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.
Now that we have established the strength of my feminism, I’d like to talk about Rape Crisis as a feminist organisation that works with rape survivors. When I started at Rape Crisis, I was confronted by the fact that many of the people who were also training as counsellors were hesitant to call themselves feminists. At the time, I took issue to this. I didn’t understand why anyone somehow at the frontlines of the rape epidemic could still consider feminism a dirty word. It was only when I started counselling that I understood.
My work at Rape Crisis entails sitting across from a person who has experienced rape and trying to navigate some sort of recovery. Sometimes that person cries. Sometimes that person doesn’t show any emotion and sometimes, that person is not a feminist.
Survivors are also at the frontlines; they have experienced patriarchy in one of its most violent manifestations. I believe that rape is a feminist issue and I believe that feminism is key to challenging and fighting it. But I no longer believe that people in this war have to ride the waves or skip the sandwiches or enjoy the feminism that has become my lifeblood. In my hour with a survivor I am not dealing with patriarchy, I am dealing with pain. I can make it an academic issue and apply it to the couch but my belief in feminism is not the message the survivor needs. I cannot prescribe healing by directing a survivor away from the patriarchy. I cannot rationalise what happened to them through academic insights. I cannot decide that feminist empowerment is the only kind of empowerment for a person who has survived rape. In that hour, I am dealing with personal and unique modes of survival. And while this sometimes entails deconstructing destructive and violent systems of masculine control, it always entails a person who is hurting. That hurt is what I have the ability to address. And that ability was honed and cultivated in me by the wonderful feminists and not-so-feminists at Rape Crisis. My job is to equip survivors with tools for recovery and ideally one of those tools would be feminism. But I am not there to dictate or indoctrinate or preach. This b(w)itch will leave that to the Pat Robertsons of the world.
Ronel is a volunteer counsellor at Rape Crisis and is studying History at UCT. In her spare time she likes to read, knit and visit the love of her life, Yoshi the sea turtle, at the Two Oceans Aquarium.