Last week I had the pleasure of joining the WAR Campaign on their school tour. This tour involves visiting various schools around Cape Town where they speak to high school students about rape while dispelling myths and stereotypes present in South African culture. When I arrived at Hillsong Church last Monday I truly had no idea what to expect from the experience- I had never attended Hillsong Church before and had never even heard of the WAR Campaign until the week previous. My first impression was how large, modern, and beautiful the building was and also how young the members of the campaign were- I myself am 24 years old, but I was not expecting for them to be in their twenties as well. This sparked my interest. They all gave off this very cool, hip, down to earth vibe which I assumed would greatly benefit their campaign since I expected that the high school students would see them as people that they could either relate to or view as great examples of who they could one day become. We all shared introductions, collected the campaign posters, stickers, pamphlets and the sound system, and all then piled into the van to drive to the first school in Mitchells Plain.
There is an American televangelist—Pat Robertson—who shares a birthday with me (22 March and I like chocolate, in case you were wondering). But date of birth aside, him and I have precious little in common. He is a rampant homophobe, sexist and racist; justifying his opinions by cowering behind the cross. He has said things to rival Trump but he hit the nail on the head when he said that feminism “encourages women to leave their husbands, kill their children, practice witchcraft, destroy capitalism and become lesbians”. I can personally attest to the accuracy of Robertson’s supposition. Since identifying as a feminist I have worn my Che Guevara t-shirt publicly, started dating women and have been called—on numerous occasions by numerous men—a feminist bitch (the ‘b’ replaces the ‘w’ in the antifeminist cis-het-man dialect). And I as I have yet to find a husband or breed—as far as the leaving and the killing are concerned I can’t make any promises. The salient point here is that I am a full-blown feminist. And proud of it.
I had decided to stay out of the debate on the Rape Crisis blog between “Fifty Shades of Feminism” and “Burlesque”, posts by the present and former directors of Rape Crisis. Many reasons: remembering being the “angry young feminist”, feeling caught between the older and younger generations of feminists, but most of all, affection for the personalities behind the blogs. I’ve seen Carol dancing with joy in the shepherd’s cottage she calls home, goats and flowers outside. I’ve asked her how the sam hill she keeps up her tireless international advocacy for raped and abused children without losing her mind. Her response is to crank up the music and dance some more.
And then there’s Kath, with whom I go back so far, the letters she wrote me when I went travelling (which I still have) were written by hand. It was a time of boyfriends and breakups and brothers and baked potatoes. Some of the people we loved in those long-gone years are dead now, so she’s become one of my memory-bank friends. And we have the tie of Rape Crisis too, an organisation I’ve orbited since the late 1980s. I’ve never been a member, but I’ve been a researcher and consultant for the organisation on and off since 2001.
Dear Carol and Anne
I am one of the burlesque dancers you seem so intent on dehumanizing and invalidating.
I am also a rape survivor.
When I originally read Carol’s letter, I was hurt, she was after all, effectively telling me that my efforts to support my fellow survivors were invalid simply because our feminisms don’t align. She was telling me that her feminism is better and more valid than mine. But I made an effort to understand where Carol was coming from, her feminism, and how what she was feeling might have some validity based on her background and beliefs. Despite her very weak attempts to “research” burlesque and her complete refusal to actually engage with a single one of the dancers she was condemning, I tried not to judge. I even considered thanking her for her part in creating Rape Crisis, an organisation that I wholly support today. Even if the organisation and those who operate within it have moved on, moved forward, hers was a vital and necessary role back in her day, and I wanted to acknowledge that.
Then I read Anne’s letter.
Then I read them both again.
Now I am angry.
Why I am unhappy about the Rape Crisis association with Burlesque shows.
It has been so difficult writing this blog, I have begun it and deleted it a number of times. As Kath Dey stated in her blog there are different forms of feminism, I want to expand on that.
I care about the women who work in Rape Crisis and I admire the achievements of the organisation. As old as I am I’m a very current, relevant type of feminist, my politics are radical feminist and this aspect of the feminist political spectrum has made a significant impact over the years on exposing the horrors of the global patriarchal culture of rape and femicide. Even in this time of backlash against feminist politics radical feminists all over the world are fighting back.
This particular analysis lead to the anger and energy that formed rape crisis organisations, battered women’s refuges, exit programs and safe houses for prostituted women attempting to escape pimps, brothels and traffickers throughout the world. Radical feminist research informs and assists with the creation of special police units, created to stop sex trafficking and rescue and rehabilitate women and girls. These liaise with each other and Interpol across continents.
