“Not Our Women”: when male-centred femicide activism misses the mark, completely.
Enough is enough, I am tired, please stop killing us, am I next? are just a few examples of the phrases that are regularly expressed by South African womxn when news of femicide victims becomes unbearably suffocating.
Pleas for government intervention continuously prove ineffective as Cyril Ramaphosa’s preferred response is to employ empty medical metaphors that liken the prevalence of gender-based violence and femicide to cancers and diseases. Similarly, in fruitless fashion, Police Minister Bheki Cele showed us that policing our alcohol consumption meant more to him during the first two months of lockdown than the increase in reported cases of gender-based violence.
Sparked by the murder of Tshegofatso Pule, as well as the killings of Naledi Phangindawo, Sibongisa Gabada, Liyabona Mabishi and Elma Roybn Monstumi, the past couple of weeks have seen another momentary episode of moral panic over gender-based violence and femicide in the country. This time our president has decided on utilising corona rhetoric in gender-based violence as South Africa’s “second pandemic”. Another medical metaphor that does nothing to address the lack of urgency in a national crisis that he declared last year.
Desperate to be allowed to live, womxn are not only trying to get the government to give a damn. We are also begging men to finally show up by actively participating in an end to the toxic masculinity that is fertile breeding ground for gender-based violence and femicide. To stop being complacent and rape apologists. To stop with the “not all men” that is as useful as proclaiming “what about farm murders". To do what appears to be so incredibly difficult—to stop beating, raping and killing us.
At a local vigil that I helped organise, I listened to a young womxn as she spoke to those in attendance. In her passionate address to those who came out on a cold Johannesburg morning to participate in bringing attention to Black female lives in the Black Lives Matter movement, she highlighted a shortcoming in androcentric--male-centred--gender-based violence activism and its slogan ‘not our women’.
“ ’Not our womxn’, like you own us. We are not yours”, she made clear to the men and media in the crowd. Her words were powerful and resonated with the peaceful protestors because what was said was true. The womxn exemplified the entitlement over womxn that men have in this country.
No more than 30 seconds after she concluded, a young man took centre stage to speak on his outrage and condemnation of gender-based violence and femicide. “Not our women!” he began his statement. The man was swiftly corrected and told: “we are not yours”. He muttered an apology and continued with his speech. It took but a few sentences for him to repeat the phrase “not our women”, obviously not at all getting nor absorbing the lesson that had been shared a minute or so prior. He had to be reminded, again, that womxn do not belong to men.
Later that day, I was sent a flyer that reflected the very problem with androcentric gender-based violence activism that I had witnessed at the vigil. The flyer I was sent was for a march against gender-based violence and femicide for men and boys. The march was titled ‘not our women’.
Androcentric activism against gender-based violence and femicide is missing the mark and it shows. The fundamental issue with South African masculinity as it relates to gender-based violence is the patriarchal sense of ownership men have over womxn. It is a masculinity that is entitled and yet dangerously fragile. Dangerously fragile in a way that expresses itself through violence, rape and murder.