LOST IN TRANSLATION OR INTERPRETATION?


The Spear of the Nation: http://www.goodman-gallery.com/artists/brettmurray

I am deeply saddened by the recent events surrounding the Brett Murray solo art exhibition, Hail To The Thief II. This exhibition was hijacked by every possible and impossible pressure group, political party and affiliation to score points in the public eye and to whip up sympathy and loyalty for their own agendas. How sad that this exhibition was commandeered by so many causes, grudges and political motives as we can find in South Africa.

I believe that there are many stories to this exhibition and it could be understood in many ways. I would like to highlight only a few important cultural issues which I see: In most black societies’ a black man’s genitals should never be exposed. It is private but also probably the most graphic symbol of his power and superior position in our patriarchal society in terms of gender relations. It begs the question: was this offensive to Mr. Zuma and his supporters – yes I am sure it is to many. Was it insensitive and risky to use this image? Of cause it was, but can you think of ANY other image which would provoked as much response and attention?

Is this racist? To a certain degree some might see it as such. However, in my mind the only racial aspect is that many white (and black) South Africans) did not realized how sexually repressed we are as a nation and how differently we interpret sexual images. Our almost bewilderment about the different responses by the respective racial/cultural groups of South Africa still speaks about a deep sense of mistrust and lack of understanding of each others’ cultures and ways of making meaning and therefore neither white or black could appreciate the immense reaction to this. I think many of us were surprised but the outrage this painting caused – sadly outraged for very different reasons than one would have hoped for.

Did Mr. Zuma benefit from this circus and media frenzy – I believed he did, as now both his enemies and supporters are rallying behind him to defend his dignity and honor. Is this about Mr. Zuma’s private sex life, multiple wives and mistresses and illegitimate children? Well maybe to a certain degree, but in my mind this was not social commentary on sexual morality as such, but rather on gender morality and political power. When I speak of political power I am not referring to political parties but to power relations. Allow me to explain myself. The media and all other parties involved mostly focused on the Spear of the Nation painting in terms of exposed and vulgar sexuality without really contemplating the context of the exhibition and commentary thereof, as a whole.

To my mind this exhibition was about the abuse of power fuelled by a psyche of entitlement and corruption that has become almost endemic to most power structures in South Africa. It would also seem as many have a sense of retribution – this is now our time to have the good life! Maybe such a state of mind reflects the idiom which states: The oppressed becomes the worst oppressors. For me this state of mind is depicted by the changed position of the raised fist which used to be symbol to proclaiming freedom and strength. In Murray’s painting the fist is now in the position of a fist bounding on a surface – an action which I read as “we demand and  control”. This represents a subtle shift from strength and solidarity to that of power and control. The raised fist no longer represents taking a stand against injustice and freedom for all, but instead that of a demand of loyalty that will be achieved by control and force, whatever it takes. The control and force are supported and established by money!

I believe that this depiction of the coat of arms of the ANC crossed over by with a notice “For Sell /SOLD” comments on money being now the policy maker. I believe that this is a reflection about the ANC having lost the vision and spirit of the Freedom Charter, as it would seem as if it has become an organisation which is willing to re-write history in terms of the highest bidder’s agenda. If so, how incredibly sad and what more opt comment to this than “Biko is dead”!

I see most of the paintings as being about the view of  many South-Africans, who believe numerous comrades of the new regime became obsessed with self-enrichment, power and self-justification in the face of millions of poor people and a youth with so very little promise of any future.

Sadly, as a nation we look at this exhibition and all that we can see is a red penis exposed to the world – shaming and insulting of Mr. Zuma’s dignity and position. Have we become such a sex-obsessed society that we cannot see anything else? How is it possible that the media and most of the South African public zoomed in on the exposed genitals of a man without ever having a conversation with the artist about this “indecent exposure”? What should this conversation have been about you might ask? Well I would love to know what, according to the artist’s understanding, is happening in our society that he felt the need to use this image to make a social comment about abusive power, corruption and lost vision.

However, if we insist to make this painting about sex, let’s do so. Let us look the sexual legacy of our country. Rapes and gender based violence – highest in the world. Need I say: rape is not about sex but about power, which brings me full circle: back to power and the abuse of power. To my mind this exhibition had very little to do with sexual immorality, indecent exposure, sex or lust, but about power and the misappropriation and abuse thereof. Is it only me who can see this message of Brett Murray exhibition or did I got lost in translation or interpretation? Is this about sex or about abusive power? You decide.

