What a week it’s been for women. I’m going to get a little sad this week so if you’re not in the space to handle some feels, maybe now is the best time to opt-out. But of course, maybe it’s good to read on because wow guys. This is a lot.
When I was 4, I was passively taught the hierarchy of the sexes. My father would go off to work in the mornings and my mother would stay at home to tend to the house. This was okay. I valued what my mother did in those 8 to 9 hours that everyone was away equally, if not more than, my fathers’ unknown time spent at work. In the evenings, we as children took turns to dish up. No one was exempt (except for me, I mean I was 4, come one!). My brothers would even cook sometimes because they were older. The lessons in hierarchy began on those plates. I would watch as my mother instructed whoever was dishing up on how to do so correctly. Dad always got the best-looking meat, followed by Mom, and the rest was left to preference – mostly (I was scolded many times about only wanting the drumstick – I wouldn’t have a choice in other people’s houses, I was told).
The plates would then be blessed and distributed. Dad’s plate left the kitchen first. If by chance you found yourself in the kitchen before distribution, you’d have to kind of linger there until he had his plate in his hands before going to join him in the dining room. This was the first lesson I learnt about hierarchy: Men were more important than everyone else.
Fast forward 10 or so years to my eldest brothers’ wedding and a new class on hierarchy came into session. As before, the lesson took place in the kitchen. My brother no longer cooked or dished up even though he knew how. His wife took his place in the kitchen. My brother would now receive his plate after my parents, sometimes even before my mother. This was the next lesson I learnt about the hierarchy: You became a “man” when you found a woman. You stayed a woman when you found a man.
Fast forward many years later as I stumbled through life trying to find my place in the workplace in a country whose diversity in culture somehow didn’t completely extend to the way the hierarchy was set up. Every morning I would wake up at 3:15 am, get in my car at 3:45 am, drive to Joburg and arrive at work around 4:30 am. I’d sit for 15min and prepare my mind for my day, a part of me dreading the part that would come next. See, I’d go up to the gym at 4:45 am, greet the pre-6am security guard and have a short chat, gym till 6 and come out ready for work at 630am. Every day without fail, the post-6am security guard would greet me, which I would respond to. And every day, without fail, that same security guard would then go on to tell me that we should talk privately about “us”. At first, it didn’t bother me, because boys will be boys, but then after the first month, the second month, the first year, it became ridiculous.
It bothered me for a long time that I let that behaviour carry on for so long. Why hadn’t I reported this man? Clearly, this was officially grounds to open a sexual harassment case. Unfortunately, it’s only now, in these times of publicised persecution of women in South Africa that I finally get a chance to reflect on my actions. I realised that the lessons I learnt as a child followed me into this situation and broke my reasoning. Older men deserved respect because they were more important than me, regardless of their actions. Giving them respect meant suppressing any ill feelings I had about the situation (the same way I kept quiet when I didn’t get the drumstick). A part of me knows that this is what the media is talking about when they say Uyinene was “lured” into the post office that day.
Everyone says we need to raise our boys to be better men, but the reality is until we realise the toxic effects of even the smallest interactions within our households, we are fighting a losing battle. The current issue of femicide in South Africa has been a long time coming. It’s been baking in our households. It’s been festering in our workplaces. And it’s been patiently waiting for the degradation of our police force. The conditions are just right for the current epidemic to flourish. We all think women are less important. We all think men need to be protected. We all think women lie. We all know no one gets punished for doing bad things. We all do. Women, men. All of us. Perhaps this is a bleak outlook to have in light of the current situation but I really think until we accept the reality of the deep psychological issues that need addressing within ourselves, we really are fighting a losing battle.
I sit here in Omura writing this after a week of reflecting on how my life has changed as a woman since moving to Japan and the reality is, yes, Japan is really safe and it’s great, but I see the same symptoms here that I saw back home. Women are held to a different standard. Every female in the ALT community has some sort of advice about how to dress appropriately for the workplace, how to stay safe when travelling, how to stay safe on dates. As a female body, I continue to be policed on how to be alive. I’ve become irritated with myself on more than one occasion when deciding what to wear for the day. Not too tight. Not too short. Not too casual. Not too see-through. I hate it. I hate having to wake up and think for 100 to 1000 men that I might interact with that day. I hate having to wake up and wonder if a fellow female will judge me for going against the status quo. I hate having to police myself in my own body.
I am a feminist. I don’t think I tell people this enough. That means I believe in the equality of the sexes. If you see the word equality and it triggers you, you have a problem bro, and you should talk to someone about that. I’m not here to nurse ego’s and go along with patriarchal nonsense anymore. I really think it’s time men started policing themselves and stopped expecting everyone around them to make the world a cushier place for them. Women don’t owe you anything. We are tired.
I struggled for some time to title this piece because wow, it’s a lot. But in the end I stuck to the reality of what I would be sharing. The above are all the reasons why I am next. It’s not a question. It’s not a suggestion. It’s a reality of life. As long as I am a woman in this current reality I will be next. My next might not be as extreme as that of Uyinene but best believe I will meet my next. I hope next week will be better, but for now, I mourn alongside my people.