Tuesday, February 12, 2013

On Navel- Gazing Arm Chair Critics

I am one who is all for constructive criticism and the whole notion of interrogating even those ideas, institutions or beliefs that we hold firmly. It is also vital to scrutinize programs and campaigns that fall into the area of activism, social justice, human rights and development because there have been many abuses documented over years and years, by organizations purporting to “help” vulnerable people. These abuses have led many, particularly in the developing world- in places like Africa- to become skeptical of those who hail from western countries in the name of “development”. I have blogged about the issue before and some of the reasons surrounding the skeptism particularly where women and girls are concerned. The post is here. The issue of what motivates an individual or an organization to leave their homeland with its unsolved problems and head to “help out” in the developing world is one many intellectuals, scholars, feminists, students, economists and politicians have discussed ad nauseam. In many cases unfortunately there are ulterior motives tied to donor funding and development agencies which go to developing countries and spend years working on an issue with no tangible results to show for it.

Therefore the skepticism around One Billion Rising as a campaign comes as no surprise at all, and it seems to me to be a good thing. Many legitimate questions have been raised thanks to this campaign: many have questioned whether it makes a mockery of those who have been raped and abused because of its central modus operandus which is dance. Others have questioned how effective such a campaign might be, given that it is a one day affair. These questions need asking and they also need answers.

Certainly the OBR campaign is by no means a be all and end all to domestic violence and rape. In fact that is not the mission of this campaign. The mission is to create a heightened awareness, such as the world has never seen in order that rape and VAW become a front and center issue rather than a marginalized “women’s issue”. The increasingly brutal forms of violence such as rape and post-rape mutilation of females and the regular use of rape as a weapon of war indicate a rapid move towards the normalization of violence against women and as such a more radical approach to campaigning against this tidal wave of violence that threatens to cause irrevocable damage to societies that in many ways are already broken is urgently needed. Dance is used in this campaign because it is a radical form of protest. Its radicalism lies in the fact that dancing requires that an individual takes control of their body and channels their inner energy into moving that body as they choose or as the music moves them to. This is radical because for the majority of women their bodies belong to someone else, either through cultural rituals and practices or through societal pressures and conditioning. Women’s bodies are rarely allowed to exist for their own purpose. They are either reproductive machines, owned by the men in their lives as beast of burden or sex machines or psychologically enslaved through brainwashing media which reinforces certain standards that define women’s bodies as beautiful or ugly. Dance is one occasion that women can fully own their bodies and dance illicits joy and initiates healing.

What I describe here about OBR is not new. Therefore it is quite disingenuous when women like Marelise Van Der Mewe decide to vent their personal issues with Eve Ensler by rubbishing a campaign that she herself could not, with all her narrow mindedness and smug privilege, have envisioned. She begins her “vapid” piece thus:It’s a celebrity-endorsed attempt to get a billion activists worldwide to take part in a choreographed dance to end rape. The trouble is, it’s got bugger-all to do with rape at all. And it’s unlikely to achieve anything, either.’ This statement alone is fallacy because OBR is not about getting people to dance to a choreographed piece at all. In fact in her own home country, there are communities that will not be doing the OBR dance or reading any of the poems that have been suggested. She is wrong again on the issue of OBR not achieving anything. She is unaware of the conversations and ideas that have been borne as people gathered to get ready for the event on the 14th. The event is a culmination of months of sharing talking, and looking for practical solutions to make a difference in people’s lives. Men are getting together to form community based groups to push for progressive masculinities. Yes men are taking an active part in this issue and this includes educating their children about respect not only for women but for life in general. In another community, activists are working with the police for the creation of victim- sensitive police units to deal with victims of rape, from writing a statement, submitting evidence and identification of victims as a way to make it easier for women to report rape. I could go on, however I think the post OBR era will have numerous examples of just what this campaign has ignited in terms of real and lasting change.
Less advocacy more action!

