“…Everybody is a man, you know? And you just choke! You choke. You constantly feel like you are being strangled; it’s so violating.” – Sibu Gcilitshana
I first encountered the word ‘Patriarchy’ in University while I was studying Media, Communication and Culture. In the initial stages, it was mainly about how the media portrayed women, the extent of cinematographic voyeurism centering the storylines with beautiful women. When I started working behind the scenes in Television, I got to see the gross voyeurism that presenters and actresses must endure from crews, which are usually male dominant. In fact, one cameraman I have worked with usually narrated a story he had witnessed in advertising where feminists were asking the director of the Ad Agency, “Where are the women in decision-making positions here?” and, the arrogant director answered, “You wanna know where women are? They are under my desk sucking my fucking dick!” In the same breath, actress, Sibu Gcilitshana has personally shared with me her experience of missing out on roles because she was not willing to sleep with directors – I was working as a production assistant for Quizzical Pictures when she shared this, assuring me that I would be surprised to hear the names.
During my second year working in the media and staying in Cape Town, I was completely appalled by the plague that is patriarchy, as every second friend of mine had a rape story they told me. Although it was different, this violence and sense of entitlement that men had towards women began to mirror the violence we endured at home at the hands of male family members; verbal, emotional and psychological. Worse, the culture of protecting the abuser was also too familiar.
The years that followed these realizations have seen me re-locating myself in the conversation of patriarchy, feminism and violence. Sometimes, I get it right and sometimes, I fail dismally in being part of the problem. I must say, I speak more on an one-on-one basis now because often, I found myself misconstrued when the conversation was a Hashtag or public. I hope this is not a form of patriarchy silencing me, and that it is really what I view to be constructive.
Now, knowing that as a woman, walking in Johannesburg CBD is practically war, knowing that more than 80% of my girlfriends have been raped by men and coming from a heavily violent and patriarchal family, the new film, The People Vs Patriarchy, immediately caught my attention from its trailer. My colleague, knowing where I stand with patriarchy, showed it to me, and further explained that his friend, Lebogang Rasethaba is the director of the film, and I wasn’t that surprised because the colleague in question is also self-introspecting on his own contribution in violent hypermasculinity.
IOL reported that “the latest out of the MTV Africa stable is a jarring documentary about patriarchy and its hold on South Africans. The sequel to The People vs the Rainbow Nation, The People vs Patriarchy is a one hour and 15-minute conversation that is sub-divided to try and get the viewer engaging on this social pandemic.”
Rasethaba is obviously an amazing director and an exceptional storyteller. He shot in Johannesburg and Cape Town, engaging people of different backgrounds in his conversation, something I was very worried about before I saw the film, because these conversations usually happen in certain cliques. His personal opening statement in the film was; “I can’t make this film without acknowledging my own personal history of fuckieness; undermining women, being manipulative emotionally…”
So, in his conversation with himself, South African men and women, and books such as Pumla Gqola’s Rape: A South African Nightmare, Rasethabile sought to divide the film into five parts.
Chapter 1: Gender Norms
“The same way we accept in conversation, you know? You accept your mate when he says something shocking like, ‘Ha, makalala ngiyangena!’”
“Where are the queer men and [insert other marginalized genders besides heterosexual cis men] who were leading the struggle during apartheid?” asks Activist, Wanelisa Xaba, alluding to the fact that celebrated figures have historically been heterosexual men.
Ultimately, if we look at the systematic role of the white man and man of colour, it’s different but the same. The white man’s role is to fuck up the entire society, whether he takes on his father’s mining or farming business which is derived from the exploitation of just about everyone or has merely benefited from the privilege of being white. And, the man of colour must be strong, do hardcore jobs, be away from his family and come home to beat his wife.
Gender norms are what leave trans-gendered people in the margins, because it is not a norm. Where do we place them? How do we refer to them? And, the most violent thing we do is be offended by the choices they make in their own bodies.
Chapter 2: Toxic Gendering
This political dangerous gender roles normalization is reflective of how private homes are in perpetuating toxic gendering, where the girl child has always had to be assigned the ‘deputy mom’ role, doing most of the domestic chores and sometimes, getting the smallest piece of the meat, which she has cooked. More was said on this, from the expectations for women to take on their husband’s name, projecting a woman’s love for a man to have sacrifice (of herself) at its heart.
