Friday, 20 July 2012

Feminism: the amusing to the sober

I had an interesting discussion about feminism a few days ago from a very smart lady that happens to be both feminist and Muslim. For those of you confused about how a woman can be both those things, it is entirely possible, and more and more women are redefining the way they perceive their role in modern society. This discussion I was having was way too short for my liking: it was more of an abstract of the topic from her point of view, but it got me questioning my own perceptions of gender roles in society. I have always had a hazy idea of what these roles should entail, and I have always acknowledged that a lot of my preconceptions in this regard stems from an immensely patriarchal view. Come to think of it, the society in which I live is a beautiful blend of cultures and ideologies that have two very strong commonalities threading through all of them. That is an inexplicable emotional attachment to the geography of our beautiful city, and an overwhelming tradition of patriarchy.

She sent me some literature to read through, but I have chosen to document my views before my education starts, to chronicle my change of perceptions in all things “girl-power”. Please do not judge me if you find my views too traditional or too progressive, I always try to take a middle path where there is no clear winner.

In terms of equality between men and women, there are two types that I can differentiate. The one is absolute equality, where men and women share complete equality in everything; from salaries to child-nurturing to changing tyres. Then there is relative equality, where both objective and subjective means are utilised to ascertain equality relative to characteristics inherent to the respective genders. My view is that patriarchy stems from a place meant to engender equality at a very relative level, while with modern advances eliminating the need for traditionally gender-specific duties, the feminine role has tended more and more towards absolute equality. Let me explain using an analogy. When we lived in harmony with nature in our mud huts, the men would go out and hunt for bokkies (the animal kind) so that there could be food on the fire for his family. He would protect the house against wild animals and child-molesters. And he would have his wounds tended to by his partner after a hard day out. The woman would gather berries and tend to the kids, and kept the clay plates in a condition that was clean enough to ensure the health of her family. Now this is a case study in relative equality. Men are generally stronger and more adept at violence, so they naturally gravitate towards the role of protector and provider. Women are physically suited for children and tend to be less dominant, so they take up the role of nurturer and mother. Would it be in the best interest of equality to have expected the woman to hunt a buffalo and protect her house against a hungry lion? I think the wise Aristotle said it best: “The worst form of inequality is to try to make unequal things equal”.

That said, however, we do not live in a world where men have that clear directive of protecting and providing. ADT does the protecting and providing is now common ground. (By the way, some police stations are themselves clients of ADT. Worthy of a collective WTF.) Nurturing is left to babysitters and masseuses, so traditional roles no longer find a comfortable niche within society. That harmonisation between man and woman has taken on a far more personal and individual dynamic, such that the workings of these relationships have become as customised as an app-ridden cellphone.The social constructs of the past is being dismantled very quickly, and so should our views on traditional gender roles.  That said, I do not believe absolute equality can be achieved (at least until we all become androgenous beings that procreate through test tubes), and I suspect most people prefer it that way.

Another element on my views on gender roles is that often, the nature of the male is not sufficiently understood by the female, and vice-versa. I can only speak from a male point of view, but I do not think that women understand the strong natural magnetics that draw men into a certain way of thinking. It has been scientifically proven that men and women are wired differently, yet curiously, women expect a certain sophistication of thought, emotion, and behaviour found in themselves that men oftentimes fail to achieve. It is often mused about anecdotally, but never really integrated into holistic perceptions. Women woefully underestimate the power of their femininity over men. They don’t quite get how magnetic, intoxicating and even hypnotic their aroma, voice or smile can be. Men have the ability to conceal it, and have generally progressed enough to keep things socially appropriate, but those primal pangs are still there. This hidden nature extends far beyond the sexual. Men have inexplicable urges to dominate, compete, experiment, conquer and claim. Most men have these urges under control. However, too many do not, and this causes a huge problem.

In matters of equality, I think these masculine traits are what caused the need for an uprising of feminism. Abuses of this nature by men have caused women to become subjugated and abused, and this is unacceptable in modern times. As far as we have come as a country in the recognition of women’s rights, the facts on the ground tell a completely different story. South Africa has one of the highest instances of domestic violence against women in the world. In terms of employment, women are still under-represented in the workforce, despite making up the overwhelming majority of single parents with custody of children; and what is worse, they earn less than men for doing exactly the same job. The rape, prostitution, slavery and exploitation of our women by animalistic men still speaks volumes for how far we have to progress in women’s rights in a suffocatingly patriarchal society. And the saddest thing of all: most men believe that the fight for women’s rights is a feminist thing that should be taken up by women only. It is a great irony that feminism is bound to fail without the direct participation of men. We men need to be taught to be masters over our own barbarism: women are not property, or tools, or entertainment.
To a large degree, I think the debate about what kind of equality is most applicable in today’s society is irrelevant. First, we need to establish SOME kind of equality. As things stand, women are extremely vulnerable, and men need to stand with them in changing both our legislation and our cultures to facilitate a safe environment for our women to excel. We should be marching in the streets, joining feminist movements, and educating our young girls in an objective critical fashion.

