GET OUT: YOU ARE NOT A ROCK

You’ve got to learn to leave the table when love is no longer being served”— Nina Simone.

A Facebook update from a friend of a friend posted on  National Women’s Day in South Africa got me thinking, deeply. She said;

Don’t call me a strong woman. I’m not your Mbokodo (Rock/Boulder) me. This thing of likening women to indestructible boulders is getting us killed”

At first glance, this statement seems to spit in the face of thousands of women who bravely marched to the Union Buildings  61 years ago in protest against the brutal and imperialistic  Apartheid government. The reason we celebrate Womans’ Day on the 9th August every year. It was an auspicious March, arguably the largest gathering of activists from around the country since the signing of the Freedom Charter in 1955.  The women covered every inch of the of the historic lawns united by one song, an anthem: Wathinta’abafazi Wathinti’mbokodo. You strike a woman, you strike a rock, you have dislodged a boulder which will roll down and crush you. This anthem galvanized the women. It gave them the strength to challenge the iron fisted Right Wing Hans Strydom, Verwoerd and co. It was a necessary coping/defiance mechanism against an arrogant racist, violent, and repressive government.

But between you and me, I agree with my friends’ friend.  I think this anthem, this slogan has served its purpose. This coping mechanism, this metaphor which once symbolised courage has now become a weapon used against women in South Africa. As if at the march, the women exchanged the dom-pas for a male fist. It has expired, it is outdated. It no longer works. In a country where one in three men admit that they have forced themselves (raped) on women at some point in their lives,  in a country with one of the highest rates of femicide in the world; it is abundantly clear that women are not rocks, we are not indestructible boulders. We hurt, we bleed, we feel pain, and we are ultimately mortal. We won’t rise like the Phoenix. It’s a myth.

A friend of mine who works as a domestic worker in the suburbs of Johannesburg once put this into sharp perspective for me. She said, you know Jedi I’m tired. Every day as I clean and rub the floor, it’s not the concrete that disappears, it’s me. The rock stays the same, but you don’t, it wears you down after a while.

So, knowing that you are not a rock, that you do bruise and you will die if you stay with a man or woman who treats your body like a rock will save you. It will help you to get out.  Today you must be soft and walk away, don’t look back. I know that the other women paved the way for your freedom, but they didn’t  bravely march to the Union Buildings to confront imperialists so that you can die at the hands of your comrades in the revolution. They marched so you can be free to leave, free to move, free to love and be loved by someone who would not even consider laying a hand on your beautiful face to solve a problem. They did not march so you can be beaten, raped or murdered in the name of a political party or the liberation movement.

Listen even the ANC’s women’s league president Bathabile Dlamini made this clear in an interview given to the Sunday papers.  She said that the Deputy Director of  Higher Education Mduduzi Mananas’ recent assault of a young woman was negligible compared to what other senior political figures in government have done or are currently doing to women. Implying that Manana is not the only nor the worst sexual offender in government.  In fact,  gender based violence has become just a political game for Dlamini. “I don’t want to be part of those games…. Even in other parties, there is sexual harassment and it’s not treated the way it’s treated in the ANC. And I refuse that this issue is made a political tool. It’s not a political tool”

Between you and me. We know that sex and violence are political tools often used between the sheets or between the pages shuffled in government so Dlamini’s statement is vacuous. It is empty, there’s nothing to it.  Nada. Dololo. Don’t stay. Get out.

The ruling political party’s  ideals are limited by an attachment to a status quo that keeps them the dominant class. Even well-intentioned individuals within the liberation movement can’t resist the rewards of an unequal society that favours them. Their true and primary allegiance is to their class and the privileges they are Happy to enjoy.

One of my more erudite friends on Facebook commenting on a controversial American film said something which I think  can be applied to our current situation: “There can be a fine line between the portrayal of racial violence as a critical and necessary record of the long history of white supremacy and the portrayal of racial violence such that it repeats white supremacy’s very terms. Katheryn Bigelow’s “Detroit” about the 1967 riots and a particularly vicious night of police brutality at the Algiers Hotel, in my opinion, doesn’t fall clearly on the right side of that line.”

I would like you to replace white supremacy with patriarchy and racial violence with misogyny. And see that there can be a fine line between standing up for women’s rights (you strike a woman, you strike a rock) as a critical and necessary resistance against patriarchy and standing up for women’s rights in such a way that it repeats and perpetuates violence against women.

In this context, the slogan, Wathinti’Abafazi, You strike a Rock,  no longer falls on the right side of that line. In my 14 years as a journalist observing and speaking to female politicians, I noticed a disturbing trend with women politicians admitting that they will consciously tow the party line at the expense of women’s rights.  Progressive, intelligent, nice, sweet, stylish beautiful and friendly women and men with bright smiles will vote in favour of your abuser in order to stay in power and keep their positions. It’s the nature of politics. Why? Because they have been rocks, they have been sexually harassed, abused and assaulted as a result they expect you to do the same. They expect you to be strong. Be a Rock. Take one for the team. Take it. For the liberation movement. They have become numb to pain. Don’t be like the ANC Women’s league or a Rock. they are the veteran survivors or even current victims of abuse.

Do not exchange toxic masculinity for toxic femininity. Both are bad for you.

