Defend Truth


Why Women’s Month makes me mad

Rebecca Davis studied at Rhodes University and Oxford before working in lexicography at the Oxford English Dictionary. After deciding she’d rather make up words than define them, she returned to South Africa in 2011 to write for the Daily Maverick, which has been a magnificilious decision.

It’s easy to be cynical about Women’s Month. So why resist the temptation? We’re only a few days into August, and already the public discourse is enough to drive you to drink. When that happens, you may want to take advantage of some of the special pink beverages retailers will have on special offer.

What is Women’s Month? If you were explaining it to a Martian, how would you go about it? A Martian might think Women’s Month sounds as if it could be quite fun, like some sort of Freaky Friday caper where all the roles are swapped around for 31 days and the women run everything and the dudes have to do all the cleaning. You’d have to tell our alien friend that’s not how it works.

Maybe the Martian would suppose, not unreasonably, that Women’s Month is a period in which loads of money is poured into initiatives that could practically benefit girls and women. More funding for reproductive health, for instance. Ensuring that the government’s abortion services actually exist. Extending the roll-out of specialised sexual offences courts. Creating economic opportunities for young women, who continue to be less likely than men to get a job – and if they do get one, can expect to be paid 15% less than male counterparts.

No, no, you’d have to tell the Martian. Nice ideas, but that’s not what Women’s Month is about either.

You could explain to our tentacled pal that the main purpose of Women’s Month is to commemorate the women who marched to the Union Buildings on August 9, 1956, in protest against Apartheid pass laws. That’s an event certainly worth paying tribute to, especially in a country which is pretty damn bad at memorialising women at all. The Martian might be confused, though, because isn’t the public holiday of Women’s Day (9 August) specifically set aside to commemorate the 1956 march? What do we do for the other 30 days in August?

Perhaps you’d sit down with our alien tjommie and do some googling. The government website would give you the programme for this year’s Women’s Month. There we learn that week one, for instance, is dedicated to “celebrating women in fashion”. Across different media platforms, “we will have a collage of these women and their contribution in dressing the nation”. Maybe the Martian would roll its stalky eyes at this, because on Mars females aren’t perpetually pigeonholed as being obsessed with clothing.

You could point out that it’s not all about fashion. Week two sees the screening of films made by women, or films telling stories of women. (To watch films telling stories of men, simply visit your local Ster Kinekor all year round.) Week three’s focus is on the trafficking of women and children. Commendable, and also extremely useful for Home Affairs Minister Malusi Gigaba’s quest to defend the purpose of his onerous new visa regulations.

Week four, finally, is about the economic empowerment of women. Aside from a pretty cool-sounding tech-girl roundtable, there will also be a trade fair in Limpopo where women from both South Africa and Zimbabwe will “showcase and sell their products from clothes to crafts”. Let’s hope some men come along with money in their pockets!

If the Martian is looking a bit underwhelmed at this stage, you might direct it to the bit of the government press release which details the “great strides” made by South Africa since 1994 in improving the status of women. You and the alien would probably agree that some of these denote significant progress – from 2,7% women MPs in Parliament pre-1994, for instance, to 41% today.

On other points, you’d be hard pressed to share the government’s enthusiasm. “Women have even entered previously male-dominated areas in the corporate world, and currently constitute 3.6% of CEO positions,” the press release trumpets. The Martian might turn to you with a look of confusion, as if to say: “Previously male-dominated? What are they smoking?” Then you’d have to remind the alien that Mars is a pretty shit planet, just to put it in its place.

As distraction, you could tell the Martian that the African National Congress Women’s League is having one of their congresses this week. Just keep it away from the interview with league president Angie Motshekga in which she says the league’s membership “showed no interest” in the possibility of a female president for South Africa.

Motshekga adds that she will deal with the matter in her speech later this week, but basically only “on behalf of business and media because they are the ones who are really into it”. In other words, as the Martian might quickly figure out, Motshekga makes it sound like the question of whether a woman can run South Africa will be tossed into a speech as the verbal equivalent of clickbait.

Then again, when you read that one of the only two names being bandied around as a female presidential contender is Speaker of Parliament Baleka Mbete, you’re tempted to tell Motshekga not to bother.

If the Martian is waving its antennae at you in a decidedly sceptical manner at this point, it’s time to explain what Women’s Month is really about.

Women’s Month is a marketer’s wet dream. It’s like Mother’s Day and Valentine’s Day sort of smooshed together in a vague pamper-perfume-spoil-yourself marshmallow cloud but way better because it’s stretched over 31 lip-smacking days of spending. Tell your Martian pal to get its coat, because you are going out!

How about a Women’s Month Feast at the Table Bay Hotel, R350 per person for four courses? How about the Women’s Day attempt to set the world record for ‘Most Manicured Nails’ at the Momentum Golf Driving Range, tickets from R200? How about two-for-one specials on Table Mountain Chocolates till the end of Women’s Month? Celebrate Women’s Month at African Stone Spa, Super Woman Package going for R1,250! R120 selected red gel toes at Sun International’s Windmill Lodge! A special Pink Tea at the 12 Apostles Hotel “in honour of Women’s Month”, starring dainty finger sandwiches and a range of pink themed sweet delights!

It’s not all crass materialism, of course. You should tell your Martian that marketers will also put serious issues on the table, like domestic violence, because what could possibly go wrong with that? What could go wrong with asking a man previously accused of domestic abuse to pose in heels (because all women have heels permanently grafted on to their feet at birth) for a campaign against gender-based violence? After all, the woman who accused him of moering her did drop the charges. As the Department of Women subsequently mused on Twitter: “What should be done with women who press charges then later withdraw them?”

Hang them, I say, together with that dentist who killed Cecil. And speaking of Cecil, try to protect your poor Martian from the realisation that the outrage generated by the killing of a 13-year old lion outstrips the attention bestowed on gruesome acts of violence against countless ordinary women. Feed the alien a glass of lovely pink bubbly, and remind it to pamper itself this Women’s Month. DM


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