Van der Mewe’s concerns may have been legitimate, were it not for her bellicose rants against Ensler and V-Day. What is quite shocking to me is that her dislike for Ensler is so deep that she does not bother to do much research about what V-day has done for the last 15 years with the money that the organization has raised. A simple Google search would have given her some insight into the work with women in the Congo, work with women and girls facing female genital mutilation and work with girls in South Africa. However in her volatile emotional state she quickly jots down some hogwash about no one knowing what V-day does with its money. Get real! She fails to conceal her ire , stating that only 56 people have registered for the event in the whole of South Africa! Look who is totally out of touch with reality. If she had her finger to the pulse of South Africa she would have noted that there are thousands who have been working tirelessly in communities across the country in order to have this event. She is clueless as to what victims of VAW and rape need or feel or think about this campaign, because if she were not, she would have realized that those who are mobilizing are the ones whose communities are most badly affected by poverty and violence. many of them have been raped or experienced domestic violence. Of course she would not know this, and if she did I doubt she would care. Her rather patronizing prescription- do as I do, blah blah blah- as she reels of a list of "things one can do about the issue of rape" as though she has done something amazing, is quite laughable. This, from the woman who has just railed against armchair activism. She openly states that she dislikes Eve Ensler and anything she touches. In other words: whether OBR has its merits or not, it doesn't matter because she chooses not to see them. How mature. show us the records that indicate a "lack of transparency" where V-Day and its funding is concerned. Her diatribe can be found here.  A well researched article written by Gillian Schutte on Eve Ensler and the work that V-Day has done can be found   here.
City of Joy, DRC.

What might interest her is that in the Congo and elsewhere, women who have been gang raped beaten, lost family members and should in her books be lying in some corner waiting to die are DANCING!!! Yes they are going to dance and enjoy themselves because in that joy lies freedom to be themselves finally despite all the trauma they have faced. Merilene might like to try dancing. It is liberating, and maybe she will befriend her vagina and finally be able to disclose to the world her sexual orientation. Ensler does not reduce women to their vaginas but rather uses the vagina as a way to disempower reductionist patriarchy in which women matter only in so far as they have a functional vagina. By having women get in touch with their bodies and reclaim their sexuality, Ensler has been able to change many women’s view of their sexual and reproductive health and their overall health also.

The bottom line is this: Women who take cheap underhanded pot shots at other women who are actually doing something in this world to better our lot, really suck. Former United states secretary of State, Madeline Albright, once said there is a special kind of hell awaiting this kind of woman. I really hope so, because it is women like this who set us back in our efforts to dismantle patriarchal structures that keep us all in chains. What is even worse are those women who themselves are doing absolutely nothing practical to further the cause, other than complain and whine about existential/ ideological/ personal issues they have with  OBR and or Eve Ensler. Women who personalize issues rather than be objective and analytical in their assessment before passing judgment are nothing more than a nuisance and a distraction. Please go away quietly and let those of us who understand OBR and who are truly passionate about getting rid of VAW do so in peace.

By the way this piece is not in defence of Eve Ensler, but it is in defense to a record of a body of work that has benefited thousands of women, me included. If Marelise Van der Mewe can show us a record of her work,any work, then I might be impressed. As its stands I think her poorly articulated “issues” with OBR are just a personal rant full of baseless claims which leave her looking like nothing more than a mean spirited individual with serious issues vis-a-vis her vagina or 'women's bits' as she calls it. “Sour grapes” Marelise!

Saturday, February 9, 2013

When we blame the victim

I have to get something off my chest today. Having spent the last 4 months working on the One Billion Rising Campaign, and having seen some things and heard some things that honestly I wish I had never seen or heard, I am at a point where I am extremely sensitive on the issue of rape and violence against women. I am of the mind that we as human beings are just not outraged enough by what is going on every day, every minute, every second around the globe. I am of the mind that we are not disgusted enough that girls and women are getting raped then gratuitously mutilated, cut up, disemboweled and left for dead. I am fed up with people who will try to sideline the issue by stating that “women rape too” or that men also suffer abuse at the hands of women. I do not dispute this fact at all and I am concerned about that also. However, when you show me stories of men being gang raped by women then cut up and left lying in pools of their own blood, then maybe I will champion the cause of violence against men as vociferously as I talk about the fact that 1 in 3 women on this planet will experience rape or violence in her lifetime. When the statistics for female- on- male violence come anywhere near as close to the stats for male- on- female violence then I will sit up and do something about that also. However for now, I choose to focus on the war against the feminine which has gone unchecked for centuries. I choose to Rise up against the Patriarchal structure that has allowed this madness, this atrocity against my own kind to grow into a huge cancerous mass that is consuming us steadily. What this means is that I have zero tolerance for anyone who dares to blame the victim of rape, or who blames the females in the victim’s life. Let’s get real here: rape and violence against women happens no matter what a woman is wearing or where she chooses to go. Women in Afghanistan who are completely covered up save their eyes are raped daily, and then executed for getting raped. That act of execution is placing the blame of rape squarely on the victim’s shoulders and she pays for her own rape with her life.

