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What’s in this Feminazi ‘shit’?

Marelise van der Merwe and Daily Maverick grew up together, so her past life increasingly resembles a speck in the rearview mirror. She vaguely recalls writing, editing, teaching and researching, before joining the Daily Maverick team as Production Editor. She spent a few years keeping vampire hours in order to bring you each shiny new edition (you're welcome) before venturing into the daylight to write features. She still blinks in the sunlight.

Women are dying, being beaten, unsafe on the streets, and playing nicely isn’t going to make it better for the next generation. It’s time for revolution.

The ‘Kenilworth Klapper’. What a claim to fame. It emerged last week that the now-infamous Tim Osrin had had more charges laid against him – this time by an actual sex worker who claimed that he had “grabbed my (breasts) and squeezed them hard and hit them. He kept hitting me and saying ‘fuck off out of my street’. “He kicked and beat me so much that he knocked the tooth out of my mouth. I fell down and he carried on beating me.”

The operative phrase here is my street. Yes, it’s the street on which Osrin lives, perhaps, but it’s also perceived as his street. His space. And that’s the core problem here: that so many men still seem to be labouring under the misconception that women are just visiting in their spaces.

What’s interesting about rage against sex workers in general, too, is that sex workers are at a fundamental level challenging this notion of ownership. By definition, they are declaring ownership of their bodies, by offering to sell (or rent) them to you. On a subconscious level, I am sure this is a degree of autonomy the male chauvinist does not like. I suspect he prefers to control the body. If he is too ‘decent’ to rape it, at the very least he wants to tell it what to do.

I’ve had an angry two weeks, I admit. I reached a tipping point today when I was getting out of my car, going into my house. A man passed by, told me to smile. It was an odd command, I felt, since I was in my own driveway, alone, minding my own business, and I’m not what my dad would call a ‘smiling pawpaw’, the kind of idiot who would just stand there grinning at their own door. I said no, in a moment of irritable defiance. He let rip. He came into my driveway, called me a b*tch, sl*t, wh*re, horrible person, told me I was disgusting. I shut the door on his tirade. Some minutes later, he was still screaming.

It’s been a bad time in the news, too: there was the shockingly under-reported Gamergate scandal, where game developer Brianna Wu was forced out of her home and living in a constant state of fear because male gamers were threatened by her occupation of what they perceived as – again – their space. She came, she beat them, but instead of being applauded as the top-achieving men in the gaming world had been, she was threatened with rape, dismemberment and other atrocities. Her life and reputation were torn apart. The full details are so horrific and time-consuming to describe that they are beyond the scope of this article. You can read about them here and here.

Then there’s the case of a 36-year-old female hip hop artist who beat out the male competition in a freestyle battle. She succeeded in what they perceived as their space. So they gang-raped her, doused her in gasoline, set her alight and shot her. Writer Aya de Leon summed it up: “These men… have extinguished her voice. And left her story, like a body hanging from a tree, as a cautionary tale for uppity women in hip hop that we need to know our place.”

Then fresh accusations surfaced about Bill Cosby allegedly being a serial rapist. (The previous time he was accused, he settled out of court.) I loved Bill Cosby. I don’t want to believe it. But the truth is, even if this story isn’t true, it was somebody else, with a different unfortunate actress. (Stephen Collins, for instance, to name another example from recent weeks.) We know the story. You want to succeed in our space? Pay with your body. You’ll get in on our terms.

Then there was the actress who, when she tried to highlight street harassment in New York, was met with reactions ranging from disbelief and playing the victim (“Who, us? Men are just being nice, and you’re so mean!”) to rape and death threats. Shoshana Roberts was harassed more than 100 times in a 10-hour period while filming the public service announcement for Hollaback.

And not to mention the endless loop of articles – on repeat – about campus rapes. The Guardian has reported on this extensively in recent weeks, months, years. A piece by Jessica Valenti points out that frat brothers rape 300% more and one in five women will be sexually assaulted on campus. She adds, “At Georgia Tech, a frat brother sent around an email guide called ‘Luring your rapebait’. Wesleyan had a frat that was nicknamed the ‘Rape Factory’.” You want an education? No way, this is our turf and so is everything that’s in it – including you. And your body.