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A DIFFERENT TAKE ON MOTHER’S DAY


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In South Africa we traditionally had very specific gender expectations and prescriptions for mothers. These prescriptions were often linked to and reinforced by religious ideas regarding gender roles within marriages. Men were seen as the head of the home and rightful breadwinners of the family, whilst mothers were supposed to be the homemakers/nurturers and the secondary (if at all) breadwinners. A pious mother was one who selfishly sacrificed herself for her family and preferably doing the sacrifice in such a way that no one will notice. Neither was she supposed to expect any recognition for her sacrificial serving of her family and community – thus a “exemplary” mother was subservient, soft-spoken and sacrificial.

These ideas have been internalised by most of the South African societies and many men and women still define motherhood and a mother’s morality in terms of her willingness and ability to be a homemaker. Thus to create a home which is inviting, cook wholesome food, bake wonderful treats, take care and be omnipresent in the lives of her children. She needs to be unconditionally supportive of her husband and be available to her greater family, circle of friend homely and the greater community. A noble idea, but to my mind a very tall order!

Mother’s day cards often sing the praises of women in terms of fulfilling roles of serving, unselfish care for others and always being strong, available and cheerful. Yet mothers are not honoured for taking care of themselves. They are not honoured for developing themselves as separate beings – outside the roles of mothers and wives. They are not honoured for setting boundaries that will ensure their own well-being and happiness. What message do we send to women (mothers) if we continue to only focus on and honour the traditional roles of mothers on Mother’s day?

Therefore I would like to invite you to honour your mothers (biological or other) this Mother’s day in different ways. Honour her for her ambition, for the example to create financial independence for herself, for being wise and taking time out when she needs it, for defining herself as so much more than just someone’s wife, mother or daughter.

This year I would like to honour my mom for always insisting on her right to have her autonomous and independent political views, even if it differed greatly from my dad’s. This caused many disagreements in our home, but now, as an adult, I can appreciate it. I would also like to express my appreciation for my husband’s mother. She raised a man with ideas that are outside the conventional traditional gender ideas. This is no small feat especially if one considers the time and socio-cultural and political context in which she raised her children. I honour these two mothers for their belief that there must be different and more life-giving ways than what the norm prescribed in their time.

Please share with me what unconventional and non-traditional ways of your mother you would like to honor.

 

“CORRECTIVE RAPE”


Two days ago I met with two Swedish researchers for a discussion about their research. Their research is about “corrective rape”, thus the rape of lesbian women because they are gay. The focus of their research is on how therapists and caregivers do hope in the absence of safety and any guarantee that the rape survivors will not have to endure again such violence against.

Sarah and Calle wanted to speak to me about how South Africans understand sexuality, sex and sexual violence. During our discussion I had a profound realisation which I want to share with you.

Ever since I heard the term “corrective rape” it made me extremely uncomfortable. At first I thought it was about the incredible injustice of this violent act, but soon realised it was not only about that. There was more to my discomfort and anger with this term. In my conversation with Sarah and Calle it dawned on me what my discomfort was about.

It was about the term “corrective” rape. This term implied that there was something to be “corrected”. Men rape lesbian women to punish and to “correct” them. Such perpetrators believe that being lesbian is a choice and therefore it can be change. “They just need to have a real man, and then these gay women will change.” Thinking about this made me realise that if we continue to use the term “corrective rape” we are using the language of the perpetrator and therefore give credibility to this mindset. We should reject the term “corrective rape” outright. This kind of rape is not about “correcting” but intends to humiliate, violating and harm another human being. There is nothing “corrective” about this.

I came to the conclusion that this kind of rape is not only about supposedly “correction.” I believe that this kind of rape is rooted in fear and the indignant anger which results from patriarchal discourse. How could a woman even think of rejecting a man by wanting to be with another man? How can a women challenge the system of what is “acceptable” – thus that a women would want to be with a man?

I then thought about what other term could be used. The term needs to portray what this rape is actually about. I thought about the term “unjust rape”, but all rapes are unjust! It left me with the question: “Why do men rape lesbians?” It was not only about power: there is more to it – it is specifically because they are lesbian. It is because lesbians women are judged and find “guilty”. Maybe one should speak of judgmental rape, but this again might imply that there is something to judge. The same goes for discriminating rape.

Maybe we need to use the term homophobic rape, because that is what it is. A hideous and repulsive act of violence based on an irrational phobia of gay people!

We need to be aware that language is powerful. Words can give legitimacy to and even rationalise horrific acts. In future, when you hear the term “corrective rape” you have a choice, you can just accept it, or you can challenge it.

