There is a large erection on the M1 in Johannesburg that perfectly illustrates the patriarchy prevalent in our society and how it fuels the scourge of rape here, which long ago hit crisis level.
Three billboards, with silhouettes of near-naked women grabbing their crotches, adorn the edge of the highway. The advert makes it clear that the commodity is women, neatly packaged for the pleasure of men.
The women have no agency; they are just there to titillate. The message is clear: in sex, as in life, men come first.
There is an advert on TV – I forget what for – where two average-looking men take two attractive women out to dinner. When the women order lobster and Champagne, the men make a run for it through a bathroom window. The assumption is that the women have only sex to offer in return for lobster and Champagne, and the men have decided that the cost of sex is too high.
Then there are the comments made by the big male boss of Cell C, José Dos Santos, who explained how women have a “bitch switch”. Having explained (in veteran politician style) that he was “saddened that my stance has been taken out of context”, it was not long before he had miles of airtime and column inches to apologise and explain the “real” context.
Other men, such as marketing analyst Chris Moerdyk, leapt to Dos Santos’ defence, blaming the outrage on political correctness.
“I find it incredibly sad that today so many critics are so quick to play the sexist card,” Moerdyk wrote in a Business Day article. “I truly believe José Dos Santos was genuinely being complimentary of the obviously high level of management skills of the modern businesswomen.”
The fact that 60% of Cell C’s staff are women is a bit like the “some of my best friends are black” argument. It is more likely to be that way in spite of, rather than because of, the interventions of Dos Santos. Or it could be because of the gender pay gap – women work as hard as men, or harder than them, for less.
If you need proof of the inequities in the “isms”, compare Dos Santos being sexist with Penny Sparrow being racist. Sparrow deserves what she got, but I wonder if Dos Santos did not deserve a lot more censure.
It is further proof that patriarchy and its bedfellow, the rape scourge, are hale and hearty in every sphere of our lives, public and private. In our homes and families. So don’t blame Dos Santos. He said those things because he truly did not think they were wrong; he has grown up to be a man in a man’s world.
On the other side, we have that auntie who relates the story of a friend’s daughter having been harassed at a club – “but what did she expect; did you see what she was wearing?”; or those fathers who toughen up their sons, telling them not to cry like girls (who, by inference, are lesser beings); or those wives who work at home 24 hours a day, without pay, who are condescendingly referred to as “stay-at-home mums”, with the inference that what they do is not as important as what their husbands do; or the toy aisles that stock fake guns for boys to impose their will on the world, while in the pink aisle, Barbie sits in a kitchen setting, passively awaiting her man.
While the Rhodes University reference list has only 11 names, you will find that those propping up the patriarchy that gives succour to rape are familiar, and even close, to us – our politicians, corporate leaders, churches, relatives and friends.
I know many women who have been raped, sexually assaulted or are victims of sexism, but when those brave female students shout out, only then do the men jump up and say: “Not I.”
In fact, it is all of us – be it ¬in the name of culture and tradition, or humour, or commerce – who disrespect those with a vagina, just like the erection on the M1.
The change we seek requires a power-sharing agreement, but men must first acknowledge their abuse of the power that privilege has given them.
So this Mother’s Day, let us take a long, hard look at our mothers’ place in the world and work towards changing it, rather than keeping her in that place with platitudes in the form of roses, chocolates and lunches out.