Louise Ferreira
Louise Ferreira

Men will never stop hurting us

As a child, I thought that grownups weren’t afraid of anything. They killed spiders. They didn’t believe in monsters and ghosts. They weren’t scared of dogs or the dark or the deep end of the swimming pool.

Of all the disappointing discoveries of adulthood, the realisation that grownups are in fact very frightened very often — especially of monsters and ghosts — was the one I felt most keenly.

As a teenager, I learned more about the trauma ingrained in our collective consciousness: the unspeakable horror of the Holocaust and the Rwandan genocide, the terror of apartheid, the long violence of bigotry. The solution to world peace seemed simple — people needed to talk and to listen, and they wouldn’t hurt one another anymore.

I still think that, by the way. But I no longer believe it will happen.

On Friday I had another sudden realisation: This world has been hurting its girls and women for as long as we have existed, and it is never, ever going to stop.

Never.

On Friday, I read how soldiers in South Sudan were raping women in place of monetary payment. How the Rhodes Memorial attacker raped a fourth UCT student. How men raped and killed teenager Sinoxolo Mafevuka because she needed the toilet and the closest one was outside, a 100m walk from her home. How men raped 16-year-old Franziska Blöchliger before they beat and strangled her.

No one will protect us from our fear made flesh, from the living monsters and ghosts that hurt us because we are women and we exist.

I did not feel angry or scared when I realised this. The knowledge settled into my chest like a stone, collecting all my rage and grief for these girls who were not saved.

A warning sign in Edenvale was put up by the fiancé of a woman who was raped. (Alon Skuy/Gallo)

A warning sign in Edenvale was put up by the fiancé of a woman who was raped. (Alon Skuy/Gallo)

As a journalist, I have written about violence against women innumerable times, stories I am too sad and tired to recount. I interviewed people who have devoted their lives to helping women and children, who were being pushed to the ground by insufficient resources, by the lack of government interest, by the sheer volume of violence they face every day.

One of the things I learned is that there are ways to address the scourge of rape. Much of it involves education. Teach children about consent from a young age. Teach girls that they are equal to boys, that they are in charge of their own bodies, that they are allowed to say no and that their no must be respected.

There are so many things we could do, if only we had the resources and the political will.

Instead, our society believes that it is women’s responsibility to stop rape by stopping rapists. You know, take self-defence classes, don’t walk alone, don’t get drunk, don’t wear a short skirt. Carry pepper spray, carry a stun gun, carry a rape whistle, hold your car key between your knuckles.

Turn your home into a prison and your handbag into a weapon. Never forget you are a target. Always be afraid.

This is what we are taught from the time we are girls. It is said under the guise of protecting us, but it means that when we are raped, it is not the perpetrator who is blamed but the victim. Because she did not do everything exactly right.

Do you understand why living like this is unbearable? Why it cannot be sustained?

The truth is, our biggest threat is not the stranger in the dark alley. It is our brothers, our neighbours, our friends.

I sometimes wonder if the people I know are tired of my writing about this constantly. But I don’t care. I know a few dozen women who are rape survivors. I definitely know others who have not spoken about it. And while it continues to happen to women and girls everywhere — your relatives, your friends, your classmates, colleagues, boss, employees, students — I will continue to write.

I cannot protect them. So I write.

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    • NoNeed

      Great article. I’ve read so many comments especially from men who instead of saying rape is not cool, they lambaste a woman for daring to speak out against it and label her a liar. Now there are women who lie about being raped however the police root them out very quickly and it rarely makes trial so the men doing this are doing this to a woman who is at trial. Then when it is found to be true, they don’t go back onto those same platforms and apologise saying they were wrong, in fact so many of them still support the rapist. Until it happens to someone they love. Then they’re all against it. Rape culture is alive and well and until men, not women, stand up against that kind of thinking we will forever be viewed as objects.
      I am in the process of dating and getting to know little boys who are in their late 20s and early 30s who just want sex from me. They don’t even bother to find out if I’m an “easy lay” they just demand and when I say no they insult me and become so nasty! Is this the kind of world we live in? I would rather go through IVF and raise my child alone than deal with little boys with no respect. And it looks like that is the path I have to take! The few decent guys I do meet unfortunately don’t feel the same about me or vice versa. But man its disgusting the comments I get from some men. I am just an object to them! And then they try with these stupid lines to get me and I wonder are our women that stupid? Or do men think we’re that stupid? Seriously, its sad!
      I also watch “He named me Malala” and was shocked to hear the men in Pakistan say “She’s just a girl, what does she know”. Which is why she does what she does because of mindsets like that!

    • Mariano Castrillon

      What a shame that Louise writes the truth. What a shame that some women look at men as their enemy instead as of their protectors. Do you know that I have read comments from m ales – after a woman’s rape, or after a woman has been abused by husband – blaming the woman?. The way she was dressed, or “she must have pushed the man” into doing that,etc.etc.

    • BrS

      What about violence against men?

    • Rory Short

      Until children of both sexes are reared to respect other human beings this problem will persist.

    • NoNeed

      Same. And when the man is proven to be the rapist they still side with him. Sad society we live in.

    • Mariano Castrillon

      Yes, what about it? Are you suggesting that one justifies the other?. Sorry if I misunderstood you.

    • RageFace

      Poor men. They have it SO hard being on top of the food chain, don’t they? It’s SO HARD for them to not have a voice that there must always be someone to speak up for them in an article about violence against women.
      Pooooooooooooor men.

      Get over yourself. This is NOT about the “poor men”. EVERYTHING, EVERY DAY is about the “poor men”.

    • disqus_vHAbdMz8fT

      I went to a boy’s school, and am well aware of the natural violence
      contained in men. Sadly, I agree with you. Many men, especially in this
      country, are simply moronic, violent, potential rapists. It’s sad. Happily, I do know many very good men too – men that are inherently strong, brave and true. Men that love and protect their women and families with a deep integrity and passion. As
      for the rest of them, pffft. useless football-watching, violent
      children. Boys need to be raised to be gentlemen – to care for and fiercely love their women. Sadly, gentlemen seem a little thin on the ground.

    • Mariano Castrillon

      RageFace, Could you pls make a summary of your comment – in not more than 15 words – so it can be understood?.

    • Emmet

      Unfortunately, men are the problem in most societies; the aggression and lack of emotional intelligence appear to be built in and, while this may have been neccessary 1000 years ago, now it is a handicap to our society.

    • RageFace

      #sarcasm?

    • Mariano Castrillon

      Excellent summary.