Basically, men are performing masculinity and women are performing femininity. Linked to this is the trending of musician, Emtee, who ended up being shamed for his small penis, which is linked to the size of his manhood. And, indeed, men are at a crisis in this regard because every poster in Johannesburg is about “Penis Enlargement.” A man’s masculinity is linked to sex, and rape is part of this because as power-driven as rape is, it’s still a sexual experience, and so, conquering is at the center of manhood. How could Emtee possibly conquer with that little penis; this shaming, by the way, is something I am guilty as charged of. I should really do better.
Chapter 3: #MenAreTrash
#MenAreTrash means what Gcilitshana asks in the film – “when is this [violence] not my daily experience [as a woman]?” because all the signs and symbols everywhere are aimed at proving my inferiority and lack of ability to think for myself.
In fact, an abuser who was interviewed in the film said “My message to men is that they should not hesitate to discipline their women. A little spanking won’t kill her.”
So, yes, it’s true – violence has the face of a black woman, from everyone. And, this understanding of violence and black men as trash must not take away from the fact that while black men are the faces of violators, black men have very little power in systematic violence towards everyone, and we should not forget how normal it is for white men to be extremely violent to millions and billions of people. Hell, the entire Africa was violated by white men!
In addressing mothers, a conversation between daughters and mothers revealed that women sometimes enable trash. The mothers of the abusers slam the victims for speaking out, and when one mother (as all our mothers do) argued that these problems can be solved by surrendering to God’s protection, a younger woman asked; “Why yena [uThixo] angangiProtectanga the time umuntu ang’Rap(a)?”
For Youtuber and activist, Sibu Mpanza, men were offended by #MenAreTrash because suddnely, they had to deal with the things that were mentioned, which they did at one point in their lives. Some men were adamant that #NotAllMen, while others argued that men are too quick to defend themselves in not being trash, but are never in solidarity with women.
Chapter 4: Call-outs
“Even though we know who we are talking about, no one is dropping the names.”
Okmalumkoolkat was a big topic in “calling out” rapists and sexual assaulters. And, without diverting from the film’s commentators and activists, it’s always been interesting to watch how protective even women who are raped are of rapists, when it’s men they know, because no matter how violent rape is, it’s different and personal when your father or brother did it.
In Latent Rapists, Ntozakhe Shange writes;
“Women relinquish all personal rights the presence of a man who apparently could be considered a rapist, especially if he has been considered a friend. He is no less worthy of being beat within an inch of his life. being publicly ridiculed having two fists shoved up his ass. And the stranger he always thought it would be who never showed ups it turns out the nature of rape has changed. We can now meet them in circles we frequent for companionship. We see them at the coffeehouse with someone else we know. We can even have them over for dinner & get raped in our own houses by invitation.”
This realization and in the context of the film is where I think the most critical conversation happened for Rasethaba, who was a friend of Okmalumkoolkat.
The questions raised were; how do we continue supporting his music knowing what we know? And, speaking to my colleague about this, I was clear about the fact that men need to call out men. As women, we are already painted with the “angry feminist” brush that men are always in defense mode when we speak. The men who are our allies must do their work around other men.
Chapter 5: Change
In conclusion, fifteen years ago, I never imagined that a man would curate this kind of a conversation. I experienced patriarchy, although I didn’t have the appropriate linguistics to name it, and for me, men were men; boys were boys, it was up to me to cover myself up. No man did anything about it. So, men who have come out to challenge themselves and their privilege is a huge step towards the right direction. Yes, it doesn’t end there, because if men can be violent towards women, then surely, they can use this power towards positivity.
I am focusing on men because unfortunately, patriarchy has been left to feminist groups, even though it’s a plague killing both men and women. Rape is not a women’s issue, it’s a men’s issue.
Nakhane Toure, who has had his fair share of patriarchy after starring in the film, The Wound, said, “the only way men can change is if they feel forced to change.”
I agree. Legislation needs to be tighter on gender-based violence. Thus, when we deal with violence, let us remember that our beloved president, Jacob Zuma, is also a culprit and that, “rape in South Africa isn’t a moment, it’s a language,” in the words of Pumla Gqola.