Defend Truth


Not an hour goes by without an atrocity being committed against a woman or a child in SA


Rosemund Handler lives in Cape Town and climbs the mountains of her city most weekends. She holds an MA in Creative Writing from UCT and has had four novels published by Penguin. She has also published short stories, poetry and articles in various journals and newspapers. Her third novel, ‘Tsamma Season’, was shortlisted for the Commonwealth Prize, Africa region. She is currently working on a fifth novel, which is a sequel to ‘Tsamma Season’.

Feminism has awakened consciousness in unexpected ways, opened minds and made remarkable things happen for women. But misogyny is entrenched in the minds of some men and women are the lowest common denominator in the blame game – repositories of frustration and powerlessness.

In an analysis of 75 countries, nine out of 10 people were found to be biased against women, raising the spectre of a global backlash against gender equality. In some countries, biases are shrinking, but in many others, prejudice against women is actually growing.

Almost half the people in the first gender norm index feel men are superior leaders and more than 40% believe that men make better business executives. Alarmingly, almost a third of men and women think it’s acceptable for a man to beat up his wife.

Does this repeating pattern indicate a pushback against the empowering of women in a globally disempowering world? While progress has been made in the first world, notably the United States, Sweden and Australia, even there, political and economic power remains the country of men.

Change is out there. Change takes time. The retiring host of MSNBC’s Hardball in the United States, Chris Matthews, publicly apologised for his comments about women. #MeToo, for the most part, has done wonders. Matthews is hardly the first public figure to have taken a good, long look at the language used by men, which, subtly or overtly, is intended to put women where they belong: beneath a man. The mind boggles at the thought that Donald Trump, a proven serial predator of women (astonishingly, still popular with women in certain states), may land another four years in power.

Along with many of the #MeToo women, I don’t know a single female who can claim never to have been a victim of Trumpian, casual male aggression: pinching, slapping, groping, belittling, silencing. And for some, far worse.

On 19 February 2020, in Brisbane, Australia, Hannah Clarke and her three children were murdered by her husband, the children’s father. Australians have come together in an outpouring of grief and shock. Suddenly, family violence is on the government agenda, including a national domestic violence summit.

Back home in the beloved country, however, femicide and child murder have been on a list of agendas, going back years without noticeable effect. Months of marches, activism, strident activists, outpourings of grief and rage, the Johnny-come-lately government outspeak against outrageous crimes perpetrated on women and girls, have had little impact: Not an hour goes by without an atrocity being committed against a woman or a child somewhere in our beautiful land.

It has been said that the greatest human rights violation on the planet is misogyny. For me, the greatest human violation is the holocaust of women by misogynists.

The World Health Organisation reports that one billion women – one billion! – will be raped or beaten in their lifetimes. Millions of women worldwide fear for their lives, live in terror of their partners, in terror of coming home. And the children witness horrific violence against mothers, aunts, sisters, grandmothers.

The late Irish journalist, Jack Holland, wrote the work Misogyny: The World’s Oldest Prejudice. Of all the hatreds among human beings, he writes, “misogyny involves the profound need and desire that most men have for women. Hatred co-exists with desire in a peculiar way. This is what makes misogyny so complex, because it involves a man’s conflict with himself.”

True. Man is born of woman. Sons love their mothers. But misogyny which leads to femicide, to child beating and murder, is more complex even than that, because there are so many contributing factors, so few solutions and, in my view, no excuse or explanation which can ever justify the horror of bodily harm against a woman or child.

In South Africa, we read over and over about social factors which contribute to violence in the home: financial stress, joblessness, poverty, mental illness from all of the above. All valid, perhaps. But brutality and femicide here are not confined to the disempowered majority. Across race, class and religion, in the best suburbs, women suffer indignities and violations, in some cases paying for a partner’s rage, greed, vanity and betrayal with their lives.

The objectification of women begins in the home, in the village, in the culture, in schools, colleges, clubs, shebeens. At the bottom of a bottle. The men who should be examples – fathers, uncles and grandfathers – are often absent or abusive, insanely entitled, drunk, or dead.

Heads of government, of corporations and clubs, are the same men who encourage ego-butting, bullying, arrogance, drunkenness – who prey on wives, sisters, daughters, beat up sex workers, rape with impunity and claim the victims asked for it. Too many men under pressure, from all walks of life, simply have no idea how to deal with rage and frustration; they have been given the wrong tools.

Education, as always, is key, and a conundrum: In school, bullying is often overlooked by teachers, and the stronger boys are the most admired and imitated. Boys are told to man up, bully other boys, prove themselves with the sexiest girl in class, or next door.

For change to happen, it is imperative that from an early age, boys must be taught ways of handling negative emotions in difficult environments. How to become a decent, loving man, when you are raised by unstable adults, or none at all? By abandoned mothers, overworked, lonely, poor and frightened, grandmothers who are exhausted and struggling? How to impart to young boys, eager to prove themselves, the respect due to mothers and sisters and girlfriends. What it means to be a good husband, partner and father. The menace of alcohol, drugs and gangs to family life.

In the rural areas, townships and cities, where parenting and mentoring are often lacking and substance abuse is rife, the brunt of responsibility falls on an impaired education system, inadequate social services, and a profoundly challenging and dynamic world, in which poverty, struggle and abuse have become the norm – especially for women in third world countries.

How many more of us have to be sacrificed to the changing role of men, to the demands of our time, in which the roles of men and women have become far more fluid?

Time is not on our side. Feminism has awakened consciousness in unexpected ways, opened minds and made remarkable things happen for women. But misogyny is entrenched in the minds of some men and women are the lowest common denominator in the blame game – repositories of frustration and powerlessness. The trials of murderers and rapists in the courts in our country are never-ending, the mistakes repeated over and over: bail granted to rapists, who rape again, to killers, released for lack of evidence, who kill again.

Meanwhile, women and girls are never free of fear: Everything they do or say or wear or achieve may incite a partner or boyfriend, or attract the random, pathological ferocity of a dehumanised man. May International Women’s Day, highlighting gender inequality around the world in a fascinating chiaroscuro of events and marches on March 8, awaken the hearts and minds of male-dominated governments, which continue to deny their culpability in the degradation and murder of their female citizens. DM


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