‘Funny thing, (Curley’s wife) said. If I catch any one man, and he’s alone, I get along fine with him. But just let two of the guys get together an’ you won’t talk. Jus’ nothing but mad’. She dropped her fingers and put her hands on her hips. ‘you’re all scared of each other, that’s what. Ever’one of you’s scared the rest is goin’ to get something on you.” John Steinbeck, Of Mice and Men
SLEEPING WITH THE ENEMY
It is Women’s Month. I dedicate this newsletter to men. Because, as we know, the abuse and violence against women is not a women’s issue, it’s a men’s issue. Women are not protecting themselves against women they’re protecting themselves against men.
And I reflect on the wisdom of Thich Nhat Hanh, who says, “people who make us suffer, are suffering”. Men have paid such a price for the way they have been socialized. They have had to disassociate from their very own essence, in order to survive, to fit the stereotype of ‘being a real man’, to take charge, to dominate, to keep a stiff upper lip, to control outcomes, by which ever means are available to them.
And I anticipate horror and denial of women and men reading this, outraged by the indictment. “Not me, I’m not that guy or not MY husband?’ That may be so, but there is more that you can contribute, other than “not me”? We’ll get to this later.
First, here’s a borrowed question from Jackson Katz, the author of The Macho Paradox (why some men hurt women and how ALL men can help). He typically asks this question in mixed audiences in the United States. First he draws a line down the middle of a white-board, creating a division and a place to capture responses for men and women. He then asks, “what steps do you guys take on a daily basis, to prevent yourselves from being sexually assaulted?” As you can imagine, the women’s side of the white-board is loaded with responses. The men’s side, not so much.
Most men don’t think about this question. Ever. Not for themselves anyway. But they may think about it, in relation to their female relatives. How many dads reading this have asked their teenage daughters to cover up, before going to a party? How many parents reading this have warned their daughters about the date rape drug, Rohypnol? Have asked their daughters and their friends to “guard” their drinks when going to a nightclub? Who are we scared of, in these scenarios? Not the criminal in the street, but the young men our daughters socialize with. And these men are our sons.
Our news feeds are saturated with stories of the abuse of women and children, as a world-wide problem. The recent #me too campaign has highlighted again, that the abusers, who are mostly men, are from every layer of society; from the impoverished community, to the rural village, to the middle and upper class home, to schools, to the wealthy college students, to political and religious organizations, to athletes, to medical practitioners, to sports coaches to the entertainment industry to the corporate world, to every race, colour and creed of man. EVERYWHERE.
To illustrate the point, many of you may have heard the term “chikan” – a Japanese word that is now internationally recognized, and is even used on certain governmental websites, warning their citizens travelling to Japan. Translated, it means groping. Girls and women using public transportation are at high risk. The age range of victims, younger than 10 to over 50; an article I read said that the police statistics showed that 30% of the violations take place between 07h00 and 09h00, whilst children are on their way to school and women to their various destinations.
A week ago, I was with a group of women. The words and stories of these women ring in my head still. One woman said in the plainest way, “my father used to hit me often, very badly.” Some others briefly shared stories of emotional, physical and sexual abuse. This was not a support group, I was not facilitating or coaching and we were not gathering to speak about these issues. We were a group of professionals, attending a course together. Picture this group of women, who mostly, came from homes that had white picket fences, who had a decent education, lived in “safe” neighborhoods, and were exposed to regular religious worship; the trappings of suburbia. You and I sit with them every day. In fact, they may be you or me or your sibling or closest friend or mother. The danger they experienced was not from the criminal in the street, but from the men in their lives, related to them or known to them.
Recent memoirs by local South African women (Tracy Going called Brutal Legacy and by 24 year old Christy Chilimigras, Things even Gonzales couldn’t fix) lift the veil on suburbia. Tracy Going goes a step further by sharing not only the horrors of growing up with domestic violence and being beaten up by her ex-partner when she was at the height of her success, but exposes the damning and cruel justice system, where female victims of violence are shamed and brutalized again.
This morning, August 1, I listened to a woman activist fighting gender-based violence, who was at the forefront of the #Total Shut Down Campaign; her words were so poignant and chilling – “we want men to know, our bodies are not a crime scene.” I have never heard a more apt description, depicting what a women’s or child’s body becomes, after an abuse – it literally is, the scene of the crime.
