Monday, August 28, 2017

The Infruriating Culture of Catcalling

Source:Huff Post

I started thinking about writing this post after I’d had to endure street harassment at the hands of some guys that were in a van (the typical men that are prone to perpetuating catcalling). I got home that night to Ericka Hart’s discussion on catcalling and street harassment on Instagram (I screamed YAAAS!). I related to almost everything they said.

Source:The Odyssey Online
In an effort to find the origins of catcalling they discussed why black men only catcall black women. Ebony (Ericka’s boyfriend) blamed slavery (sort of). He argued that in the aftermath of slavery, black women were the only people that black men felt that they had any power over and they catcalled black women in an effort to make themselves feel more “empowered”. He also argued that it was an iteration of patriarchy and white supremacy. The conclusion was that black men don’t catcall black women only. The perform the same kind of street harassment on any other race, it just LOOKS different when it is across races. Furthermore, black men aren’t the only agents of this vile act (the focus on black men can be explained by way of the black liberation lens and black love ethic).

At some point during their discussion (I’m guessing it was out of frustration) Ericka said: “where do [cis black men] find the time to sit around and harass people all day!?” And I was like (hand on chin, frown in place, contemplative look): this is a valid question, where do they find the time? This happens at home (Richmond) as well. Ericka stays in New York and I stay in the rurals of KZN, yet we find that (although on different continents) black men exhibit the same kind of behavior, why?

Even though I don’t yet know why black men SEEM to behave the same across the globe, I do know that catcalling is harassment and that it is violent. It is a form of abuse that instigates a climate that oppresses women further. Catcalling is rooted in patriarchy and sexism and must be dealt with accordingly. I was a bit at odds with myself for being mad a catcalling and catcallers. The reason for this conflict is because I thought there was a link between catcalling and wooing in Zulu. Since I’m an advocate for Pan-Africanism and Afrocentricity, I had to have a conversation with myself about why catcalling offends me, if my anger is justified, and the role my culture potentially had in birthing catcalling.

The Zulu culture, I’ve since concluded, can be very violent towards women. And this is a bitter pill for me to swallow because I love isiZulu (the language as well the culture). The language is awfully poetic and culture a series of intricately woven practices and beliefs (read here). But some of these practices are oppressive and are rooted in patriarchy. In my analysis I’ve concluded that elements of the wooing process in the Zulu culture are very much violent. For example, ukutwala. Ukuthwala is (to put it very bluntly) a process that involves abducting young women (generally) and forcing them into marriage (often with the consent of their parents). These women are locked in a room (a house if they are lucky) with no access to the outside world. Unless they are with someone that is “guarding” them, they cannot leave the room/house. In the long run, the women generally give in and end up staying with their “husband” willingly.

Source: The Zulu Kingdom
Another example of such “violent” behavior would be ukushela in general. Traditionally, a man pursues a woman until she agrees to be with him. This can take months, if you are lucky, and if your ancestors are unhappy with you it can take years. While pursuing a girl, a guy will harass a girl until she agrees be with him. This harassment could be anything like knocking over her bucket of water on her way back from the river, running away with whatever goods that she is carrying (she will either have to run after the guy or tell her parents about the guy neither option is attractive). I remeber one time my mother had to go after a guy with a whip (no jokes) because some guy insisted on shela-ring (asking out) my sister all the way to our house and inside the gate (in isiZulu this is the epitome of disrespect). 

But cat calling’s origins aren’t Zulu, in fact they aren’t even African (I’d love to say catcalling has western origins but I’m really not sure where it comes from). Catcalling is a skill that is not unique to construction workers. Regular guys who, at first, seem decent are/can be perpetrators of catcalling. As a black woman it is easy to assume that catcalling is uniquely practiced by cis black men on black women (as history would have it, black women are the scum of the earth and ought to bare the worst of what patriarchy has to offer). But it’s not unique to cis black men, nor is it experienced solely by black women (much to patriarchy’s disappointment).

