RIGHT OF ADMITION (IS STILL) RESERVED…

1980, Austin, TX. I took it in very poor light...

American Poet, Writer, Activist : Audre Lorde.  (love her)

I’m following up on my previous post “One in Three Men Rape” with another story. This despite the fact that my second to last sentence to that blog was I won’t list the many incidents where refusing to have sex puts women in the dog box, but I thought I should mention this one as I think it’s particularly important in shaping young people’s minds and attitudes  in how they negotiate sex and sexuality. It also points directly to some possible “outcomes” of what can happen to you – if you dare, to speak out. I also want to add to the last post by saying that I do believe that both men and women suffer if they refuse to consent to persistent sexual advances, regardless of where they come from, but since it is women’s month and I am a woman I will continue to write from those “particular” perspectives.  August is WOMENs’ month in South Africa. This story I don’t often tell to too many people – even though it’ s much more harmless than the previous one  – because for some reason it still embarrasses me – and strangely bares some striking similarities to the incident I wrote about in my previous blog. This story, like the one I wrote about before,  I think can help us begin to understand the nuanced  reasons /contexts to why girls and women would hesitate to speak out or report  sexual abuse, assault, much less rape.

 

Don’t touch me on My “Studio

 

I was 13 – thirteen was a big year for me – in grade seven.  We were in  English class and I was quite enthralled by our English teacher,  a tall blonde woman,  probably in her early to mid-20’s at the time who spoke loudly and hurriedly, she had a lot of energy about her and would always be walking up and down the front of the class as if warming up for a marathon, hands flailing in the air,  her short blond hair always flowing as if  there was a wind blowing constantly on her face, oh wait there was,  she loved to sigh loudly breathing out air into her forehead making her fringe blow up like it was under a hair drier.  She was very expressive.  I am now guessing that the boys in our class must have adored her, but I guess I was also too occupied looking at her to notice anyone else doing the same thing.  She liked to wear short- khakhi skirts, had long masculine but lean legs, whose feet she lightly cushioned on open leather sandals, even during winter. Now that I think of it she must have grown up in a farm or in the great endless outdoors of the expansive Savannah somewhere idyllic.  She often wore loose fitting shirts, some a little transparent that would reveal, ever so slightly, whenever she bent down (which was often) the curve of her tiny breasts.  She was also friendly and seemed more approachable than many of the older, more serious and graying teachers at our school.

 

As luck would have it I was sitting in front, sharing a desk with Patrick, a male classmate with whom I liked to compete academically.   We were friends, but not in the “I like you – be my – girlfriend kind of way” I was not the most attractive girl in class fortunately.  While listening to whatever the teacher was saying I heard him whisper to me saying “can I?” Can you what? I asked looking at him, his eyes looked down and I followed them to find his hand inching closer and closer to my pelvic area under the table/school desk. He pleaded sheepishly with his eyes and I said no. don’t. But he didn’t listen, persisting each chance he got, while staring, intently and directly at the teacher in front him –he  would attempt to touch me, reaching out his hand like a thief in the night. I saw that my deflections didn’t deter him – so on his  next  more bolder move I grabbed his hand and creamed  out loud “ MA’M! PATRICK IS TRYING TO TOUCH MY VAGINA!!!!!”  My only  recourse. There was dead silence in the class-room; many had never quite heard (much less I) the word vagina being shouted so loudly in class. And then as if a wave enveloped the room, laughter swelled, in starts, spurts and then finally poured out  and like a huge waterfall filling the room,  even I joined in the laughter,  for a while until the teacher after having recovered from the shock of her life – calmed the class down and asked Patrick why he was doing that,  he denied it loudly,” no ma’m she’s lying!” he said “ I didn’t,  never ever” with a conviction  even I believed the moment he said it.  The teacher then turned her attention to me “why are you lying?”  She asked,   I replied “No I would not lie about something like that” I continued, “I felt speaking out was my only option under the circumstances since I didn’t want him to touch my vagina!” I said that word again, and more laughter erupted like a second baptism in the room.   She then said I should not accuse people of things they never didn’t do.

 

So I was embarrassed, but was successful in preventing a situation, that would have brought harm to my person or just simply a situation I didn’t want.

 

My Teacher dealt with the situation the easiest way she could (or was even equipped to) saying I must never accuse people of things they never did.  Because fact: Patrick did not touch my vagina.    The reason he didn’t however, was because I spoke out, I shouted his intentions out loud, interrupting him, embarrassing him, shaming him and putting the Teacher in a difficult situation.

 

What would you have done?