I am bothered by the discourse surrounding the brutal rape and disembowelment of seventeen year old Anene Booysen( here) in which some people are asking why she was out that late in a tavern. Or where was her mother? Implicit in these questions is blame, it was her fault that she was out late at night or it was her mother’s fault that her daughter was out late and got raped. Just to illustrate how flawed this kind of thinking is, there is another recent story. A 15 year old girl in Chicago was taking trash out when a car pulled up, dragged her in and she was taken to a home where she was gang raped by three men for hours (here). Who do we blame for this girl’s abduction and rape? Whose fault is it that she was taking the garbage out to the trash can? Why must women live in perpetual fear and change their behaviors when they are NOT the ones committing rape?

Rape is never the victim’s fault or anyone’s fault but the rapist. Subtle language that insinuates that the victim or someone other than the perpetrator of the crime is to blame is part of the reason we are not angry enough about this issue. When we fully accept that rape is a violent crime and that those who rape should face the full extent of the law (by law here, I mean either jungle justice on the streets or the courts of law).

I remember a time when a man would get beaten up by other men if he dared to beat his wife either in public or in private. Women knew to scream blue murder because someone would come to their rescue. Now it seems that men will form a mob to humiliate and to encourage the rape or beating of a woman in broad daylight. There are numerous stories of women in Harare being stripped naked by mobs of men for wearing a mini skirt. Yesterday I watched a video of a group of about 8 men beating up two girls for stealing a bottle of wine. Earlier this year I watched a video of a Nigerian girl beaten up and stripped naked for stealing a cell phone. What is seen in the videos is the sexual humiliation of stripping the women down to their underwear or totally divesting them of all clothing and kicking their legs apart. These men video tape their atrocities and share them with the world. What happened? When did the streets we walk on become war zones for women? What is the difference in terms of safety between a woman in Harare or Johannesburg and a woman in a remote part of the Congo? Nothing because in both cases these women can be gang raped, with impunity for the perpetrators. In both cases these women are not safe and their womanhood places them at risk for assault.

We need to be angry and the decent men need to express more outrage at this violation of the feminine. Men need to step up, and be heard speaking unequivocally against the violation of their mothers, sisters, wives, girlfriends, colleagues and children. When good men are silent and remain uninvolved then they are sending a message of endorsement to this sickness. Yes, in your silence you are all complicit and perhaps you can live with the fact that the women most precious to you are at high risk for being violated. If you cannot accept this then you need to be heard and you need to RISE! When enough men Rise and pitch their voices with those of the feminine, this madness will stop. If this does not happen, then policies will not change, the law and penalties will not be enforced and the rot will get worse and deeper. Men need to challenge every circumstance where a woman is harassed or degraded in their presence. They should be affronted by this and they should become intolerant of misogynistic comments among their friends and colleagues. They should shame their fellow men who talk trash about women in the name of “locker room banter”. The words expressed by people often reveal the darkness hidden in their hearts and given an opportunity, many will act on their dark thoughts. When they are shamed for this and made face the ugliness that they harbor, perhaps they will find it that much harder to act out those things.  And if they do go ahead and rape then there should be swift, effective application of the law, such that the perpetrator and potential perpetrators will be shocked out of their sick spiral towards hurting women.

The more we allow rape and violence to go unpunished the more desensitized society becomes and the more normalized it becomes. To remain sensitized we need to have ZERO tolerance towards rape and violence against women. ZERO tolerance means NEVER ever blaming the victim ever.