fatigued with the details of the rapes and murders of black women. Unless there is something extremely shocking about these cases, we don’t care. We don’t have capacity to care, because we have become numb, desensitized to the never ending stories of death and destruction.
We are less fatigued by the rape and murder of white bodies, more outraged, better able to identify with the victims perhaps, so they inevitably get more space in our papers and our minds.
Women, and especially poor, black women, just don’t mean that much in this country – and arguably globally. This is not based on their contribution to the economy, because we all know the world is built on the shoulders of, black poor and working class women.
So what is it about our culture that enables both the continued assault on women’s bodies and the continual decline in public interest or concern about it? And how responsible is the media?
There have been only two instances in this country where journalists have been banned from live tweeting and reporting in detail on testimony being given in a court of law.
Both of these women are white.
But cast your minds back to Anene Booysen’s case. Booysen was raped and murdered by Johannes Kana. She was disembowelled with a blunt object and over a metre of her small intestine was protruding from her vagina when she was found.
These details were live tweeted. There was no ban. There was no call to protect her dignity.
Why are black bodies not treated with the same respect as white bodies? It’s a question that neither the media nor society nor anyone really wants to answer. The answer doesn’t fit with our neatly wrapped rainbow nation delusion.
We are all equal, but some are more equal than others.
And so women, mostly black and working class, continue to be beaten and killed every day in our country and we all participate, actively or passively, in the culture that allows this to happen. Often, we do not have the empathy to care, or even think about the victims, unless the details of the murder are graphic and sickening, or the victim is white. Then we all wring our hands in shock, and ask each other, horrified, how this could happen. Pretending that we don’t know that it’s happening right under our noses. Pretending that it’s #NotAllMen when we know in our hearts that #YesAllWomen.
The Politics of Menstruation by Aleya Ramparsad Banwari
Cramps, bloating, feeling gassy, and a giant pimple on my chin – all signs indicating that my body is shedding the thickened lining of my uterus and an unfertilised egg. Except, having a period is a bit more complicated than just the physical symptoms and feeling a bit emotional. It is deeply political, and is one of the ways in which womxn are discriminated against institutionally, economically, and socially.
For as long as humankind has existed, womxn have been seen as the “weaker sex,” whose value is less just because they are not men. Historically, The Code of Hammurabi, a Mesopotamian law code written in 1754 BC, exemplifies this. If a man killed a male slave, the slave owner would receive a sum of money as compensation, more than what would have been paid if a man killed the slave owner’s wife. While some things have changed since then, women todays till continue to face discrimination on a daily basis.
Menstruation and social stigma
The social stigma around menstruation has resulted in womxn being seen as less competent, as well as being less of a person. A recent example of this is when Megyn Kelly, an American journalist, called Trump to account for his misogynist comments – such as calling women ‘fat pigs, dogs, slobs and disgusting animals.’ Trump’s retaliation included a comment of how Kelly has blood “coming out of her whatever”. This is just one example of societally-embedded sexism, where the voices of womxn are constantly put down as being not worthy.
Menstruation and PCOS
In my experience as a womxn who menstruates, I have found that the Western world holds women to strict conventional norms; norms which extend even to natural processes such as menstruation. I was diagnosed with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) when I was seventeen years old, after I bled for three months non-stop. PCOS is a common endocrine disorder that affects 1 in every 3 womxn. Essentially, it means that I have an excess of the hormone progesterone in my bloodstream and could develop cysts on my ovaries that could make it difficult for me to fall pregnant later on in life. Left untreated, it could lead to cervical cancer.
PCOS manifests physically, as a result of a change in hormone levels, in the form of the thinning of one’s hair, hirsutism, and weight gain. It can be medically managed through the use of birth control, a proper diet and exercise in order to manage the pain and excessive bleeding (or the lack of bleeding). However, this does not necessarily mean the physical manifestations disappear. Womxn living with PCOS are often “othered” because they are seen as being “less feminine” and “manly” because they have a lot of facial hair or are overweight; examples being Harnaam Kaur, Little Bear Schwartz, or Whitney Thore (known for her show “My Big Fat Fabulous Life” on TLC, which highlights her gain of more than 90 kgs as a result of PCOS).
