Jen Thorpe
Jen Thorpe

Why unequal gender relations are bad for everyone

Bathing in the warm, fuzzy glow of pay day, my boyfriend and I decided to head out for a drink this past Friday evening. We had set out later than planned, and it was a dark but warm night. The roads were busy, and we made our way from Illovo towards Melville via Parkhurst. The place we were visiting was The Bohemian – a grungy, dimly lit joint in Melville frequented by skeezy old men, overdressed young (read underage) kids and a mix of music addicts from all backgrounds. It’s a joint that should be cheap, but drinks are normally priced and you get to listen to mostly average bands making some noise (though this Friday there was a very cool ska band, I must say).

That aside, we were driving down through Parkhurst when we saw an elderly lady slowly limping up the hill towards Rosebank. Her ankles were swollen and it appeared that one leg was longer than the other as she swung her thighs around one another to take each step. It was past 8:30pm, dark, and the roads were poorly lit. Her light blue shweshwe caught our car lights and both Mike and I watched her hobble gently across the road. “Shame,” we both murmured. We continued driving. A minute later we reached a roundabout. “Should we give her a lift?” Mike asked. I thought about it for a second, and then firmly replied, “Yes.” We circled around and Mike double parked while I ran up the road after her. She stopped and turned towards my footsteps and said, “I thought you were a tsotsi.” When I offered her a lift, all she could say was, “God will bless you.”

She got in the car, and we were on our way. We weren’t sure where she was going because she was saying “Crika park, by the River”. I asked if it was far away and she said, “No, just here.” She began to direct us, left and right through the poorly lit streets, past giant houses, ‘Outstanding Verges’ (if you’re from the Northern Suburbs of Joburg, you’ll get that one) and up and down the rolling hills of rich suburbia. We asked where she was going so late. She worked for a young man. His friend needed someone to feed his fish and his ducks while he was on holiday, so her employer had asked her to do this. Sans car. At night. On a Friday. Her employer’s house was about 6km away from the hungry fish and ducks. She would have walked 3km and then taken a taxi the remaining 3.

We managed to get very lost in these leafy green parts, with her determined directions, and eventually I asked her for the street name. She gave one that was on the other side of Jan Smuts. We were closer to the place she was going when we had started driving, and had to drive another 20 minutes to get there. It turned out Crika Park was Craighall Park. She spoke of how afraid she was to walk by the river, because of all the men who slept on its banks. We dropped her off and she introduced herself as Flora, pouring God’s blessings on the two atheists who had chanced to give her a lift. We turned around and began our journey back to the pub.

The following day we passed an elderly man, walking in the long grass past the river. Neither of us thought to give him a lift though I’m sure his journey was just as long.

Unequal gender relations mark men as violent. Who is not likely to simply be going on his way to feed some fish and a duck? I would never stop to pick up a male pedestrian or hitch-hiker. Flora could have been a gun-wielding hoodlum, but we never would have expected it. SA’s violent history and present make us fearful of men, cause us to gaze warily at each man who walks past us in the street wondering what he will do to us, particularly if we are women.

While unequal gender relations disadvantage women worst of all, they also disadvantage good men by making us think the worst of them.

Tags: , , , , , ,

  • Working with men towards ending violence and promoting positive masculinities
  • An open letter to my students: Cat-calling women is not okay
  • Why women suffer in our society
  • The war on our women, children and fellow Africans