Woe unto you if you step in the path of a powerless, patriarchal male - he will make you pay for the pain of his emasculation, writes Simphiwe Dana.
She wore brown dungarees. A yellow T-shirt, Jackie Brown laughing with a poofy afro on her heavy breasts. In her takkies she walked with swagger that most claim is the abode of men. She had exuberance, a big laugh, and a warm heart. She feared no one, and wanted to make fearful no one. Her eyes would squint at you behind her nerdy glasses as she threw her head back in a guffaw. She could not be owned, she was free, and she wanted to own no one. Freed from the falsification of our spiritual origins by love, she had become a loner in her marvelling. Finally she could lay the anger to rest in the arms of true love. Yes, she had a spring in her step. The wolf-whistles and catcalls washed off her like she was shedding prisons. Prisms winked at her and she marvelled at the colour love had bathed her life with. Love had kicked the rebel out of her.
She should have hidden her light. In the shadows of her wonderings a storm was brewing.
You see, unlike the anger that drives some straight men to kill a gay man, the anger that drives some straight men to kill a lesbian is tainted with a sense of ownership over her body.
As a woman, no matter how successful you look, even a beggar on the street believes they own your body. I have experienced this. "Hello nice, hello baby!" Some men will even go the length of touching you, grabbing you. You have to put on a bulletproof mask when you leave your house, so that you may not be emotionally incensed enough to want to lash out in anger.
Instead of changing the vampiric nature of patriarchal society, we try to change the victim. Maybe you must dress differently, maybe change your attitude, we say.
Patriarchy is a power game. Woe unto you if you step in the path of a powerless, patriarchal male. He will make you pay for the pain of his emasculation. He does not even have to know you to punish you for his disappointments.
She was found behind a spaza shop. Naked, sprawled in a bloody mess of skin and bone. Spread eagled, a green beer bottle peeking out of her privates. They had bashed her skull in, the shards from her nerdy glasses dug deep into her skull. Where her breasts had been were two, raw, flat, circles. They had taken her breasts with them as souvenirs of a womanhood she didn't deserve. She was a bloody pulp of skin and bone. Close by, lay her clothes. They had been folded neatly, only had a few splatters of blood. She had undressed and calmly folded her clothes. Maybe she had hoped to wear them afterwards. She did not fathom the violence of their intentions. See, she had been here before. She had an 18-year-old daughter to prove it.
Monitoring our bodies. Measuring our ripeness. We do not own our bodies. Maybe the religionists are right – you can only be free in death. So I remember her hearty laugh. I remember her mischievous eyes, teasingly studying mine to see if I had not changed teams yet. I remember her smile that cloaked so much sadness. By remembering I hope to keep the memory of her circumstance alive, to keep my sanity, to know that I did not just dream it. I am not imagining it. My body is not my own. One step out of this understanding and I might just end up behind the spaza shop, with stray dogs lapping at my blood. I will not let her be a statistic, as it happens with so many black bodies, because my existence is not the summation of a statistic.
I am tired of understanding my man's emasculation, as if I were not there, going through my woman's emasculation. I was there, under some sweaty, fat, red faced master and his sons. I too have sacrificed my humanhood to keep the peace and preserve a little of myself. And I have managed to keep seeing beauty. I have loved my children, born out of my humiliation, even when they spat at the roughness of the uncertainty of my touch. I have loved my man, even when he sought refuge in the breaking of my bones. I have, like a mother hen, protected and nurtured my family.
Your problem is that you believe you deserve better than me. That is why you insist your story is more important than mine.
We obviously cannot navigate the waters of our oppression without dealing with this – the oppression that exists between the two of us. The oppression that puts us on different sides of a predicament we both identify with.
Come my love! Let us explore this here truth. Conditioning, like religion, is not for us. We have turned into monsters in our rebelliousness. Because this seed, dropped in the copulation that would birth us, this seed that is tightly woven into our remembering, it will not let us be great. When George Orwell said: "some are more equal than others" it was because he eavesdropped on our past. He found the weakness that would keep us on our knees. For we understand hierarchy. Finally ... You, would understand how it feels to have a master, like we womenfolk do. Of course we would suffer the most for it. For the anger, in a trickle-down system of doing things, also trickles down – a deepening dam on the lowest wrung of society, choking our vision and setting rot to our foundation. I watch how you suffer. I see how you don't see me holding a mirror to your pain.
We are all going through our own ugliness. The hierarchy of ugliness won't allow us to break free. The more we fight, the more it sinks its hooks deeper into our naïve delusions/convictions of innocence. Because none are innocent ... though some are more innocent than others.
Come my love. Let us find a place where we can let go of all this madness. A place where the smile of our eyes, the readiness of our bodies, is all we need to decipher the truth of the life we seek. This is the death we seek. For it keeps us alive. We lived. And the raw uncouthness of the days of our lives electrifies the truth-seeking of our progeny ... as the struggle continues.