Don’t feel bad for leaving. You are saving your own life and his or hers mind you.  If you need scientific evidence, a recent study by psychologists at the University of UC Berkeley found that feeling bad about feeling bad only serves to make things worse. Don’t attempt to feel upbeat about a bad situation. Don’t feel bad about leaving.  It’s bad enough that you’re in an abusive relationship or that you have been violated in some way – accept that it’s bad and that as much as you love the revolution, you can’t change anyone or that man. Your man needs help. But you are not his saviour. You can’t change him, heal him or save him. The only way to help him is to show him that you are not a rock. You are soft. Let him see and know beyond a shadow of a doubt that what he is doing is killing you, walk away. Get the restraining order. Call POWA. Even the police. Make a detailed record of events. File a case. Move out.  Call a friend.

Not all men cheat, not all men rape or abuse women. Not all men are trash I promise you. You’ll meet someone who knows that love does not equal violence or pain. Dare to leave.

Being a rock may have worked in 1956 but it’s not working today. So, exchange that fist for a piece of paper and walk out.  I know it’s been said before that “Mosadi o tshwara thipa ka mo bogaleng” A Sesotho idiom which means a woman holds the sharp end of the knife. Yes, she does but only if she has to, only if her children are under siege. Don’t let it get there. Walk out.

While you still can. You’re not a rock, you’re woman. Soft and human. Apartheid is over, and while this freedom may exist only on paper for most women, this paper is still a valid ticket for you to get out of there. Apply it. Use that App. Make it speak for you.  You have a right to live a full and happy life. This is how you honour the women who marched in 1956.

Take your freedom and Leave. Run if you have to.  Let them know that you strike a woman, she leaves. Period.

“Our revolution is not a public-speaking tournament. Our revolution is not a battle of fine phrases. Our revolution is not simply for spouting slogans that are no more than signals used by manipulators trying to use them as catchwords, as codewords, as a foil for their own display. Our revolution is, and should continue to be, the collective effort of revolutionaries to transform reality, to improve the concrete situation of the masses of our country.” ― Thomas Sankara

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#HAPPY WOMEN’S MONTH!

All Natural. Jedi Ramalapa 2014
All Natural. Jedi Ramalapa 2014

Last month my talented singer song writer sister Jenna, introduced me to Colbie Calliat. She sent me her latest song TRY, which resonated deeply with me.  The song speaks of  how women often bend over backwards  trying to achieve the perfect image; the perfect look, figure, appearance and popularity.  We think that by changing our appearance,  more people will like us ( and sometimes they do, but as a male friend of mine likes to say  it’s not  “real”).

I cried when I heard the song for the first time. It  brought with it images of my younger self trying so desperately to fit in, trying to be part of a group, trying to have friends, trying to be liked.  Trying to be “intellectual”, trying to sound sophisticated and trying to be polished, trying to be wild, trying to be loud and carefree,trying to please an imaginary crowd.  Most of the characters I chose and owned, but at the core of it, I assumed all of them because I was attempting to “fix” myself into an image of someone who people would ” like”. Until it dawned on me that it didn’t matter if the whole world loved me, what mattered  most  is if I loved myself, if I liked myself, could live alone with myself and like me once the “performance” was over.

I was inspired to create a motivational parody for women’s month –  using Colbie’s song, symbolically stripping myself of everything I wasn’t born with.  Because while it  is always wonderful and fun to try new looks,  I have observed in myself and in others  that over time we slowly begin to believe that it’s the extra hair, the make up,  the clothes, etc that makes us beautiful. We put value on accessories, costumes and fashion, on the appearance of beauty instead of spending time loving ourselves as we are (men are good at loving their natural selves). We end up feeling naked without all of these appendages.

This tendency to create an external attachment to beauty was recently  crystallized in my own life when I decided to cut off my long braids which I loved and enjoyed. I found myself having an internal struggle with myself, suddenly doubting that I could be/ find myself beautiful without them. I had received more compliments about my ” good looks” when I had long braids than at any other time with my natural hair.  I had to cut them off because I noticed that I started believing that I was beautiful because of the braids.  I found my attachment to the plastic hair  curiously disturbing, because it was not the first time I had braids, but it was the first time I had a hard time letting go of them.

I began to understand  that a head knowledge (theoretical) understanding of what self-worth and self-love is, is not the same as the actual experience of it.  i.e – I could just as easily argue that wearing braids and make-up is evidence of self-love because I am taking care of myself, making myself look nice while at the same time I could be using the same hair and make up to hide the fact that I don’t like how I look “naturally” or  without the extras. Unless we experience what loving ourselves actually means we can always hide behind theories, using them to explain why we  continue to place our worth  on external, material things.

This song helped me through that moment of insecurity, which was bizarre to me because I thought I was confident in myself i.e I am not my fake hair. I had to remember that my beauty is not without but within. I had to begin again the journey to self-love.  We spend a lot of money and time making ourselves beautiful for the world and little time loving ourselves just as we are.

Then I thought if fake hair had this effect on me after a few weeks then, many more women must be going through the same thing too ( though I do hope I’m wrong here).

In celebration of women’s month I decided to do a motivational parody  or what I call a ” selfie-performance”,  short video of my own – taking off all my  literal and metaphoric masks. Because it’s not the hair or the make up that’s in question, it is whether you can like or love yourself without it.  Hope you enjoy the video ( I didn’t expect to cry while doing it) but I am after all a woman.  The video is not edited in the spirit of “not trying too hard” and just keeping it real.

Happy Women’s Month!  Let’s love ourselves first – The rest will follow!

LOVE, YOU!

Because you’re amazing, just the way you are!

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?