Message from Kathleen Dey
It’s time for change.
The Department of Justice needs to roll out the full number of Sexual Offences Courts as promised by the Minister of Justice in 2013. We all have to work together to hold them accountable to their promise.
To this end we launched the Rape Survivor’s Justice Campaign on 9 August 2016, National Women’s Day. For more on this campaign, please go to our website, and support us in this.
Change is also needed on other levels as well.
Rape Crisis is engaged in a constant battle to challenge rape culture and its impact on the way people behave.
Rape is both personal and political. It is a deeply personal violation committed by one person against another. But it is also a symptom of a social context in which inequality, disempowerment and violence continue to shape the daily experiences of millions. Within this context it becomes almost impossible to separate the personal and the political.
I am familiar with the political context of rape. As a researcher with a particular interest in gender I have both read and conducted research which explores how particular, socially salient, versions of masculinity and femininity scaffold acts of violence, including sexual violence by men against women, children and other men. I have listened to countless songs on the radio and seen innumerable movies and adverts that position women as sexual objects. I have read frequent posts on social media which celebrate patriarchy. I have also heard numerous rape jokes.
It’s such a wonderful thing as you get older as a woman that you finally start realising how beautiful and super human, we women are. We are so unkind to ourselves and other women for so much of our lives – comparing, judging and sometimes ridiculing – this is from lack of confidence most of the time.
We learn from a young age to give men the upper hand and the “boss” role, most young girls are nurtured like this. I have seen it working with young boys and girls. It starts very young with nappy changes and how the male body and wonderful little penis are celebrated (mommy practically clapping hands when he pees with out his nappy on) and girls get no such awe. We are told to cover up and close our legs.
If we women really loved ourselves more, inside and out we wouldn’t see nudity as bad, burlesque shows as objectifying or men as the be all and end all. We would be treated better by men as we wouldn’t put up with their egos. Bad male egos start when boys are raised in a house they are not being treated in a loving manner as young boys by a tired, unloved, unconfident mother, sister or grandmother. It starts and ends with women.
The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of the Rape Crisis Cape Town Trust. We invite anyone reading this to share your opinion and submit your piece to our Director, Kathleen Dey, at email@example.com for publication on this site. We hope to spark our own debate to see what feminists of today, and any other day, think and feel.
- Follow: The Rape Survivors Justice Campaign
- Follow: Rape Crisis Cape Town Trust
- Speak To Us: 24-hour helpline: 021 447 9762
- Become a writer for Rape Crisis
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I found out via a phone call from Anne Mayne that Rape Crisis was benefiting from a burlesque revue (and did in fact receive around R36,000 if memory serves). My initial reaction was disbelief and then a sort of creeping horror. I simply could not understand that what I felt was the objectification of women’s bodies and sexuality could be used to raise funds for an organisation like Rape Crisis, founded by a radical feminist and sustained through the first really tough seven years by radical feminists, with a feminist analysis of rape as a tool of the patriarchy. Surely it should be obvious, I thought, that women stripping themselves of their clothes for entertainment was the very antithesis of feminism?
This was a gut reaction−I had heard of burlesque but had no real idea about it beyond an instinctive aversion.
But, no, I was told, these women feel empowered; they are reclaiming their sensuality; some of them are rape survivors and this is an expression of their healing; it’s very tastefully done; the only men in the audience where there by specific invitation and all the performers and technical staff were women.
A response to the Fifty Shades of Feminism post.
To begin, the title of the blog post has my feminist blood boiling. Yes, the populist book had a catchy title, but inside the cover on the pages was the antithesis of strength or did it have very little to do with ‘the personal is political’ motto of the feminist movement. Read the Sexual Life of Catherine M, now that is an honest vulnerable sex empowered tale.
To the focus of the article, which in a simple reduced summery is about what feminists accept as what a feminist should look like, the waves of what appearances have meant and when and why. In my blatant gut reaction, the fact that it is even up for debate is against what I have been taught is a feminist. Feminists are a rainbow, women, lesbians, working moms, stay at home moms, stay at home moms who are lesbians, men who are supportive of women, anyone who has the appreciation and commitment to fight for any individual who does not feel part of the status quo. Feminism is the concept that humans have the right to have power and be empowered, regardless of their lifestyle choices. (Obviously without the intention to harm others.)