PCOS and Body Shaming
Social stigma has led to womxn living with PCOS constantly being body shamed, despite the fact that 1 in 3 womxn have the disorder. As a womxn living with PCOS, I have very little control over how much hair I grow or how much weight I gain around my midsection, but this does not make me less of a person. This is why narratives of womxn living with PCOS are important; they pave the way for womxn like Harnaam Kaur or Little Bear Schwartz to not be known as womxn with beards – but rather just as womxn.
PCOS and needing to ‘perform’
In my own experience as a student, I have often felt that UCT does not have the ability to understand and engage with PCOS or menstruation in general from a health and well-being perspective. In order to meet faculty requirements, students must comply with the submission of all assignments and attend a certain number of tutorials and lectures. Medical certificates must be submitted in instances where this is not done. If a student does not meet the faculty requirements in this regard, then they cannot sit for an exam.
However, I often do not go to a doctor to complain of debilitating menstrual cramps. I am aware that I have PCOS and do not need to be diagnosed. I just have to endure the cramps until they pass. Whether at a place of learning, or in a workplace, or even in a family context at home, debilitating menstrual cramps is generally not something that elicits much empathy. Womxn are just expected to carry on and perform, regardless – a disadvantage that men are completely exempt from.
Society’s obsession with menstruation
Society is obsessed with the reproductive capacity of womxn, so much so that birth control measures such as the pill or the patch were formulated to mimic menstrual bleeding after the third patch or the twenty-first pill. The “fake” bleeding is not an actual period but rather is withdrawal bleeding. It is ironic that, whether one bleeds as a consequence of a menstrual cycle or not, there is a great deal of social stigma either way – womxn who bleed because it is their menstrual cycle are considered to be dirty and should hide their period from the world. A womxn of childbearing age who does not have her period is considered ‘deformed’ in some way, she is ‘less than a womxn’ for this biological ‘abnormality.’ And, a womxn who is past childbearing years and no longer bleeds is also not allowed to escape prejudice, because she has come to that point in life where she is no longer viewed as a person who possesses sexuality or sexual agency but has rather become “expired goods”.
The economic burden of menstruation
Coming back to politics of menstruation, have you ever stopped to consider the huge economic burden placed on bodies that menstruate when it comes to the cost of sanitary products? Buying sanitary products places a great financial burden on womxn. They are not freely available from government and in South Africa, they are not exempt from value added tax. I feel the economic burden of paying for sanitary products every month. Packs of pads cost anywhere between R25 – R50. Fourteen percent of this goes as tax towards government coffers. If one had to calculate the cost of pads per menstruation cycle and project this over a life trajectory, the costs are significant.
Most women and girls in South Africa live beneath the poverty line. Womxn living in poverty often cannot afford to purchase sanitary products and are forced to make use of alternatives, such as socks, rags, or paper. Not only is this uncomfortable and places them at a much higher risk of developing bacterial vaginosis or thrush as a result of the germs spread by using pad replacements, it is a great cost to their dignity. Often, many days of going to school are lost because womxn cannot afford to purchase sanitary products.
Menstruation therefore acts not only as a barrier between womxn and their ability to achieve an education, but also could lead to them contracting serious ailments when they try to get that education. This is slowly changing; for instance, the KwaZulu Natal Department of Education began to distribute free sanitary pads in schools in January of this year. The change is a step in the right direction, but it is happening at too slow a pace. Think about it like this: if bodies that menstruate are accommodated, it would not only help those women and girls, but would also help to improve the economy, as more womxn and girls will not miss work and school.
Menstruation is not simply a personal issue, it is deeply political and shapes our understanding of how we perceive womxn who are menstruating. We need to challenge the deeply entrenched notions we have of womxn who are unable to or who no longer menstruate. We need to challenge how we accommodate (or do not accommodate) womxn with menstrual conditions that negatively impact on health and well-being. We need to tackle the humxn rights violation taking place against womxn by economically disadvantaging them with the financial burden of menstruation. It is time for us to come together and fight for this issue that affects all of us.