Fantastic news: Women’s Month is over. Until next August. I breathe a huge sigh of relief.
Yet I believe in Women’s Day and Women’s Month and celebrate the fact that we can focus on the rampant and wide-ranging harm we experience.
South Africa has the highest rape, femicide (men murdering women partners) and assault cases in the world.
Lesbians are brutally murdered because they are lesbian.
Women of the same equivalent in professions earn less than men.
Women struggle to keep their surnames when they get married. (It’s befuddling that it’s our “maiden” names we want to keep when we are not “maidens”.)
It will take up too much space to describe everyday sexism – the stereotypes we have to fend off – and the exhaustion of trying to prove our capabilities or worth.
Why breathe a huge sigh of relief that Women’s Month is over, if there is so much to tackle?
I get more and more annoyed with the media in August – all those who focus on the ANC Women’s League. These aunties do not represent women’s interests, never mind the feminist cause, and they never have. They defend patriarchy; they will die for the ANC but never for women. They are not even part of the mainstream post-feminist liberal narrative about women. They are historic relics of the liberation movement – fighting for the glorious revolution and all men who lead it, including those who have had rape charges against them.
So what happens in newsrooms on August 9 and during Women’s Month?
People start scrambling around for women’s stories. These range from the fluffy pink teddy-bear stuff and inspirational profiles of black women mathematics professors reaching the pinnacles of success despite the odds to the history of women’s struggles and the hard-hitting realities of women’s intersectional struggles of race, class and gender, especially in the context of endemic violence.
No objections to all of the above.
Not all newsrooms leave things to the last minute. The Star (which is edited by a white male, showing it’s a consciousness that counts more than skin colour or gender) produced a well-thought-out edition on August 9, focusing solely on women and history – the 1956 march by 20 000 women of all races to Pretoria’s Union Buildings in protest against having to carry passes.
You definitely can’t essentialise maleness: a man called SAFM’s Media Show, the topic of which was how women were represented in the media, to say he was sick of the usual “three men on a panel talking nonsense. What about women from marginalised rural and mining communities being given a voice?”
This August, the best and the worst of Women’s Month took place.
The worst (no, it’s not the fluffy stuff) was this feeling that we were bombarded by images of the Women’s League on broadcast media. And they spoke unintelligibly about respect and dignity. Respect and dignity for what and for whom? A cringeworthy August.
But it was also the best August since democracy. While the president was making his speech at the Electoral Commission results centre four young, black student women silently stood in front of him with placards protesting against rape. It was spectacular.
Another best happened. As the president unveiled bronzes of leaders of 1956 march at the Union Buildings, women from the One in Nine campaign staged a naked protest against rape with an “Up yours” sign.
Where were the TV cameras and newspaper reporters during this amazing anti-rape protest? Focusing on the president, and interviewing the retrogressive, out-of-touch Women’s League.
Was the One in Nine protest too radical for mainstream media? The media missed the story because they focused on what they thought was most newsworthy. But the story of women today is not the Women’s League or the ministry of women run by … hmmm, not so sure.
What could the media do in August?
They could, for the whole month, interview only women analysts and commentators.
They could focus on the marginalised groups such as the more relevant One in Nine movement, rather than the outdated Women’s League.
They could do research on inequality – for example comparing the incomes of women and men who have the same qualifications.
They could make the public aware of the problem by giving voice to the sexism women experience on a daily basis.
This year’s August saw women rise, especially young black women. They need more media coverage and support.
It would be fantastic not to breathe a huge sigh of relief that Women’s Month is over.
Glenda Daniels is a senior lecturer in media studies at the University of the Witwatersrand