Not tonight honey


Two weeks ago a male colleague of mine shared a “joke” with me. It was about the very old and boring joke of the husband giving his wife two paracetamol tablets after having dinner, to which the wife responds: ‘I don’t have a headache’, leaving him with a smirk on his face and the words, ‘Good, then you have no excuse’. I was instantly irritated by this “joke” and my aggravation did not dissipate as the days rolled on. At first I thought it must be because I regularly heard a very different story during couple’s sessions in my practice, as it is often the man and not the woman who is avoiding sex in a marriage or longstanding relationships. However, my uneasiness continued and this “joke” kept forcing its presence into my thoughts.

After two weeks I eventually decided to deconstruct my discomfort and agitation about this joke. It then dawn on me why this “joke” alarmed me to such an extent. It is because this joke is based on the general discourse that, firstly, most men have a higher libido than women, secondly, that sex is something that it done TO women and not WITH women and thirdly, that sex is often only seen in terms of penile penetration with the sole purpose of a male climax. I realized that neither the teller of this joke or the listeners thereof, asked, if ever, why do women often refuse sex or try and find “excuses” not to have sex. It then immediately left me with the undignified question: Why should a woman present an excuse not to have sex? Underlying to the ‘having to give an excuse’ is the mindset that women are supposed to give sex as it is their duty and what they are made for! In other words women are there for men’s sexual pleasure and not that men and women are equal partners who should enjoy sex with each other for both partners benefit.

Moreover, why do especially men not respond to this “joke” with the question: Why is it that women supposedly often do not want to have sex with her husband or partner? Does it not say more about him as a lover and how he engages in sexual play than about her libido? Furthermore, is it not because of the way in which he treats his wife/partner? May it be that due to how we understand and live gender roles in our homes and relationships that women are often totally overworked and just do not have the energy for sex, especially late at night? Anyway, who would like to be intimate or share pleasure with someone who treats you as being less than him or expects you to do the majority of the work around the house?

A smile slowly spread over my face as I realised this joke was actually on men. However, very few men will actually think this far or ask themselves what this joke is about. Maybe it is also not only indicative of many men’s short-sightedness but also of women internalisation of the idea that she is a sexual commodity. This joke is not only a dig towards women, but actually also towards some men and their inability or unwillingness to treat women as equals. By treating their wives and partners as inferior to them, they do not get to enjoy WITH their wives and partners the joys of the intimacy and the pleasures of the flesh!

This joke is not an impeachment against sexual unwilling wives, but about the unimaginative, boring, predictable, monotonous, inexperience, selfish, dismissive and unexciting clumsy sexual approaches and love play of men who don’t get it! They do not get it because they don’t get it on a physical, emotional or gender equality level!

Empty nest syndrome


Recently our youngest child flew the nest. Towards the end of last year I started to prepare myself for this event, as many people warned me about the empty nest syndrome. I also reminded my husband to prepare himself for this new phase in our lives, but he felt that I was putting the cart before the horse and that there was no need to run ahead of ourselves. Even so, I decided to visualise what our lives would be like and what I needed to do to embrace all that might come with the impending empty nest.

During this process of preparation I went through a period where I felt a sense of loss, but also a sense of achievement and excitement. I was excited about my daughter having the ability and opportunity to study at a university. I experienced a sense of accomplishment as we were able to guide and support towards her dreams, as we did for our eldest, her brother. She achieved her own goals and is now on her way to prepare herself for her adult life and an independent economic future. I realized that the home would be much quieter, but after twenty one years of sharing my space, being mom’s taxi, and organising my days in such a way that I would be available to my home and my family, whilst juggling post graduate studies and a practice, I was looking forward to the freedom that the empty nest would bring to my daily routine.

The big day arrived and we helped our daughter settle in her new living space. On our way home, both my husband and I experienced sadness, some anxiousness but also excitement about her prospects and the future ahead of her.

The next day I continued with my life and though I missed my daughter dearly, I really enjoyed and cherished the arrival of this new phase of my life. For the first time in twenty one years it was just my husband and I in our home. Our couple-hood had the opportunity to take centre stage, without interruptions or competition for shared energy and time or the needs of our children. BLISS! I could honestly exclaim: ‘Empty nest syndrome, what empty nest syndrome?’

About a week after our daughter’s departure, my husband started to really struggle. I often found him in our daughter’s room, stroking her cat, staring into space with tears in his eyes. Eventually he shared: ‘This is so much harder than what I ever thought it would be. I miss them terribly and feel without direction and purpose’. My husband has always been a very involved dad and used to do things like the kids’ breakfast, packing their lunch boxes and helping with other chores. Suddenly he came home with no one to engage with but me, who was quite happy with the void, I must add.

