Shafinaaz Hassim
Shafinaaz Hassim

On sexuality and freedom

“It is not enough to inquire into how women might become more fully represented in language and politics. Feminist critique ought also to understand how the category of ‘women’, the subject of feminism, is produced and restrained by the very structures of power through which emancipation is sought.” Judith Butler: Gender Trouble.

At first read, one might assert that it’s rather simplistic to read the quest for freedom and equality as an attack on society and social structure as we know it. A more moderate view suggests that negotiating an egalitarian society requires carving a space for mutual co-existence, opportunity and equal visibility of all genders.

But it begs the question: Is a notion of gender emancipation in particular to be seen as an attack on religious structures and capitalism? It is on the unfair balance that patriarchy presupposes, and on any such readings of structures that order behaviour in a primarily gendered way. Further, one may ask if the structure of society and the construction of the state is in any way threatened by the equal defining of women’s place in the economic and political sphere. Historic presupposition affirms that both in exclusion and bondage to the forces of production is to be found the basis of all forms of oppression.

Let us begin by taking into consideration that contemporary readings of gender identity might be a self-ascribed label. Notions of masculinity and femininity are regarded with far more fluidity in the postmodern social sphere. Gender in its traditional sense is a reflection of a cultural explication of sexuality and what it is deemed to mean within a given context. Simone de Beavoir in The Second Sex, suggests that gender is constructed, albeit within the conditions set out by a culture ie a compulsion to culture. It is significant to take note that the identification with particular modes of thought regarding how we construct gender and take meaning from this construction, and how this might define a sense of abject difference in the overlapping versions of its cultural construction makes for what can be seen as the basis of exclusivism that easily borders on social intolerance.

Global laments ala Sarkozy on the headscarf brought about debate regarding the choice to express religion by way of a particular dress code, and the structures that may or may not enforce or restrict such behavioural codes and fashions. But whether or not this is a stylistic statement or an act of legality, what emerges from these dialogues is an increased display of gross social resentment and hostility between the amalgamation of cultures that exist in the postmodern social landscape. We are made to ask whether it is the imposition of a code or the banning of it, that is in fact two sides of the same coin of patriarchal domination and a toppling of anything that might even remotely suggest women’s autonomy in the decision-making process, and in the forms of expression that they may engage with.

These contemporary challenges raise important questions about the underpinnings of a progressive demarcation of women’s place in society. The post-World War II sociopolitical landscape is riddled with indiscriminate labour security of women who were newly displaced on the factory floor, being paid less than male counterparts and enticed to once again remain at home where they belonged. Adding to that, against capitalist forces, Marxism saw the notion of a feminist position as reactionary and a way of separating male and female labour forces. On average, women around the world are still being paid less than their male counterparts. This is a central and pressing issue. Domestic labour in SA continues to be low bargaining — a primary example of the exploitation of women in low-paid jobs. The feminisation of poverty is compounded by the increase of HIV/Aids orphans relying on older generation caregivers who are women on below the breadline subsidiary grants. The rhetoric of a gender bias in structural poverty occurs as ample evidence to suggest that our readings of the gender dynamic are impoverished and leave much work to be done.

The battle for equality has a long history and is likely to rage on, especially in the developing world where resource and other structural inequalities already present a dynamic that challenges the articulation of pendulums of change.

At the roots of inequality are still to be found the insistence on affirmative regard that resorts to nothing more than ways of overlooking the underlying features of discrimination, be it racial or gender or any other.

For example, establishing quotas serves as a form of eventual tokenism rather than digging at the roots of the problem. All it serves is a show of effort, but it doesn’t solve anything.

A resounding question remains as to whether representation of women in the body politic is in fact a holistic one that is both empowering and sustainable in its momentum to further encourage the demand for skilled women professionals, academics in all walks of sociopolitical and economic life as we know it.

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    • Dave Harris

      “establishing quotas serves as a form of eventual tokenism rather than digging at the roots of the problem.”
      Then I suppose you want us to:
      ACCEPT that white South Africans the overwhelming, over 72% of top management positions in the country, according to the latest Commission for Employment Equity report. These disgraceful number even two decades after our liberation!!!

      ACCEPT that women representation in top management is less than 20% even though government has reached parity in the last decade. Which other democracy on this planet can claim gender parity in government?! So its no surprise why the DA, like you (but probably for different reasons), opposes the Women Empowerment and Gender Equality Bill.

      ACCEPT some universities like Stellenbosch who use Afrikaans to keep student demographics almost 80% white in a province that’s over 80% black (African, Coloured and Indian)!!!

      Quotas are the simplest, fairest and most efficient way to achieve transformation but the usual suspects come up with a slew of legal shenanigans to slow down transformation initiatives while they cling to their privileges as long as they possibly can!

