Tony Grant
Tony Grant

The corners of her eyes

This weekend I had two windows broken in my house. The first was a braaiing accident when, after a couple of toots, I stumbled with a plastic chair in my hands and two of the chair legs went through a glass pane.

The second breakage was an act of God when we had some strong storm winds blowing about in the garden and the wind literally sucked another pane of glass out of its window frame.

Two likely stories, you might think, as my domestic worker initially did. On arriving for work on Monday morning, and after I had explained the reasons for the broken windows, she looked at me out of the corners of her eyes with determined suspicion, and I could see what she was thinking: “Liar! Domestic abuse! … Man!”

Now I am a man and a liar and I apologise for being both of those. However, I am not an abusing man, and I take offence to being judged that way. In fact I’ve actually made a real effort to try to understand women and their beautiful natural vulnerability much better lately. Last year I took to reading Jane Austen and watching Oprah Winfrey. The two of them don’t have much in common except that they are both women, both like to criticise men and both have never married — nor have they bore any children.

She’s a lovely Zimbabwean lady (my domestic worker), and for the past seven years that I’ve known her, she’s always had a baby on her back (not always her own), and under my care they’ve all been brought up healthily on scrambled eggs and fancy Nutriday yogurts.

There has, however, been one small problem that has me concerned. Every afternoon she stands in the lounge and watches Oprah and Dr Phil while doing the ironing, and while this is happening there’s always an equivalent amount of steam coming out of both the iron and her ears. Oprah works my domestic worker up! Subsequently, she has become an expert on women’s rights, abuse and human relationships.

One of my questions here is: Is Oprah good for my domestic worker?

Now, Oprah is a tough chick to criticise. She’s a self-made, record-breaking success story, like the world has never heard of before. And you’ve got to give credit where credit is due.

If I appear to be losing some sense of continuity here, it’s because I know that I need to tip-toe around this. However, I need also to address that look in the corner of my domestic worker’s eyes.

Oprah has been abused. I’ve seen various shows of hers where she’s referred to that. I suspect that she uses that energy in her work, and therefore that abuse has in some uncanny way contributed to and propelled her success. She’s certainly a driven woman. Again, though, she has no children, and no husband — and that’s the ideal, isn’t it, and it’s not as though she’s physically unattractive or poor (although my maid’s more attractive, but not as rich).

Oprah could, I’m sure, pick up almost any Tom, Dick or Harry available — I’m available. The point that I’m trying to make here is that I think that her focus, if you will, is a little bit out of focus. I’m not making fun about abuse, but personally I get that Oprah is an angry woman, and I’m just wondering if you (gentlemen) think that it’s a good idea to have an angry woman lecturing your wife every weekday afternoon from 4pm to 5pm.

Sure, your lady needs to be educated about her rights, and so do you, but again, what I’m asking is: Does your relationship need the anger factor and the suspicion of men that I can’t help sensing in Oprah’s material? And ladies, do you really want to get angry now?

Austen made a big deal out of “ladies and “gentlemen”, and in her novels they all abuse each other left, right and centre. OK, they didn’t actually hit each other, but there is plenty of emotional abuse, and the women are most active (Austen’s works are like old-fashioned versions of Desperate Housewives re-titled Desperate Spinsters).

There goes the continuity again.

Of course, Oprah interviews men and she covers all kinds of issues, but you have to agree that she’s at her best when she’s covering women’s abuse issues; that’s when she’s angry, that’s when she’s steaming!

It’s just that there seems to be very little real education about this kind of abuse, and instead, just a lot of fashionable sensationalism. It’s just that I’ve noticed escalating levels of anger and suspicion in women lately — in restaurants, on TV and even in my domestic worker.

What happened to talking about “ladies”? Why did we start talking only of “women”? Isn’t that derogatory? Since when has it become cool to be a bitch?

When watching Oprah (in an honest effort to understand and feel sympathy for women) I feel that I am being prosecuted — actually, persecuted!

I needed to get that look out of the corner of my domestic worker’s eyes. It was time for us to talk! And it was time for old playboy Tony to make a comeback.

We do that every now and again, my domestic worker and I. Sometimes for lunch we stop to have a chat about what’s in the papers, over a packet of Lemon Creams. She’s black, a woman, drinks tea and lives in Soweto; I’m white, a man, drink whiskey and don’t live in Soweto. We have different perceptions on things, and so we have some interesting conversations.

I was desperate to get that look out of the corners of her eyes. So over the biscuits I brought up the famous Jacob Zuma rape trial. Taking into consideration that my domestic worker is a hardened Zuma supporter, I knew that that was just the way to catch her out with her current feminist politics.

I put her on the spot. I explained my views on Jane Austen, loaned her my copy of Pride and Prejudice and then I asked her if she wanted to just be a woman or if she aspired to be a lady! No, she definitely wanted to be a lady. “Like Winnie Mandela,” she enthusiastically replied.

I told her a couple of lies then, about cases and situations that I claimed to have witnessed, about all kinds of men (“from all walks of life”) who have been falsely accused of abusing women. I even told her the story of Adam and Eve (the Jewish version, with the fig, not with the apple). And she understood and agreed on everything that I said. Then I told her that I’ve also recently converted to the Zuma camp, and for exactly this reason of “false accusations”, and that my vote doesn’t support Helen Zille any more, because she’s a woman. I also told her that she’s pretty, and to please help herself to another Lemon Cream. She agreed to all of that too.

Old playboy Tony clearly hasn’t lost his touch.

One packet of Lemon Creams later and we had agreed on the following conclusion: the two worst kinds of people that we could both think of at that moment were firstly people who abuse others, and secondly people who cry abuse when they have not been abused, because then they are abusing their right to not be abused (that last part confused her a bit, though).

So what I’m really saying here is: just because I happen to be in the same room as a broken window or two, that doesn’t mean anything!

Upon leaving, after completing her day’s work, out of the corner of her eye, she gave me a wink.