Big or small, incidents of harassment and violence are all part of the same toxic mindset: that of ownership. It starts frighteningly young, and sadly, the fear is very deeply ingrained in women, too. Example: a few days ago I was jogging and a group of boys maybe a year or two older than my son greeted me. I thought hey, maybe they’re being friendly (because that’s what men always tell me: We’re just being friendly. What’s wrong with you?) So I greeted them back. They started following me, yelling comments on me, and my body, all the way. I wish I could tell you that I put the whole bang lot of them over my knee and gave them a hiding. But I didn’t, because I’m a woman, and we’re used to being afraid. Because we know what can happen. Because we know men are physically stronger, even if they are just boys, and we are runners. I ran faster, until I outran them, and then I ran home. I was shaking when I got there.

Here’s another moment, on the same day. I was running an errand. A homeless man asked me for money. I didn’t have any on me. I apologised and told him that. He didn’t like that. He got up and followed me, singing suggestive love songs obnoxiously loudly in my ear till I got to my car. I should add that this man was old and disabled. Theoretically I could have taken him out in a heartbeat if it came to that. But a certain type of man is so convinced of his power that he will denigrate you no matter what.

When you get someone like Tim Osrin wandering down the streets of Kenilworth, klapping the women he doesn’t approve of and telling them to get out of his street; when you get misogynistic rappers and gamers turning violent on the women who beat them at their own game; when you get men coming into your driveway and commanding you to smile; when you get men harassing and raping women to whatever degree – all it is, is an obnoxious assertion of ownership. They’re walking around like they bloody own the place – and you. And it applies across the board, regardless of the social status of either player. Well-brought up Southern suburbs okes and beggars alike know that in one key area, they have the power. And they use it.

I’m going to leave you with some stats to ponder.

  • In a 2014 US study, 87% of women under the age of 64 had experienced street harassment. Among all women, 23% had been sexually touched, 20% had been followed, and 9% had been forced to do something sexual.

  • A 2009 report found that a woman in South Africa fell victim to femicide once every eight hours.

  • Up to 76% of women the world over are targeted for physical and/or sexual violence in their lifetime, according to the available country data at the UN Entity for Gender Equality.

  • The first sexual experience of some 30% of women was forced. The percentage is even higher among those who were under 15 at the time of their sexual initiation, with up to 45% reporting that the experience was forced (UN Entity for Gender Equality).

  • Violence against women is not necessarily on the decrease. In India, for example, rape, dowry deaths, abduction and molestation increased by 26.7% in 2013 compared to the previous year.

  • Domestic violence has experienced a recent spike in the US and the UK.

  • In many parts of South Africa, one in two women are victims of domestic violence.

  • One in nine rapes are reported in South Africa.

  • Five to 9% of women surveyed in the Eastern Cape, Mpumalanga and Limpopo had been physically abused during their pregnancy (Jewkes et al. 1999).

That is, of course, not counting the countless sexist comments online; the endless hooting and leering from cars when walking through town; the trolling on the internet, where one inevitably faces threats of sexual violence. The leering, being felt up, being told to smile because they’re ‘just being friendly’, (in the same way an abuser who gives you flowers is ‘just being generous?’), being patronised, being told what your body should look like, being told what it does look like, working harder for less, being underestimated, constantly fearing violent attack, being actually subjected to violent attack. Paying with your life for succeeding. I spoke to a woman who runs self defence classes and has interviewed dozens of rapists. “When I ask them what they do when women fight back they look at me dumbfounded,” she said. “It has never even occurred to them.”

Women are being plucked off the streets like candy off Christmas trees.

It’s not new. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

We’re sick of it.

And we’re sick of intelligent men playing dumb about it.

I was on a web forum the other day, which was discussing these and other issues, and a user had the gall to ask, “What’s with the Feminazi shit?”

The answer lies in a well-loved poem:

I’m learning to pronounce this “Shit” well
Since the other day
At the pass office
When I went to get employment,
The officer there endorsed me to Middleburg,
So I said, hard and with all my might, “Shit!”
I felt a little better;
But what’s good, is, I said it in his face,
A thing my father wouldn’t dare do.
That’s what’s in this black “Shit.”

The “shit” of feminism is not the racial discrimination Mongane Wally Serote refers to here, and a different struggle needs to be fought for the liberation of women. But one thing is clear. Women are dying, being beaten, they’re unsafe on the streets, and playing nicely isn’t going to make it better for the next generation. It’s time to get angry. Really angry. THAT’s what’s in this Feminazi “shit”. DM

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