 

So I’m sure some girls saw how ridiculed I was in class, and disregarded by the teacher (who “confirmed” Patrick’s version that I was a liar by saying I must not accuse people of things they never did) and felt that maybe if the same thing were to happen to them they would not speak out, because then they would become the laughing stalk of school – we were a hundred or less students at our school – the entire school would know.  Everyone knew everybody.  And on top of that you will forever be called a liar!  Which, if you’re a teenager (girl) does not leave you with much of a choice….

 

My lessons?

 

That experience is teaching me new lessons  – the benefit of hindsight:, A) Speaking out can “prevent” harm – he didn’t succeed in touching me in the end B) Speaking out can cause harm to myself: being labeled – a liar by a teacher- isolated, rejected by my peers “how can you say that about Patrick?” for Patrick was put to shame momentarily, he was popular( loved by many) and C) no one would believe me even if I said it – spoke my truth because I had no way of Proving it.  D) I still had to speak out anyway if it’s the only way to “stop” an unwelcome thing from happening, even if I’m the only one seeing/experiencing it E) Speaking out can CHANGE things:  we soon got individual desks and chairs which reduced the opportunities for anyone with the mind to make similar advances, even though I cannot prove that it was because of that particular incident that we got new furniture. And finally it taught me, in practical ways, to paraphrase American poet and writer Audre  Lorde – F) that Your Silence will not  PROTECT you.

 

In other words we don’t have to wait for something bad to physically happen before we speak out against it.

 

One in Three Men RAPE…

Call For Innovative Sources of Finance

Cosatu President Zwelinzima Vavi

TRUE or FALSE?

I recently told a group of men standing around their outdoor fire this alarming statistic I found from reading a Report by the Medical Research Council of South Africa (MRC).  They told me not to generalize, paint men with the same brush etc. So I told them  that I was not the one saying it, I was just sharing  information that the  researchers at the MRC had discovered after conducting  interviews with  a cross-section of South African men and ,  when asked the question have you ever forced  yourself on a woman ( sex without consent) one in three  respondents  said yes.  One of the men standing around the fire said “don’t tell us about flawed, western statistics’. So I decided to tell them a story, based on my own personal experience, to illustrate why I shared the information in the first place, and why the figure though shocking may not be so far-fetched after all.  Here’s the story…

I’m going to tell you about an incident that happened to me, with one of you. A friend we all like, educated, sophisticated, an artist, well-spoken articulate man, who is well-travelled, well read, modern, liberal and even revolutionary, he is one of us. You know him. In fact he is your friend.

We all went out one night partying and as it often happens in Jozi we ended up bringing the party to my house, in Melville, which I shared with my partner at the time, a woman.  My partner and I had been out together and she met some of her friends, including this guy along the way and  brought them  back home . Being tired (too drunk) I passed out on my couch in my living room while the party was still going on – people still talking and drinking.

At some point in the night I felt cold, and woke up to discover that my pants (trousers) were being been pulled down, including my under wear (panties). Then I woke up with a start to find our friend busy trying, very gently, to pull them all the way down, I asked him what he was doing, and he said its fine – I must just relax. I jumped off the couch and pulled my pants up and went to my room which I locked and tried very hard not to think about what just happened this despite his pleas for me to let him just….

In the morning – he was still there – I told my partner about what had happened to me, her friend had done it. And he  on seeing my face told me that I was a “BITCH”.  I was really hurt by that and didn’t understand where I became the bitch in this story that he knows so well; would I have been less of a bitch if I allowed him to have sex with me? If I didn’t wake up?  Why was I a bitch? I caught him trying to have sex with me while I was sleeping.  Nothing had happened before that could have led to me ‘consenting” to that situation. I was home, on my couch, in my Living room. I know I never said yes to anything…How could I? I was sleeping! And when I woke up  and found him attempting I refused, stood up pulled up my pants and ran to my room. Who is the BITCH?

So now whenever  I see him and I am sitting next to a woman or a man, and they ask me why he never greets me, I tell them my  story “ he tried to have sex with me while I was sleeping one night, and in the morning called me bitch” So I am the bad person and it’s okay. “No we (were) are not in a relationship”

That’s just your experience sister, they said, you were just unfortunate. No I replied I was very fortunate… because I woke up before he could do it – I am forever grateful – to not to have to count rape as an experience I have had in my life. I am blessed.  I do not see it as an unfortunate incident on my part at all. I trusted this man, who was my partner’s friend, I had no reason to believe or even think that he or any of the men who were there that night would attempt to do that to me. I felt safe.  But I could never fully trust men after that, even men I thought I knew, I knew I could never fully know and therefore fully trust.

The incident was unfortunate for him, I concluded. Then someone began to talk about labour Union Cosatu President Zwelinzima Vavi’s current sexual infidelity scandal.  Vavi admitted to having sex with a woman,  a junior staff member she consented; now she is black mailing him,  she is just being used by political forces to discredit Vavi, the comments went on from other lips. Someone said something about how could women expect to be trusted if they lay charges and then withdraw them? She was lying, she consented to it. Maybe it is TRUE.