Feminism therefore isn’t really feminism. Feminism is social evolution. And we all need to be involved.

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

While I was Painting

I am in the process of renovating my lounge. Ok not me specifically, because I apparently bring my safety officer habits with me; so my dad has taken command of the ship and is directing the hard grafting work. I have been reassigned to the very manly task of choosing colour concepts and d├ęcor. I am allowed to paint on the odd occasion, but the grinder and the skill-saw are firmly off-limits. Apparently “real men” don’t require all the safety apparel specifically mandated in the user-manual. In fact, “real men” don’t even need to read the user manual at all. Pfft.
Painting: an opportunity to daydream

This colonisation of my lounge has affected a bit of a media-blackout for me, so I have not been as up-to-date with newsworthy happenings as I usually am. It has, however, given me time to think and philosophise about many things. I’ve had musings about life and death, relationships, XX-chromosome-related insanity, ideology and even the supernatural; all while watching the tips of my paintbrush streak an uneven layer of rich chocolate-coloured paint over the wall. Some quite profound notions formed in my head, and if I had a slightly better memory than a mentally-challenged goldfish, I would relate them to you now. Unfortunately, most of them fluttered off like monarch butterflies on their long journey to their breeding ground. Something did stick though, thankfully, and that is what I thought I would share with you.

Some will say typical VW. Me, I say, typical VW.
Last year, I made a few resolutions. Since the year 2011 was speeding to an end and the promise of 2012 loomed ever more prominently, I, like many many people the world over, decided to change a few things. Some things were big, some were just minor adjustments. But they represented something that we all need pretty regularly: a fresh start. We need to clear out the cobwebbed clutter in the closets of our minds and take up a fresh perspective. Why, you may ask, is he thinking about this kind of thing in the middle of the year? Well that’s exactly the point. Why restrict one’s self to renewal but once a year? I find the more often I reaffirm resolutions, the more natural and consequential the achievements of those resolutions become. For example: if my resolution was to clean my room every day after I wake up, and I fail after a week, the overwhelming sense I would get for the rest of the year is failure, followed by apathy. At least until the next year comes along. But if I get continuous opportunities to reaffirm, then if I fail after a week, the next month is an opportunity to try again. Perhaps last a bit longer than a week. And so it goes until I actually achieve my resolution at the end of the year. I always pictured the analogy of an old car on a cold winter’s morning. You lean forward as you swing the ignition, but often, the car just chokes a bit before it dies. If at this point, you gave up and resolved to try again the next day, you will more than likely get the same result, and thus literally get nowhere in life. If, however, you take a deep breath, then try again; the car is still unlikely to respond, but it may choke a tiny bit longer. If you keep at it, there is strong likelihood that the car will roar into life, and then all the roads open up for you. Unless you forgot to fill up with petrol. But let us not ruin a perfectly good metaphor.

I am lucky, many of my resolutions are spiritual in nature, and I have an opportunity to reaffirm them five times a day. Dividing your time into smaller chunks of opportunities to realign yourself with your dreams, desires, goals and ambitions must be one of the most effective ways of not getting lost in a world so full of distraction. To make sure you stay true to yourself and your principles. To find that satisfaction of seeing everything you work for inch ever closer to your grasp..

And then I painted over the white skirting. Dammit.

Tuesday, 3 July 2012

The Egyptian Christians and the ANC Policy Conference

The new Egyptian president, Mohammed Mursi.
Amidst the global wave of right-wing-perpetuated Islamophobia, the Western world looked on in sheer horror as Mohammed Mursi was declared the victor in the Egyptian presidential election. The leader of the Freedom and Justice Party, which is the political wing of the Muslim Brotherhood, won a run-off election against Ahmed Shafik, a prime minister from the regime of Hosni Mubarak.