I want to return now, to my opening statement, that violence against women is a men’s issue. How should a male reader or your partner, who is not an abusive man, respond to this? He should look at ways that he is complicit and props up a system of male dominance, in subtle and not so subtle ways. Here are a few random points of reflection. I am certain you could think of many more examples that you have experienced, witnessed or thought about:
Even when uncomfortable, do you remain silent in the face of other men’s abuse of women – the cat-calling, the uninvited sexual innuendo, the sexist remarks at the office, the body-shaming, the locker-room talk? Do you choose to be “one of the guys”, because the alternative feels too threatening?
Why, despite the sexual violence and denigration of women, is Grand Theft Auto still one of the most popular video games of all time? Who typically plays Grand Auto Theft – men or women? Do you? Have you? Looking at other games, that you or your children may be playing, what are the set of values built into the game, that you conform to, in order to be successful at the game?
Because you consider yourself, one of the good guys, do you feel absolved of any responsibility around gender-based violence? Given the statistics and they are high all over the world, every good guy knows or loves a woman who has been a victim of gender based-violence. The reason that gender based violence should become your issue, is because every statistic in the world is screaming out, telling you that the women and girls you care about, are vulnerable and potential victims of sexist, predatory and abusive behaviour, every day and wherever they go.
Have you ever used the term ”boys will be boys” or “what’s a man to do” or something along those lines? This is such a careless remark. Upon interrogation of this throwaway remark, and many others like these, what you are actually indulging and acknowledging is that bad or inappropriate behavior should not only be expected but accepted and condoned because “boys will be boys”. This is how you perpetuate a system that normalizes and continues to grant liberties to men who display offensive, inconsiderate and abusive behaviour.
We are a community of practitioners, who believe at our core, that we are relational and connected. This means that we have a contribution to make; that we have co-created a country that has one of the highest rates of violence against women in the world. So yes, maybe not you or not your husband; but have you looked deeply enough at how you are socializing your children on gender lines, at the power dynamics in your own relationships, at behaviours you celebrate, condone and condemn, at your language which conveys your attitude, at your silence even when you are uncomfortable with what you are seeing or hearing. Are we complicit because we are simply not conscious enough and at the heart of it, we think, it’s “about them and not us”?
In closing, Jackson Katz, whose book I have already referenced, and whose work has influenced much of my content here, asks a powerful question, and I leave his question with you, in the hope that it may ignite thinking, generate a conversation and create a renewed contribution to the fight against gender based violence
“At what age do boys begin to learn that having power over women is part of being a man?”
Imago Africa Board
Feminine Protection BY Daphne Gottlieb
oh honey honey I’m telling you — a woman’s work is never
done. why that guy who gave me the once-over twice
pumping his hands under his overcoat —
well, his eyes don’t open so well
since I sprayed him in the face with my
Miss Lady Aerosol Pump Superhold Formula Hairspray
and then that guy who felt me up on the subway, well —
blame it on my Lady Eve Press-on Manicure Nails in Sin Red
and something about that kind of fruit, why
that adam’s apple just fell right out
ripe and red into my hand
and that guy on the corner calling me everyday
with his hey baby baby doncha wanna baby baby
doncha wanna piece of me
and I said yeah baby baby yeah I wanna piece of you
and took off a one-inch slab of his tongue
with my Non-slip Grip Lady Schick
and oh those guys who tried to jump
me on the way home oh don’t you know
these things always end in tears
I was so sorry to lose my favorite pair of Foxy Lady
Five-inch Patent Leather Spike Heels — it’s going
to be a while before I get over that one
but a girl’s got to do what a girl’s got to do
and don’t even start me on what happened
the night that guy broke into my sanitary
pad it took me hours to clean off my Curling
Iron, my Nail File, my Tweezers, my Just-For-Me
Sandal Toe Queen Size Control Tops are still hanging out to dry
and what with all the screaming
I’m lucky I didn’t get caught red-
handed with my Pink Comfort-Tip
Scented Double-Barrel Super-Plus Sawed-
Off Tampax but Thank God for
A girl never knows when she’s gonna need
to soak up some blood.
Chair: Johanri Engelbrecht || Vice Chair: Pieter le Roux
Secretary: Sonia Kruger || Training: Kobus van der Merwe, Michele Naude
Treasurer: Stefan Uys || Marketing: Fred de Villiers || Development: Mariaan Uys
Community: Mapule Ratshefola || Facilitators: Theuns Stofberg
Administration: El’Marie Grove
Chapter Heads: Grete Becker, Hilze Strauss, Carol-Ann Dixon, Tildie de Villiers
Copyright © 2016 Imago Africa, All rights reserved.