But it has been my experience  and I’m sure there are many women who  have experienced this too ;  It is  REFUSING to have sex , not CONSENTiNG to it that has put me, and many other women in the Dog box. Professionally and Personally. I won’t make a list of the many incidents.

Which makes one in three — a believable statistic.

True or false?

“WE NEED TO TALK” : Of Rape and Rhinos

The Horn (to end Rhino Poaching in South Africa)

The Horn (to end Rhino Poaching in South Africa)

24 Monday, December, 2012.  Johannesburg South Africa.  As I slowly stretched awake for yet another day of work ( do we really have to go? my body complains, yes we do baby, I say. )  my hand automatically reaches for the remote; my thumb knows the drill and it goes searching for the news channels, on the Beeb/ BBC is The Queen in all her Motherly splendor  wishing her subjects well during the festive season. Ah!  now she  has  had a great year!  Celebrations kicked off in earlier in 2011 with the wedding  of Prince William and Kate  Middleton ( ala Prince Charles and Diana 30 years ago) .  This year 2012,  the Queen became only the second British Monarch to celebrate a Diamond Jubilee.  The Royal  Diamond Jubilees  celebrate milestones in a Monarch’s reign. The Queen isn’t the only British Monarch to celebrate a Jubilee, George III and Queen Victoria both celebrated Jubilees during their reigns.  Her Diamond Jubilee saw London stop with much fan fare , what with  various  members of the Royal Family crisscrossing across the commonwealth:

“The Commonwealth is a voluntary association of 54 countries that “support” each other and work together towards  shared goals in democracy and development.   “the commonwealth” is home to two billion citizens of all faiths  and ethnicity  and includes some of the world’s largest, smallest, richest and poorest countries. Over half of its citizens are 25 or under.  Member countries come from six regions: Please do Take Note : Africa (19); Asia (8); the Americas (3); the Caribbean (10); Europe (3); and the South Pacific (11).

Most recent members are: Rwanda – admitted at the 2009 Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting; Cameroon; and Mozambique – the first country with no historical or administrative association to the Commonwealth to join.”

British Royals paid visits to each of these voluntary member states conferring the message of the queen (“Thank you for your Services, mineral resources, human capital, your souls).  She really does rule the world.  The Olympics went splendidly for the British Isles she said looking rather pale in a white/silver dress matching hair and make-up and black shoes. She was recording her annual Christmas message, in 3D this time, why not? The pope recently joined Twitter. Oh and she’s expecting a grandchild! Such great news for the Royal family.    This year though, with all this Jubilation going on she couldn’t help herself, attending a cabinet meeting at number 10 Downing street something which hasn’t happened in  over a century!  She’s coming out to play.  And so did some of  the Queens Colonies.  South African President Jacob Zuma was equally Jubilant this year so much to celebrate where shall we start; He got married again this year! One of his sons also tied a knot ;  how lovely! Oh and  his 70th Birthday was  A huge Bash! The ANC celebrated 100 years of its  existence — Jubilation all round, so many parties and so little time! God Must have really smiled on the Zuma family because this year they found more than 200million rands to upgrade their Nkandla  Residence with state of the art security lifts, bunkers, ever-green grass, and a private road to the  their homestead also known as the Presidents  Private Residence.  And then he slaughtered a few prized cows – The Prized Nguni Cow – the best in the world — to ask for more luck from his ancestors ahead of the ANC’s elective conference – and God Smiled at him again. He was re-elected President of the  African National Congress – by majority rule! God does give good gifts indeed.  Our president was having a lot of fun and I wished he could have at least spared a thought for the residents of Lenasia whose homes were razed to the ground two months ago… 80 homes bulldozed: He could have as a good gesture ask his family to at least give them a homes as gifts for Christmas? How about the widows and children of the Men killed in the Marikana Massacre by police for demanding better wages? They could have used a free education? Maybe homes etc as Christmas gifts?  Wine Farm-workers in the Western Cape? Could he have just increased their pay from 50 rand a day to like 200 hundred just for fun? Don’t they deserve a little gift from God?

