Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Violence against women

I read this article in the Sowetan and I was appaled. In response, I sent the letter below to the editor.

Maybe it helps.

Today in Braamfontein, a young woman walks down the street, dressed in high heels and and miniskirt. Five youngsters start whistling at her, jumping up and down as if Jesus was coming back. The daring one walks up to her and says, 'just a hand shake, just a hand shake'. She smiles and they do a high five. As this happens, a metro police car drives by with four officers in it. The car slows down, honks and the officers join the commotions - smiling and whistling.

Am I prudish or is this kind of male excitement in the face of an attractive woman walking down the street amounting to sexual harassment?

If I would not live in a country in which gang rape is common and violence against women is filed under 'things that happen', I would greet this kind of behaviour by just shaking my head.

Unfortunately, this sort of thing is the more placid face of a society wrecked by violence, misogyny and patriarchy.

"Dear Sir,

I find your article very problematic from a gender perspective.

Your paper prides itself of supporting the community, of being involved in nation building and so on. Yet it seems that when it comes to the advancement of women, you no longer see any reason to show your engagement and care.

As journalists, you are hopefully aware that we live in a country in which violence against women is high. Much of the violence is based on stereotypes and mis-perception how ‘real’ women are supposed to behave. Women who do not fit these expectations (how women should act) are sanctioned and punished. The best example is the killings of women who love women.

Hence, to combat violence against women, we have to start questioning stereotypes with regards to how men and women are supposed to behave.

Your article does nothing more than re-enforce stereotypes that confine men and women to act in certain ways.

The woman in your piece, Terry Pheto, has no agency. She is the ‘weak’ woman, the price for the stronger of the two men who fight over her. The two fighting males are the ones who decide how this drama is being played out, they have all the active parts in your little soap story.

The men are full of agency. The woman has no agency and awaits dutifully the outcome of what happens between the two fighting men. She is being ‘bedded’, after all.

So here we go again, the same old.

Have you tried to contact her? Maybe she has some interesting comment to make? Or perhaps it does not matter to your story writing what the woman says and does because all that matters is that the two men are fighting it out? Is she merely a pretty prop that makes up a nice background for your story?

I think it should be possible to write entertaining pieces about celebs that change our stereotypical views of how men and women are supposed to behave.

I think you can do better – is it not time to act?

Regards, Thomas.


Bruce said...

Thomas, on this one, I really think you are blowing things out of proportion! Remember one of the guys had already paid lobola for the woman.

Thomas Blaser said...

thanks Bruce, but the issue is about how men and women are depicted in the media; in other words, representation, not the facts of the soap story. Clearly, the woman is here merely a prop waiting to be picked up by the tough guys who fight it out. Unfortunately, too many men think like that of women. Or am I right?