His sense of usefulness diminished and he felt without purpose. After two weeks of tears and deep sadness, he engaged with me in a long discussion about his experiences. He shared that for so many years his sole purpose (to his mind) was to provide financially. As a white South African Christian man he was indoctrinated from a very early age that he was supposed to be the primary breadwinner, he needed to take care of and protect his family. Suddenly this purpose seemed fulfilled and what now? The children were on their way to independence … what was his purpose now?

Was his response due to a midlife crises or indicative of the patriarchal society we life in? Why did everyone expected me to experience the empty nest syndrome but not my husband?

Often so much emphasis is placed on men’s role as the financial provider, that providing on other levels are ignored. My husband did so much more than just provided financially, yet he could not see this. He was unable to see that he will continue to provide in many other ways in our children’s and their children’s lives!

You might wonder in what other ways did my husband provide. He provided and supported on an emotional level in terms of co-parenting by co-creating an environment in which the following could thrive: stability and safety, encouragement, companionship, wisdom, emotional comfort and physical presence. He was also the handy man, fixing stuff and the one who knew how to do things. He gave hugs, read bedtime stories, had dad and son talks, dad and daughter talks. He contributed by loving me as the mother of our children. They saw him treating his wife with respect and equality, creating positive ways-of-being, living with integrity and honouring his personal moral compass.

Looking at the multiple ways in which my husband provided made me wonder why it is so difficult for men to see beyond their contributions other than just financial provider? Did patriarchal ideas become so internalized that men (and women) are unable to see their own worth in terms of their contributions to their families? Why do men (and women) buy into the discourse that the most important function in a family is that of breadwinner? Did the church, with its rigid gender role prescriptions regarding the man as breadwinner and the woman as caretaker and nurturer, create a society which values financial contribution of a man more than emotional and spiritual partnership? Did these patriarchal ideas, as often promoted by churches, contributed to a materialistic mindset which undermines men’s constructions of themselves as fathers and husbands and even as human beings? Did this turn men into walking purses with no apparent other function?

 

Conversation on Liberation Theology – Why do we need feminist theology?


For my readers who understand Afrikaans: I participated in a radio programme on liberation theology, on Sunday, 18 March at 19:00. You can download this conversation at: http://www.rsg.co.za/images/upload/sound/klanke/20120318_KRUIS_EN_DWARS.mp3

For my English speaking readers – a summary of my ideas regarding feminist theology and  the relevance of it in the South African society follows:

WHY DO WE NEED FEMINIST THEOLOGY?

For centuries the church was (and still is) steeped in patriarchy. The church mostly speaks with a male voice, which often excludes women’s experiences. One needs to understand that when one deals with religious scriptures and traditions, context becomes of the utmost importance. In Biblical times men had absolute dominance over women as women were seen are possessions. Women had no access to education and only a few educated men determined what would be seen as scriptural and what not. Throughout the centuries this tradition continued, often to the detriment of women. This mindset continued in the South African society and was especially apparent in the structures of the Apartheid regime.

Within the South African context, the Dutch Reformed Church (DRC) played a major constituting role and was used to further the Apartheid ideology. White males were positioned as the rightful rulers over women and all other races within South Africa society. Women’s voices were absent in most power structures, especially in the church. It was only as recently as 1982 that women were allowed to the office of deacon, and that of elder and ordained minister since 1990 within the DRC. Gender role definitions and prescriptions were at the heart of female subordination and formed the basis of arguments for women’s exclusion from ordained ministry. Although the DRC recently celebrated the 20th anniversary of women in ordained ministry, at present there are only 68 women who work in congregations as DRC ministers, thus only 4,13% of the total number of ordained ministers in the DRC (DRC Yearbook 2011).

However, feminist theology is not only needed to ensure that more women are allowed to fully participate as ordained ministers. In South Africa more than half of all congregants are female, yet the male voice continues to prescribe, determine and enforce the way how women are allowed to participate. It is time that Christians move away from this patriarchal status quo in order to give women a voice which will enable them to participate and set their agenda with regards to their spiritual needs and insights. Moreover feminist theology is about inviting women to contribute to a social consciousness with which they will be able to identify.

Many patriarchs might ask, why should women participate and seen as equals. I answers with the words of Denise Ackermann ‘it is the right to human dignity that offers women in the church a powerful tool with which to challenge the church.’ In other words the fact that ‘human dignity and the idea that all humanity is created in God’s image, go hand in hand’, and therefore each and every human being, including women, should be able to participate in spiritual structures in ways that is unique and authentic to them.