    • Shafinaaz

      @Dave Harris, if you’re used to soliloquy I’ll leave you to it. At no point do I say I oppose the Bill, or whether or not I support DA or any other political party and ideology, but that as it stands, the quota provisions are easily reduced to tokenism as opposed to translating into real gender equality in education, politics, work.

    • Honkie Tonk

      Sarkosky is an idiot, a politician, no different to Asian, American or South African politicains. Sarkosky had one goal in mind, retain political power for its financial gain, no different to Mugabe, Blair, Zuma or Thatcher, and wherther politicians are male or female they want votes, not intertested in gende debtes unless it wins votes.

    • Sterling Ferguson

      @Dave Harris, before one can talk about gender equality in SA, one has to talk about abolishing feudalism in SA. In SA/Africa the people are living on tribal land and the women are controlled by tribal chiefs. These women have very little rights, and this is where the push for gender equality should began.

    • Dave Harris

      You call racial quotas “tokenism ” and then say claim don’t oppose the Women Empowerment and Gender Equality Bill?! Well, are you for it or not???
      Sounds just like typical DA ideology, where they now suddenly say they support affirmative action but oppose racial quotas! Seems like we should subject your affirmative action ideology about to the old Duck test

      @Sterling Ferguson
      Still having trouble recognizing the vast difference between tyranny of European feudalism and indigenous African culture I see. Maybe in your next lifetime then 😉

    • Lalapanzi

      Dave Harris’s comment refers – if you look at the wholesale chaos in the fully transformed organisations in our country (i.e. SAA, Telkom, Eskom, SABC, Icasa, municpalities, government departments, etc, etc.), I beg to ask, have you lost your mind in even suggesting that forced transformation serves any purpose?

      Quotas are NOT the simplest, fairest and most efficient way to achieve transformation – just look at how many billions (not millions) taxpayers have to fork out to fund their incompetence and mismanagement, not talk of the poor leadership.

      Following from above, we all agree that we need more women in leading positions throughout the economy and social fabric – but dare I say that we need educated and competent women that will be successful and respected in those positions!

      This is really not an apartheid issue – it comes a long way and is deep rooted in many societies – including in our own Black communities where women are not allowed to be leaders at all (how many female traditional leaders do you know of?).

      Read ms Hassim’s article carefully again!

    • Brian B

      “Quotas are the simplest, fairest and most efficient way to achieve transformation but the usual suspects come up with a slew of legal shenanigans to slow down transformation initiatives while they cling to their privileges as long as they possibly can!’
      THe current regime have had almost two decades to give the masses a bigger slice of the pie.What have they done? they have entitled entrenched and enriched themselves while living standards of the working class have either stagnated or declined..
      Lets rather focus on inclusion. Giving all a chance to become educated academically and vocationally. Lifting living standards by providing better health services and basic services and law and order..
      To do this is hard work there will be no time for rhetoric and blaming. There would be no need for quotas because resultant the economic growth would demand that everyone put their shoulder to the wheel and share their skills and experience and prosper..

    • DebbySA

      Great article, I have to agree with you regarding the tokenism that allowances for women are reduced to.

    • Racist in ANCspeak means someone who thinks (differently from them)

      The solution:


    • Sterling Ferguson

      @Lalapanzi, very good comment because the women living on these tribal land are the ones suffering, and they are the forgotten people. When the issue is raised about these women on the tribal lands, it is brushed on the side as being part of their culture. One can’t talk about gender equality in SA/Africa without talking about liberating the women from the tribal feudal system in SA/Africa. Therefore, this article missed its objective on gender equality.

    • Momma Cyndi

      All of my life, I have looked up to the sisters who got ahead with the greatest of pride. They were there because they were twice as good as their male counterparts. They all carried the heavy burden of being role models as well as knowing that their slightest error would be jumped upon and affect every other woman who was clawing her way up. It is no longer so.

      These days a woman and a mother feels that it is okay to ‘wash her hands’ of her responsibilities and shirk her duties. There are women who are put into high positions without the abilities or the work ethic. That reflects negatively on every competent sister out there.

      Whilst Dave may require charity, we women are more than capable of getting there on our own. All we ask is for a fighting chance – not some farcical tokenism which will do nothing other than erode the great work of the valiant sisters who paved the way for us

    • The Creator

      Dave Harris is right to be suspicious of this article, which superficially seems to be saying something but actually says nothing at all. Ms. Hassim has clearly read a lot of feminist writers, but whether she has actually understood what she has read, or whether she has applied their teachings, or whether she actually cares about somen’w rights at all, is not clear from the article.

    • Sterling Ferguson

      @Creator, most of the reading by Hassim is from N America and Europe. The problem with gender equality in SA/Africa are totally different from these western countries. Most of the women in SA/Africa are living in a tribal feudal setting where the women don’t have rights. The focus should be on liberating these women from bondage.

    • Environmental

      @Lalapansi, your argument hits the nail on the head. I’m interested to hear how dangerous dave replies, because his book of knowledge can only point fingers at white people. We might not hear back from him on this one.

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