Jen Thorpe
Jen Thorpe

20 000 women, for nothing?

Twenty thousand women marched in 1956 and changed the world. We celebrate them this month. They are certainly worthy.

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Some time ago, I went for an interview. When asked by the panel why I wanted to leave the job I was in at the time, I responded that I was tired of the institutional harassment I experience at that workplace. Four cases of sexual harassment in one year, with an institutional response which was more “I’m sorry that happened to you” than “let’s fire those sexist pigs!” I was disappointed, tired of having to fight back against latent and overt patriarchy every day, and wanted something new. Their faces were wide with shock when I was done describing the situation, and I said:

“I hope you look so shocked because it’s different here.”

They laughed nervously. “No,” they said. “Not really.”

Implied: It’s everywhere, get used to it.

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20 000 women. Twenty thousand!

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I run a feminist website. I have done for four years. It’s all done after hours and in my free time, and lately I haven’t had much of that. I took the site down a while back to work on it and totally forgot about the Facebook page. Today I got a private message on Twitter, alerting me to the fact that there was a lot of sexism happening on the page. I haven’t posted in ages, so these posts weren’t responses to anything. They were just aggressive people, with a bone to pick.

I went to have a look. Reams and reams of violent pornographic images, really violent. Not the type of porn that could be explained as liberated women enjoying consensual sex. Violent rape pornography. Pornography where the women looked afraid. All posted by men. Not one, many men. So many pictures that to block and delete them all would have taken me the remainder of my afternoon. The only option was to delete the page and start from scratch when I relaunch the new site. These people posted these images from their own Facebook accounts, without fear that they would be identified.

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Twenty thousand women altogether, defying everything that said they wouldn’t make it. Couldn’t do it. Would be arrested, detained, imprisoned. Despite everything.

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Today a colleague told me I should marry a Xhosa husband so that I could learn where my place was and some manners. Does he realise that my place is anywhere? Does he realise how he’s stereotyping Xhosa men as domineering, aggressive? Is the scarier answer to those questions “yes” or “no”?

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In 2012/2013, the SAPS reported (for the first and last time in the past five years) their violent crime statistics in a gender-disaggregated way.

– 2 266 women were murdered — one of those Anene Booysen, another Reeva Steenkamp, another Duduzile Dodo

– 29 928 women reported a sexual offence against them

– 44 320 women reported an assault GBH against them

– 83 394 women reported a common assault

That’s 170 908 women. Eight times as many as marched in 1956. And those were the ones brave enough to report.

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The Department of Women has the smallest budget of any department in government. The Commission for Gender Equality’s budget forms half of that.

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Twenty thousand women marched in 1956. What will it take for that many women, that many people, to march now? When will we stop accepting legislative freedom, and demand substantive equality and freedom? I don’t want to dance, or sing, or go to any press launches this Women’s Day. I just want to mourn.

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