By Ayanda Xaba, South Africa
“Nobody tells young girls that men own the power of the gaze my mother never told me that men may look at me but I may not look back. That if we do our look can be taken as an invitation. Men teach us that. Over the years we train our gaze to skim men’s faces, resting for only a split second, shifting frantically sideways if our eyes happen to meet. The man on the other hand, if he so wishes, will look at your face, your breasts, your legs, your ass.”
Aminatta Forna, Power Walking
What I am in dire need of is the vagina manual that seems to be making rounds on planet Earth. Somehow it did not come to my family. It contains a lot of rules governing women and how they need to behave.
“A woman should never speak so loudly”
“A woman must always bow down to men”
“A woman should wear respective clothes”
Respective in this sense is what they deem respectable, and not what the individual feels comfortable in.
“A woman should fold her legs when sitting”
“A woman needs to never get angry, or be intimidating in any way”
“A woman MUST love a man”
There are so many of these rules, I do not know all of them – I do not have the manual remember? I only know the rules that have been forced down my throat. Maybe if each girl received this manual after birth we would not rebel so much. Seeing the manual would be the only way I can explain the constant policing of women. Among a lot of things; I learned the following from Chimamanda Ngozi Aditchie’s We Should All Be Feminists:
We spend too much time teaching girls to worry about what boys think of them. But the reverse is not the case. We don’t teach boys to care about being likable. We spend too much time telling girls that they cannot be angry or aggressive or tough, which is bad enough, but then we turn around and either praise or excuse men for the same reasons. All over the world, there are so many magazine articles and books telling women what to do, how to be and not to be, in order to attract or please men. There are far fewer guides for men about pleasing women.
These manuals clearly state that women should only love men, they should not dare be homosexual. The dear manuals teach women how to be good enough, or worthy, of men’s affection – or rather attention. They teach how please men, never mind how these women need to be pleased as well. How dare they feel? Feelings are for men and women exist only to fulfil these needs. In Bell Hooks’ Ain’t I a Woman this passage did not just resonate with me, it bugged me:
Teaching women how to defend themselves against male rapists is not the same as working to change society so that men will not rape. Establishing houses for battered women does not change the psyches of the men who batter them, nor does it change the culture that promotes and condones their brutality.
These women manuals consist guidelines on how we ought to conduct ourselves so we do not end up being raped or abused. Newspapers and social media posts are constantly telling women how to avoid being raped.
“Do not take a walk alone”
“Always travel in groups and avoid dark alleys”
“Do not speak to strangers”
They should simply say; DO NOT BE FREE. Men do not rape outfits or women walking alone in alleys. They rape people. What will you say to the baby being raped inside their homes? Stay away from strangers? Travel in groups? Why are women taught to protect themselves against rapists as if they are faceless monsters? Pumla Gqola raises the same concern in her book RAPE: A South African Nightmare:
We often place so much pressure on women to talk about rape, to access counselling and get legal services to process rape, but very seldom do we talk about the rapists. We run the danger of speaking about rape as a perpetrator-less crime. Or speaking of rape as a crime with a perpetrator that is so strange, so foreign to our senses of what is human, that we cannot but be puzzled and rendered helpless to fight rape. Sometimes it feels as if aliens come down to Earth to those constructed as feminine and vulnerable, only to then jump back into their spaceships and return to their planet, leaving us shocked, brutalised and with inadequate technology to fight back, to make them stop, to hold them accountable or to act in collective self-defence.
This is a risk we cannot take. A risk we seem to have taken unconsciously and it is costing us our humanity. We treat rape as a perpetrator-free crime. We focus so much on woman defending themselves from rape and never stop to address the rapists. Are we not enabling them to continue? We are giving them the green light to use rape as ‘punishment’ to the women who do not follow the rules. We are guilty of giving rapists the power to continue. How are we any different from the women who tell children to never report their fathers or uncles for raping them because they will ‘suffer’?
Recently on one of our national radio stations broadcasted a story of a woman who was raped continuously by her father. She could only get her justice years after the incidence, only because she had contacted the said radio station. It turned out that her father raped his own sister, three years his junior, and impregnated her. The sister reported the incident to their mother who told her to keep it quiet. He has fathered over fifteen children, all from mothers under the age of fifteen. He raped young girls, impregnated them and then raped those children as well. He was sentenced to thirty years in prison. Just thirty years! For all the lives he ruined, and the souls he broke. Thirty years and therapy because he is clearly a paedophile and needs psychological help; so said the police. His mother must be so proud! Her little girl kept it quiet and it permitted him to destroy many more lives with his demonic penis. Her son left her such a legacy.
Do we ever stop to think how we destroy boys by not reprimanding them for bad behaviour? “Boys will be boys” they say. What exactly makes a boy? What do you teach boy children when you are busy giving girls rules from the infamous manual? Do you teach your little boys how to behave around girls? You tell the girls to keep their eyes down and submit; what is the boy supposed to do after that? Figure it out? Be a man? What is a man? How do they know how to be men? In many families girls have curfews, and chores to take care of around the house. In these same families boys can come back whenever they want and they do not lift a finger in helping around the house. Parents make sisters cook, do laundry, clean the house, while the brothers run the streets and come back to make the mess that the girls should fix. What type of men are we raising? The type that leaves all the work to their wives and are only good as monsters to scare children into obeying? The type that think they are superior to women and need to be bowed down to? What happens if they do not find these submissive women? They force themselves into them? They make women obedient – how? By beating them to a pulp and reminding them of their ‘place’? By striping them down and tearing their souls apart with their penises? Oh goodness we are raising rapists!
We now fear men, as if the male species of human are alien species. There is ‘those men’ and the men we know and trust. Society makes it seem like there are two different types of men. “Not all men” they chant. But which men? Why are the men that are not guilty rushing to defend themselves instead of holding the ‘other’ accountable? I am interested in knowing who the ‘other’ is. Is it the ugly and dirty thugs standing in dark alleys? Is it the jealous ex who cannot take rejection? It is the lowlife thug that thinks he can take any woman he wants? Is it the drug addict that does not control his own action due to the addiction? What about the brothers raping their sisters? Cousins turning on their own? The father raping his own offspring? The pastors helping themselves to the congregation they are supposed to lead? The teacher raping the children they are supposed to be guiding and protecting? If we cannot tell the ‘other’ from normal men, how do we know not who to fear?
Ijeoma Umebinyuo once posted a tweet that sent my head spinning and a wicked grin slowly formed on my face. She said; “Men have waged wars because of women hurt them, refused to choose them, refused to submit to them. Yet, they call us emotionally weak.” The truth that is here! Do you detect any lies?
I am constantly told, by men as well as women, that I cannot live my life fearing men. But can I afford to take the risk? Show me the ‘other’ and I can know who to trust. I need to know that I am not at risk simply by being a woman.
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