Ariel Chates’ states that although catcalling dates as far back as 200 BC, it wasn’t always called catcalling (read here). In its earlier forms, catcalling was known as the “wolf whistle”. Ariel argues that the name wolf whistle has predatory connotations and alludes to male lust, whose symbol is a wolf.  “The term “catcaller” didn’t come around until the 1700s when theatergoers would whistle and jeer at the actors to express disapproval for the actions onstage. The term didn’t take on a sexual meaning until the 20th century. It’s a shame I even have to do this,” she states, “but let me remind the men on the street: You aren’t watching a Broadway production of that girl’s walk to work. This isn’t American Idol. She’s not trying out for whatever perverted fantasy is playing in your head.”
“Like most women I know, I treat street harassment like unpleasant weather – a common occurrence I silently endure by drawing my coat tighter around my body and walking briskly ahead with a stiff neck.”~ unknown

There have been calls to criminalize catcalling. To acquaint catcallers to the same treatment and laws that stalkers have to bare; I think jail time is tad too drastic, and black men would surely suffer the most from this, it would also be difficult to contain (how would we distinguish between a regular compliment and a catcall?) There are seemingly multiple solutions to the problem of catcalling. Proposed solutions range from ‘‘engaging with the catcaller in conversation in order to better understand the problem’’ (I wouldn’t. Men can be violent when called out on their bullshit, and this hasn’t worked thus far), to “handing the perpetrators a business card with a hotline that will direct them to someone that can educate them on why catcalling is bad for society” (who would pay for this venture? And men would probably use this line to hit on the women anyway). I feel like all I can, and am willing to do, is write about catcalling. I will share educational posts on Facebook and on my page.  But it really feels like a hopeless situation.

Source: Yahoo News
I could go on to explain how catcalling plays a role in reinforcing rape culture. I could also explain how other women can play into the hands of patriarchy and rape culture by implying that women should take corrective action (by wearing modest clothes etc.) But then this post would be long and nobody that would ever get to the end (or find the subscribe button at the end of this post, which you should do if you haven’t).

The oversexualization (is this a word?) of women is universally acknowledged and, to an extent, accepted. There are scores of articles, seminars and studies on what the perfect female (and male) body should look like. But the reality is there is no singular standard of beauty, different people are attracted to different things. In acknowledging the different standards of beauty, we must also stay keenly aware of the fact that women aren’t on this planet (by divine intervention or by chance) for men to gawk upon! Whatever a woman chooses to wear, it is not an invite or reason for men to harass her by way of unsolicited and often vulgar “compliments”.

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Friday, June 23, 2017

Women and Sexuality in 2017

First and foremost, this blog reeks neglect! How did I let this happen? I should have celebrated a year of blogging, but nada. This time will be different though, I’m back with the pizzazz. I’m all about wellness and balance so I will be doing a better job at both writing and posting, frankly I don’t think I could do any worse than this last bout of absence. I’ve got a new laptop (yay) but it’s so slow, it gives me this intense desire to knock myself out, this is a bit dark, but hey… Besides that, I have been talking and talking about writing this post for months on end and I have finally gotten around to it.

The global society is currently at a much more sexually permissive place for women than it was 50 years ago but, as always, there is still so much more room for growth. Women and girls across the world have a better understanding of their entitlement to engage in sex and sexual activities. However, there seems to be a growth gap between understanding women’s entitlement to engage in sexual activity and understanding their entitlement to sexual pleasure. New York Time’s bestselling author and Journalist, Peggy Orenstein, argues that although a lot of young women feel entitled to engage in sex and sexual activities most don’t feel entitled to sexual pleasure. She further argues that scale by which women judge their satisfaction is so vastly different to men’s and simultaneously not reliable.

Peggy goes on to quote a study conducted in the US that revealed that women’s sexual satisfaction lags that of men by 35%. She contends that these numbers are further obscured by the fact that women will often base their claims of sexual satisfaction on that of their partners. When asked about their experiences women made statements such as “If he’s satisfied, then I’m satisfied.” As much as statements like these are not wrong in themselves they imply an injustice. Imagine having to get a glass of water for someone every time you are together with them but they never do the same for you, nor do you get a sip of the water. In such a situation, it would be false if one claimed that their thirst was quenched merely from watching their partner drink. In this age of feminism, women wouldn’t stand for such but the principle manifests itself in the privacy of their homes. Not surprisingly though, women that engaged in homosexual activities had the same ranking in sexual satisfaction as men.

