/ 29 January 2009

A cup of cold tea with no sympathy please

Two things happened towards the end of last year that really lifted my skirt and that made me feel better about the world I live in.

First an Iraqi journo threw both his shoes at George Bush during a press conference. Then, shortly before Christmas, Steve Hofmeyr threw a cup of cold tea in the face of the editor of Huisgenoot, You and Drum magazines, Esmare Weideman.

These two incidents excited me. Not only because they’re concerned with my profession, journalism, but because both illuminate something profound about how such delightfully disrespectful and personal gestures cut through the assumptions and artifices of those in power. On all our behalf.

There’s nothing for me to add about why an Iraqi would feel compelled to throw his shoes at the now, thank God, former United States president.

The Hofmeyr-Weideman-tea-throwing at Sun City during a breakfast with all the Miss South Africa finalists has its own satisfying impact.

The Bush/Weideman-analogy is not so far-fetched: in their respective worlds both command, wield and execute amazing amounts of power.

In any case Bush is (or was) a bit like an editor. He embodies all the spin and crap that we’ve been fed — and in my profession’s case repeated in print — by the US in the past eight years.

Weideman is editor of the three biggest-selling magazines in the country. More than one million people read them and, collectively, they are worth millions and are the most sacred cows in the Media24 stable.

Weideman has far more power over Steve Hofmeyr’s life than he has over hers.

She can sit in her office and look over Cape Town harbour at the oilrigs lying in the docks and, using her vast network of reporters and photographers, decide to ”do a Hofmeyr story” with or without his permission.

She can post photographers outside his house round the clock to get snapshots of him. She can speak to anonymous sources who can say whatever they want and then publish it.

For sure Hofmeyr can bad-mouth her from the stage, but his live audience will number in the low thousands.

Man, this lady Weideman can decide on a 18 pica-font (that’s big letters, believe me) printed in red across his face on the cover which says something like ”REVEALED”; ”HIS DARKEST SECRETS”.

Weideman knows that Hofmeyr’s face and his ”losbek” (that he likes shooting off) sells mags and she taps that for all it’s worth: this newspaper does the same in its way and we journalists would probably do the same as Weideman’s team if we worked for You or Huisgenoot.

Weideman is no disempowered or voiceless woman. She is no victim and she is absolutely not a powerless woman who needs handling with kid gloves because she wears a bra.

So she gets a cup of tea in her face — the equivalent of the British pie.

And instead of changing her shirt and ordering a stiff drink to nurse her bruised ego — which is after all what got wet — she cries ”WOMEN ABUSE!”

Weideman is adamant: she will take Hofmeyr to court and take a stand against any form of violence and physical abuse against women. ”It’s my responsibility to protect the brand (Huisgenoot, You and Drum) and it’s my duty to journalism to make a stand against the bullying of journalists,” she said.

Weideman and her friends such as Joan Hambidge (a language professor from the University of Cape Town) call on all feminists and women to rally around this ”abuse of power”. Meaning Hofmeyr’s.

In last week’s Die Burger Hambidge said she’s ”surprised that so few feminists reacted against his action”.

Helloooo! You can’t cry victim and ask for a special brand of protection and sympathy with a corporate title and a printing press under your arm.

You can’t wear the boots of the powerful; drive their cars; speak their language and then, when you get a cup of — cold — tea in your face, play the helpless, disempowered female card.

Weideman and Hambidge are trying to spin Hofmeyr’s action not as an attack against Weideman the editor, but against Weideman the woman.

It’s nonsense. It plays the breasts card to score sympathy and it’s wrong.

Feminists are not responding to this incident because there are hundreds of thousands of real abused and powerless women in this country. They really need rallying around.

As an editor, Weideman is fair game. Tits and all.

PS: I’m sure Esmare Weideman is a great person and by all accounts she’s a fantastic editor. I don’t think the same about George Bush.