The Muslim Brotherhood: The cloak-and-dagger organisation that allegedly terrorised the Egyptian Coptic Christian population for decades. The organisation set on turning the Egypt into an Islamist state run on full blown Sharia law, relegating the rights of women to slave status, demanding tax from non-Muslims, financially and spiritually supporting a global terrorist war against the infidels, and generally degrading the rule of law to a mixture of the worst elements of anarchy and tyranny. These are the unfounded bigoted views of many in the West, and possibly within elements of the Egyptian secularists and lefties as well. In some ways, it helps to explain why so many Egyptians reverted to the remnant of the same government they overthrew: they saw him as possibly the lesser of the two evils after their candidates lost the election.
Muslim Brotherhood of the scary people?

But when the dust settled, Mursi was the man left standing. Mursi: a man so atypical of Islamist stereotypes; a well-groomed man with a PhD in engineering from the University of Southern California. Far from the images we have been bombarded with as representations of the Muslim Brotherhood, he presents the image of a concerned old uncle that will buy you sweets and tell you everything is going to be okay.

So the question on many people’s minds is: what now for the ideological minorities, or more specifically, the vulnerable Coptic Christian minority? They comprise 10% of the Egyptian population, and have an unfortunate history of being targeted for abuse. Do the Muslim Brotherhood show any signs of hostility towards their spiritual cousins? Perhaps an analysis of recent correspondence and actions by Mohammed Mursi will shed some light on the issue.

Mursi got the "scales of Justice" symbol. Guy with the axe, unlucky.
One of the first things Mursi did after winning the election was resign from his post as the head of the Freedom and Justice Party, thus symbolically removing himself from his role as an agent of a religious entity. He was vocal in calling himself an agent of the revolution instead, a president for all Egyptians. I think this gesture is sufficient to allay fears of a Saudi-Arabia-esque Islamist takeover. He has also insisted on presiding over a democratically elected parliament, with all groups within Egyptian society being fairly represented. He has pledged to appoint a female Vice-President, despite having previously argued against allowing women to becoming national leaders. He has also pledged to elect a Christian Vice-President, an unmistakable gesture of goodwill and unity. The Coptic Church has, in turn, pledged allegiance to him, and are looking forward to working with him to achieve a more tolerant, socially cohesive society.

So things look ready to improve under Dr Mursi, provided the SCAF (Supreme Council of the Armed Forces) gives him his presidential powers. Because in Egypt, it is the military that holds both the presidential and parliamentary powers, relegating any elected officials to nothing but ceremonial authority. The people of Egypt have voted; it is time for the military to take its place as the protectors, and not the rulers of the Egyptian people.


Irony: "selfless People's Struggle" from fatcat ANC leadership
The ANC policy conference at Gallagher Estate has so far produced one significant outcome and one important discussion point: the rejection of the complete nationalisation of the mines, and the discussion over the proposed youth wage subsidies.

I do not agree with the nationalisation of our mines. But, admittedly, my rejection stems from our government’s incapacity to handle such an undertaking, rather than a rejection of the principle itself. The mineral wealth of a country is not an enterprise of man. It can be viewed as a natural wealth inherent to the location, and all that is required in the way of enterprise is its extraction. Thus the wealth derived from these mineral resources should benefit the land from which it came, and the extraction process should be seen as a service, and appropriately compensated as such. By way of analogy: Ted buys a new house. On the property, there stands a banana tree. Ted does not know much about bananas, so he enlists the assistance of the local banana picker to help him get the bananas off the tree. Question: once the bananas are picked, who do they belong to? In principle, the bananas belong to Ted. The banana picker has every right to demand compensation for his service, but he cannot claim the bananas as his own. Do you see the connection?

In terms of the youth wage subsidies, COSATU is still vehemently opposed to its implementation. For a detailed rationale for their non-acceptance, see .
The new ANC struggle song: Love the One You're With
Personally, I find their doom-and-gloom attitude distasteful. Empirical camouflage, economic jargon and bitter sarcasm look to be the basis of their defense; and their lack of willingness to provide viable alternatives stenches up the entire premise of their opposition. The case studies on both sides provide ample evidence of both the successes and failures of similar ventures in other countries, and predictably, the unique circumstances played a deciding role in whether or not the strategy of employment subsidies worked. One thing COSATU does get right though: the businesses that are profiting from the work of its employees need to pull up their socks in terms of improving the conditions of work. The current economic dispensation is only going to worsen the divide between the desperately poor and the superfluously rich. I think the subsidy has its merits, and if implemented, should be very carefully analysed and structured for our unique South African climate.

Till next time..