The differences in the ranking of sexual satisfaction for women engaging in heterosexual activities and that of women engaging in homosexual activities can be attributed to differences in the core traits of men and women. While men tend to be strong, powerful, impassive and their sexuality simple, women are generally soft, nurturing, emotional and their sexuality a function of vast and varied variables (both known and unknown). It is therefore a natural conclusion that women are better equipped than men to understand and interpret the sexual needs and desires of another woman. Be that as it may, it does not explain why men have higher sexual satisfaction ranking than women.

This difference can be attributed to history and the historical roles of women is society. It is without a shadow of doubt that women have been systematically oppressed throughout history. Until recently, women have been encouraged to shut up and be quiet, docile creatures. Considering the historical roles of women, it follows that women are reluctant, if at all willing to express their wishes and desires when it comes to sexual intercourse. It also doesn’t help that female orgasms are considered an enigma and that the male ego can be oh-so fragile. As much as women may know what they want from a man when it comes to sex, they may opt to not communicate their desires out of fear of hurting their partner’s feelings. Men on the other hand, have no qualms about stating what they want because history has allowed them to be bold, daring and vocal.

This gap in sexual satisfaction can be further attributed to sex education. At the core of sex education is responsibility; sex education encourages young men and women to practice safe sex. But secondary to this message of safe sex, and I assume unintentionally, is the inevitability of male pleasure. Besides informing young people about STIs and STDs, sex education teaches young people that guys get erections (guys seem to think these are tons of fun) and women get periods as well as fall pregnant (women kind of despise periods and although children are a blessing, this is not something you want to get into too quickly). Although subtle, there is an implicit negativity regarding women’s sexuality.

So, what is it that can and must be done to ensure that women get the most out of sexual activities? The first thing is to replace sex education with sensuality studies, whose core message is a healthy balance of responsibility and pleasure.Sensuality studies would shift the focus from responsibility and the outcomes of unprotected sex and include important, but currently ignored, sexual challenges. Secondary to pleasure and responsibility is teach both guys and girls about the female anatomy outside of its reproductive purposes.

Secondly, we should normalize serious and sustained conversations about sex and sensuality. As an adult, finding oneself in a sexually charged situation is almost inevitable and most us of will deal with these situations as we have seen in romance movies and read in shitty romance novels (don’t look at me) because these are our only sources of “conversation”. Among ourselves, women should share their experiences. It’s not the intimate details that make a difference, but the approach to the situation as well as finding your voice in intimate set-ups. Normalizing dialogue on sexuality also removes the shame associated with women who have a sexual appetite.
"The political and sexual are intimate bedfellows"~Shereen El Feki
Considering the historical marginalization of women, it is of essential importance to address issues and challenges that women face in their sexual lives. It is crucial that we achieve intimate justice. As Shereen El Feki states “sexuality is an incredible lens with which to study any society. What happens in our intimate lives is reflected on a bigger stage.” the political and sexual are, after all, intimate bedfellows; if we can achieve freedom, justice, dignity and equality in our private lives, it sure as sh!t won’t be so difficult to achieve in our public lives.


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Friday, April 28, 2017

Mad At Mandela

I was supposed to write this post sometime last year but because of who I am as a person I ended up with three pages of nothing, it ended up being a long winded post that really had no end in sight and no actual content, so I gave up on it. But I recently read a post on one of the many pages on Facebook that I follow (very few of them are constructive, most of them are just for the giggles) my ‘la passion’ was revived.

The post was initially inspired by Sisonke Simanga’s Ted Talk with the same title. Sisonke expressed her frustrations with our democracy, the pace at which we are making progress as a country as well as the benefits (or lack thereof) that black people are enjoying from this so called freedom. What she said resonated with me, the fact that black people still have to put up with people like Penny Sparrow and Steve Hofmeyr. The fact that we are still fighting to be included in public spaces, platforms and the workplace makes you wonder (even though it may be blasphemous) if Mr. Mandela failed us and our fight for freedom. It makes you wonder if he was wrong in encouraging a peaceful transition from the apartheid government to a democratic government and if our frustration with the current economic and political standing should be in fact be directed at him (rest his soul).