A woman trying to stop her  house from being Demolished in Lenasia, South of Johannesburg

A woman trying to stop her house from being Demolished in Lenasia, South of Johannesburg

The queen for her part has a penchant for silly extravagance too … why record your message in  3D?  The death of the Australian nurse who shared information about Kate’s pregnancy has almost been forgotten  ” she was stupid” says many royal watchers /fans/ supporters and cynics who followed the story. The nurses’  death was first reported as a mystery then evidence emerged that she had hanged herself.  However tragic I wonder if she was mentioned in Queens Jubilant speech. Skynews – Kate and William break from tradition and celebrate Xmas at Kate’s family home. Ho! ho! ho!.   My thumb moves to Aljazeera there’s a debate about Rape in India! Still ?!!my mind wonders. “Protests over a recent gang rape quickly gained force over the weekend, tapping into longstanding fury against entrenched corruption and lopsided justice, and leading to clashes with the police. ” Reports NDTV.

“Seven days of demonstrations peaked Sunday, as thousands of people joined women’s and students’ groups despite a hastily enacted ban on protesting in New Delhi. The crowds taunted the police and attacked the car of a member of Parliament. The police, in turn, fired tear gas and water cannons, beat protesters with bamboo sticks and arrested dozens.”

Lets compare India’s rape cases to other country’s around the world, says the anchor of the show.  South Africa leads the world with more than 200-thousand- cases of rape being recorded (2010 figures) ,  let’s not forget that a  quarter of the women raped every 17 seconds are  children.

Suddenly I found myself wondering why there is no one protesting on South Africa’s streets. I mean we have enough reason to go out in our numbers like they are in India.   There’s no one protesting on the streets of South Africa. No-one.  These are reported cases of people who actually  bothered to call the police’s bluff and report the violence. But with South Africa’s Justice system being the way it is  many of these don’t even make it to court, those that do hardly any of the perpetrators are caught, sent to trial or convicted.  Eish.  Are so overwhelmed by violence, traumatized de-sensitized by violence that  we marvel at mass protests over one  or two rape ( I at least did) or  worse  even this we don’t  take India’s example. I have to wonder – What’s happening to us?  Lisa Vetten, a senior Researcher from the Tshwaranang Legal Advocacy Center say people are just overwhelmed.

There’s is this red horn that I have been seeing on cars  recently it’s Huge. I have been wondering what is the horn about…  until it finally  clicked! It’s a campaign to save the Rhino Campaign.

“The Rhinose campaign is aimed at creating awareness and raising funds for three non-profit conservation organisations.  A Rhino has

been killed for its horn every 16 hours this year.

As a result of these worrisome statistics, The Rhinose Day campaign was launched. This is a campaign to raise funds and create awareness and widen the fight against rhino poaching and the false medicinal myths in general.

Rhinose Day is a joint initiative of three non-profit conservation organizations, the Rhino Action Group Effort (RAGE), the Endangered Wildlife Trust and the Rhinose Foundation.”

We should have a joint  initiatives  to fight rape against women, powered with as much money, marketing, publicity, modern technology, education and  technical know how.  We should  have all cabinet ministers,  the presidency and anyone with a voice – shouting loudly – about this atrocity as they are about Rhinos.

Are we not just as worried that at least 227- thousand women are assaulted, raped, injured and killed each year? Scared, mind body and souls  in different stages of  Post Traumatic Stress Disorders ( PTSD),  many of which go untreated?

Today a  33-year-old woman in the Eastern Cape was arrested after she stabbed her boyfriend with a knife on the chest. Here’s how the story was reported:

“Eastern Cape police at Addo have arrested a 33-year-old woman in connection with the murder of her 39-year-old boyfriend. He was stabbed with a knife. Police spokesperson Warrant Officer Marianette Olivier says the couple had an argument in their house at Nomathamsanqa at Addo. Friends stopped the fight and the man left. Shortly afterwards, he returned and again began assaulting his girlfriend – this time with a pick-axe handle. Olivier says the woman then allegedly stabbed him with a knife in the chest. He died on the scene.”

So what are we doing to stop this?  A tiny search on Google on Rhino Killings brings up more than 2 million pages,  from Save the Rhino to the more glittering page of Stop Rhino Poaching Now!  from the pictures one would swear it was a Miss World contest with all the awards that those involved in the industry give each other.

So who cares about the women?  Why is there so much money , time and political will put in to end the atrociously lucrative business of Rhino Horn Poaching and nothing done to prevent rape  against women and children  in the country? Every 17 seconds a woman is raped? How will these girl children become loving caring mothers? What society are we creating?

When will we care enough to have  – “Red Horns”- as a campaign against the  consistent and insistent rape of women , children and the elderly?  I think it’s apt.   Let’s all wear red horns on our heads in protest as against the rape of women and rhinos, why not?  Let’s all pull our resources together –   build safe homes for women and children who have been violated and brutalized, give them  a place to recover and feel safe and empowered. It is really that impossible?  Have door to door campaigns, to speak to men in schools, offices, street corners, cabinet offices, bedrooms…

Or is just too much to ask ? How much has changed since 1960 -1994?

I wonder.