However, feminist theology is not only about equal participation and giving women the space and a voice to engage in spiritual structures. It is also about addressing the social ills and injustice which the church has created with its prescriptions of very specific and rigid gender roles. I am in agreement with Denise Ackermann, who asserts that feminist theology should focus on firstly what is happening to women in their marriages and homes in the South African society; and secondly the widespread degradation of our environment.

If one look at the statistics of violence against women in South Africa, one can only but agree with Ackermann: ‘A war is being waged against the bodies of women and children in [South Africa] country. This is both a theological and a pastoral issue – one on which the church’s silence is obscene’. This is a vast subject and therefore I shall only briefly focus on how prescribed gender roles, which many churches still promote, contribute to the subordination of women and ultimately to the abuse of women on an economical, physical, verbal and sexual level.

Most patriarchal church societies focus on the creation story as portrayed in Gen. 2:18, which is interpreted that woman was created from a man, for a man and named by a man. Then this disobedient woman challenged the all male God and caused the Fall. Therefore women are seen as inferior to men and need to controlled by men, which rationalize the subjugation of women to the will and power of men.

From this mindset flows the idea that women are men’s possession to make with them as men please, especially once married. The most extreme outcome of this sexism and gender inequality is violence against women.

Feminist theologians believe that specific theological discourses continue to contribute towards violence against women and enforce the silence about this social ill. Many Christians see a husband’s authority as ordained by God and therefore it cannot be challenged, even if he is abusive. Good Christian wives are portrayed as obedient to and in service of their husbands. A pious woman is supposedly a silent woman who makes sacrifices on behalf of her family. This is linked to the suffering of Jesus and therefore many Christian women believe that to suffer in silence is to be Christ-like. Furthermore, Christian values of love and forgiveness help to maintain relationships of domination, as women should not challenge the behaviour of their husbands and they need to forgive seventy times seven. Feminist theology challenge these gender based ideas which continue to subjugate women in the name of God and the Bible and this is why the world is in desperate need of feminist theology.

South African women are in a war situation


The woman in this photo are one of the lucky ones – she survived the beating.

A conversation on Facebook yesterday, sparked so much passion and fire in my soul, that I need to blog about it. In my private practice I often hear stories of abuse and maybe this is why the conversation had so a profound effect on me.

A friend of my shared with me an article on honor killings of women in Canada. There was huge outcry in Canada because 12 women were murdered by their fathers or brothers to protect their family’s honor. This is appalling and I do not want to detract to the horror of it. However, it made me think about our situation in South Africa (SA).

In South Africa, every SIX hours a woman is murdered by her intimate partner. EVERY SIX HOURS. Let us do the math: that is four women a day, 28 women a week, 112 women a month, 1456 women a year. One thousand four hundred and fifty six women (daughters and mothers of someone) are killed by their intimate partners! Yet, our government and civil society look the other way. It is not spoken about. There are not daily news casts or paper headlines about this. It is almost as if we just accept this is how it is for women.

I believe that as long as we are silent about this, as long as we tolerate patriachal mindsets, as long as we look the other way, was long as we do not challenge, as long as we accept inequality, that is how long we are complicit to this atrocity – knowingly or unknowingly.

When we accept abuse, in which ever form, we are allowing it to continue unchallenged. Looking at the above mentioned stats convinced me that SA women are in a war, an unspoken war, and often the aggressors are the men who they love. However women have very little support and often no means to defend themselves:

  • By the time of death one out of two women in SA will be raped.
  • One out of three girls are raped or sexually assaulted before the age 18.
  • Women in South Africa have a greater chance to be raped than to learn to read.
  • The threat of “corrective” rape is very real for lesbian women in SA.
  • Every six hours a woman is killed by her intimate partner.

The vast majority of perpetrators of violence against women are their men, often their husbands. Yet our churches continues to prescribe the husband’s role as that of head, leader and priest of the home. Wives are supposed to submit and honor, to be subservient, and to accept the husband as the head of the home.

WHAT ARE WE THINKING? Or maybe I should ask what are we doing? Some call me fanatical, some call me a feminist, some call me a activist. Call me whatever you want but please MEN and women stand with me against this violence and senseless killing. Make people aware of the problem in our society. Start with ‘ant steps’ – i.e. when you receive a sexist e-mail, challenge it, when you hear a joke which demean women (or men) call it out, do whatever you can, but please do not be silent on this matter.

Read a previous post of mine:

https://nickispies.wordpress.com/2011/11/29/cleaning-up-the-mess-after-violence/

Please also look at these links:

http://www.powa.co.za/website/

http://www.hccac.org/abuse/myths.html