There are scores of articles, videos and debates on whether or not Mandela was a sellout. Malema is repeatedly quoted saying “The Mandela we celebrate now is a stage-managed Mandela who compromised the principles of the revolution…” I assume these principles include radicalness (I dont think this is an actual word). Winnie Madikizela-Mandela expressed similar sentiments in 2010. “Mandela let us down... He agreed to a bad deal for the blacks, economically we are still on the outside. The economy is very much ‘white’. It has a few token blacks, but so many who gave their life in the struggle have died unrewarded.”

Some of my sisters agree with Malema and others that are of the opinion that Mandela was a traitor. One of my sisters argues that he could have done better with the redistribution policies, she argues that the willing buyer willing seller land redistribution clause was not justified, especially considering the means by which white people acquired the land in the first place. I tried arguing this point with her but she shut me down and I didn’t even get to ask what I wanted to ask (cons of being a last born). She further argued that Mandela traded peace for justice, the perpetrators and facilitators of the apartheid regime were not held accountable for the crimes they had committed. The fact that some of the apartheid leaders did not appear before the TRC (Truth and Reconciliation Committee) and of those that did appear before the committee there were those that were not given amnesty yet were not persecuted. What then was the point of appearing before the TRC?  She further questions the fact that de Klerk is still celebrated today, for what?! Mandela did little to correct the 1913 Land and Employment acts that reduced black wages and stations…

Although I find the above statements to be true (we are still minority stake holders in the economy despite the fact that we make up majority of population, the economic struggles that we face today are a direct result of apartheid laws and colonial laws before that) I don’t think it’s fair to be mad at Mandela nor do I think he was a sellout. Sure, progress is slow and the freedom we hoped to achieve in 1994 remains elusive and incomplete, but we cannot blame one man for the progress of a whole country.

Mandela was a smart man, people choose to remember Mandela in his old age when he was frail and what not all. I’ve watched some of the most powerful interviews he participated in where he held his ground on South Africa’s foreign polices (i.e. relations with Cuba) and was not swayed, the man gave 27 years of his life for the freedom that we enjoy today. Sure the latter of those years he spent in better conditions, but still… Considering that he was a smart man, I think he understood that the same system that had oppressed black people for a good four decades (officially) but had been practiced for centuries wouldn’t be so eager to give up on the years of oppressive mentality that they had.

Freedom, both political and economic was a cause he was not only willing to die for but also willing to kill for (I think). With this in mind, I think he calculated that a civil war was not worth twenty-seven years he spent in prison (we can argue that it wasn’t just about him, but he was a man and by virtue of that fact alone, he was flawed) and also that it would delay the freedom of black people in general. I know it’s not right to compare South Africa to other African countries but we are doing better than most, even though our country’s democracy and economy is not in perfect health.

Furthermore, we have to understand that the ANC was working towards the right for the black body to vote in a democratic structure which would give black people political power. Political power has the potential to open many doors, one of those being the door to economic freedom. With political power you are able to implement land expropriation laws, and many social grants that are meant to empower the previously (or currently) disadvantaged.

Freeing the black man was not (and still isn’t) one man’s task. We’ve got political freedom, what are we and our current political leaders doing with it? It’s easy to blame Mandela for our economic oppression and forget that current political leaders are also responsible for continued fight for black man’s freedom. It’s not just Mandela, current political leaders have also failed us in introducing effective redistribution and justice policies. But at the same time we have to realize that the one reason that the apartheid system worked so well for so long was the fact that it crept up on us, if they had done anything drastic in facilitating the oppressive and discriminatory laws black people would have revolted (I’d like to think).

Great things take time, it’s not right and it’s not fair that we have to be so nice and lovey dovie to the same system and people that oppressed us for centuries. But I think this peaceful transition that they enjoy is not just for them but also for ourselves. We have given too much of our lives, time, blood and our energy to dedicate any more of it to the same system. The fight for freedom should not be an emotional one but one that needs to be fought strategically and hopefully with little emotion in order to remain objective and focused.

I may be wrong in my analysis of the situation. I may be “captured” by the other side, I don’t know. But I really think we’ve made progress since 1994, the cost at which this progress has come is yet to be determined. Twenty years from now I might be writing a post or an article about how wrong I was, or I could be writing about even greater strides South Africa has made since I wrote this post. But I don’t think the anger directed at Mandela is justified.

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