“Don’t see me as a woman. See me as a contender”: Patriarchy in South Africa
Updated: Oct 15, 2019
Every month (or so), I attend a women’s only articles club where we discuss articles and thoughts on a pre-selected topic. This month’s meeting looked at the question of how patriarchy affected our daily lives. In a room of outspoken womxn, the question of patriarchy was predominately one of lived experience. One which promoted enthusiastic frustration in dialogue and engagement.
Conversation was initiated by a response to the lack of chivalry in modern society. “As a man, I expect you to sleep closest to the door to protect me” was a comment made. This was an interesting statement made as many could argue chivalry as anti-feminist. Not to these womxn. The response to this argument was that to expect decency from men does not take away from feminism. In her game of “Patriarchy Chicken” in the article “How to play Patriarchy Chicken: why I refuse to move out of the way for men” for the newstatesman.com, British lecturer Dr. Charlotte Riley takes a feminist critique on the lack of decency in men where “if you are a woman, you find yourself constantly dodging. Side-skipping men you are walking in your direction”. The irony in South African patriarchy is that while South African men demand women submit to patriarchal values that benefit them, they do not put in the work. They do not meet the expectations outlined by patriarchy. In a room including divorced womxn, single womxn and breadwinners, men in their lives did not provide even the basics of “men’s responsibilities” are not met. Men do not provide. Men do not protect. Men do not contribute financially, emotionally nor physically in the private sphere. And yet, there was the admission that “women adapt to that bullshit”.
Women policing other women in a patriarchal society is a definite example of the adaptation to the bullshit. Too many times there are women shaming women for what they wear, what they do and what they don’t do. Very often, the loudest victim-blaming in rape and sexual assault comes from women. Recently, while scrolling aimlessly down my Facebook feed a woman (who I connected over the love of deep house music on a tipsy train ride home one time) wrote a post where she shamed women and girls for wearing shorts and shorter skirts “in a country rampaged with rape”. This was definitely a Facebook friend that deserved to be deleted, in my opinion.
There was also a remark on toxic masculinity in queer womxn. Anthropological ethnographies on sexuality theorise the mirroring of heteronormative expectations in same-sex relationships. Within queer communities, there is often a silencing around these expectations as well as its negative implications. In the articles club, we discussed how queer womxn often face domestic abuse at the hands of their queer partners. We highlighted how womxn can often find themselves confused while staying with their abusive partner because there is an (mis)understanding of toxic masculinity being gender-specific. There was also an acknowledgment that cisgender men who do not conform to patriarchal ideas, such as stay-at-home dads, suffer as well.
Clearly, there are many who will benefit from an egalitarian society and the dismantling of patriarchy.