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Opinion: Patriarchy - let them eat cock

Chris Roper

Suggestions that the way to end sexism and rape is to have a better, more ethical patriarchy is lamentably divorced from reality, writes Chris Roper.

Protesters in front of the Bredasdorp Magistrate's Court. (David Harrison, M&G)

So I'm sitting in a sauna in a gym in Pretoria (long story), and there's this guy lying on the wooden slats idly playing with his penis, like a man patting his pet pit bull while slumped on the couch watching SuperSport. He strikes up a conversation, and it turns out we both went to Camps Bay High School, although in different centuries.

I nervously start extolling Camps Bay's virtues – sun, sea, gorgeous surfers of both genders, general mellowness – and he interrupts me. "My mother forced me to go there for matric, I hated it. They didn't even have woodwork! I was in a boys-only school beforehand, it was great. Boys shouldn't have to go to school with girls."

I'm a little dumbfounded, and obviously I don't want to arouse the sleeping pit bull, but I have to venture. "Uh, but surely ... I mean, girls and stuff?"

He's adamant. "It's the worse thing you can do, put boys with girls. I tell you bru, a boys-only school – it's more spiritual, it's about respect. Sure, in the first year they pick on you, smack you around a little, but after that ..."

I was reminded of the sorely predictable, and tragically unconscious, sexism evinced in the tweets of one Lionel Adendorf. Adendorf is a government spokesperson for the department of agriculture, forestry and fisheries, who was "inspired" by the rape and murder of Anene Booysen to make this comment: "#StopRapeNow – Mothers should not refuse affection from fathers or partners in front of the kids #RIPAnene #AneneBooysen".

Adendorf was challenged by many people, and you can read an account of his tweets in full, and a relatively positive communications trail between him and gender activist Michelle Solomon, on her blog. His response to his deserved evisceration might give you hope – in this sad world.

I'm paradoxically far more proud of Adendorf and his willingness to learn from his mistakes, however imperfectly understood, than I am of the hordes promoting the "real men don't rape" fallacy. And Adendorf really doesn't understand his mistakes in any meaningful sense. He ends his apology by saying: "Sometimes, when fast asleep, my son will feel my ears, kiss my cheeks and my forehead and even, when I am lucky, whisper that he loves me. That is what I wanna experience everyday but my wife, unfortunately, does not always like it when I kiss her when she is busy with her Cosmo or even the dishes." Even the dishes. Indeed.

But his tweets reveal that much of male society (and certainly some of female society, but that is material for another column, and probably another writer) is desperately out of touch with the real world in which women live. In much the same way, Marie Antoinette was reputed to have been entirely out of touch with the conditions of starving peasants in pre-revolutionary France. We now know that this was made up, but the popularly-believed story is that, when told that there wasn't enough bread to feed the poor, she said, "Let them eat cake."

In the same way, attempts by people like Adendorf, to suggest that the way to end sexism and rape is to have a better, more ethical patriarchy, are as much out of touch. It's a "let them eat cock" solution, if you will, and is lamentably divorced from reality. Religion and government cannot be reformed. There is no ideal state of being for those institutions that will stop the oppression of women. You can have as many women priests, pastors or imams as you want, they'll still be advocating the worship of a male god. You can have as many women ministers as you want, they'll still be spending a disproportionate amount of the budget on big guns.

While the call to teach your sons to be gentlemen (in one of Adendorf's tweets, for example, he says, "Be careful about the language used when referring to women or mothers. Children form their attitudes based on it"), can come from an ostensibly good impulse, it's inevitably still about perpetuating the stereotypes that allow men the existential freedom to rationalise rape. My acquaintance in the sauna believes that boys should be educated in a male only environment, because it keeps them authentically male, more certain of their place in the world.

But authentically male is the same as inauthentically human. Just as the aristocracy of France eventually lost their heads in a revolution that sprung from their sheer inability to comprehend the conditions of the people they ruled, patriarchy is going to have to undergo a violent revolution before its proponents can understand that their way of being in the world just doesn't work. Cake won't solve the problem, because cake IS the problem.

Chris Roper is the editor of the Mail & Guardian Online. Follow him on Twitter.


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