Rape culture exists. What next? - Sazi Bongwe
NOTE - this piece was written in response to Robyn Galloway’s first Instagram live of the week (@robzgalloway on Instagram). The discussion centred around rape culture itself and hence, this piece deals solely with the topic and not the personal accounts we heard. Yesterday (Wednesday’s) live, in which a few brave, strong and truly inspirational people shared their stories, touched me in ways that I can’t even begin to articulate. If (and when) I do find the words, I will certainly publish them here. If you haven’t joined one of Robyn’s Instagram lives, I strongly encourage you to. They are run through a youth organisation called The Unfiltered Youth, powered by alcove_za. Follow her account as well as these two so that you can get notifications when she does go live and be a part of the discussion. She’s facilitating an incredible platform and conducting it in such a great and constructive way, and I have no doubt that you will be left moved, furthered in your opinions, and ultimately, a better human being.
Inspired by everyone who shared their opinions and contributed to the discussion, I’ve chosen to write this to shed some light on things that I think deserve it. Ultimately I’m trying to do what we’re all trying to do - continue constructive discussion in the hope of actualising change in our society. I recently wrote a think piece about cancel culture and I convinced myself that it would be a while until I dove into another issue of contestation - but after engaging in Robyn’s live I recognised how privileged, oblivious and ignorant this position was. I’d like to believe that we’ve created ‘a place for the genuine’ to quote from ‘Poetry’ by Marianne Moore, and I’d be doing a disservice if I didn’t use this website in the best way I know how - to facilitate the constructive sharing of opinions on issues that matter.
“In a racist society, it is not enough to be non-racist. We must be anti-racist.” - Angela Davis
The quote above is there to act as a springboard for everything I’m going to say, and when you hold it in the context of rape culture, it’s the one notion I’d have you take away from this.. Having read Ruby’s think piece that deals with multidimensional inequality, but also through my own experiences of society, I’ve found myself thinking a lot about intersectionality, and nowhere is that more needed than where womxn are concerned. In a patriarchal society that perpetuates rape culture, it is not enough to assert that you object, dissociate from your role in the problem and continue to perpetuate it. We must be anti-rape culture.
I’d like to start by acknowledging that 1) the very systems of oppression that allow rape culture to manifest are the same ones that benefit me as a man and advance my position in society. In a sense, this puts everything I say under an intense microscope, as it should. In turn, I’d like to use this privileged position to amplify these opinions that speak only in favour, support and solidarity with the womxn that deal with this everyday. I’d also like to acknowledge that 2) I’m conscious of the fact that I’ve played my part in perpetuating rape culture and that there are things that I do, or more accurately don’t do, that are part of, if not, the problem. Something I will never do is use this acknowledgement as a quest for a moral high ground above other men or in an effort to be placed on a ‘woke’ pedestal. If anything, I’d like to hope that other men see through me: that although we are the problem, we can just as easily be the solution. So much of what happens between the walls we talk in (or more currently the Whatsapp conversations we have) affect womxn in so many greater ways, to the point where the discrepancy in the scale of these two leads me to question why rape culture hasn’t already been effectively tackled. If we exerted measures to counteract rape culture that equated in scale to the systemic oppression, abuse, and disenfranchisement felt by womxn now and for all of history, we’d be physically broken down and unable to speak anymore. It fills me with regret everyday that we cannot undo the countless instances of trauma and pain that womxn so bravely bear with them, but I turn to things that I can do. Speaking up is one of them.
I think it’s important to understand that rape is not something abstract. When women say that they can’t walk down a road without the fear of being attacked or that simply to exist around men is life-threatening, they mean it. Rape is pervasive in every single way - and that means that, more likely than not, it’s around you and there are things that you can do to counteract it. Including but not limited to rape jokes, the objectification of womxn, catcalling, coercion and rape apology all form part of rape culture (see the infographic below). To quote from an instagram post dealing with rape culture, “it is within the nuances where we contribute to a bigger system.” So many men, including some of whom spoke their minds in Robyn’s live, discredit rape culture and dismiss its premise by arguments rooted in the very power imbalance that rape culture aims to undo. I wish everyone else held the same conviction I do in taking the existence of rape culture as a given (as it is) and focusing their attention on what we as men can do to counteract this. To centre conversation around whether or not rape culture exists feels to me like wasted time, but I’m conscious of the fact that the denial of rape culture perpetuates rape culture. To anyone reading this who holds views contrary to those, I hope you find the claim’s validity somewhere in this think piece.
Existing in an all boys private school, rape culture has seemed so pervasive that I’ve often been overcome with the feeling that I’d never see it brought to an end; and I think that’s the most frustrating part. We’ve had the conversations time and time again and what always follows is a revert to the norm. A norm that legitimizes manhood through the disempowerment of womxn. A norm that tells womxn that in addition to pain and trauma, they should carry shame and a burden of proof. A norm that needs changing. Rape culture is systemic, ingrained and intrenched. The same fortitude is needed in its solution. Undoing rape culture is not something that will occur overnight, it’s a conscious decision that informs the way we approach everything in our lives and in our spaces. Calling out all the slurs, the catcalling, the objectification - starting from the inside out, with those closest to you. Leaving no stone unturned. But most importantly; talking about it. What I took away from Robyn’s live more than anything was that for once, our views were challenged. We heard different points of view, and although we may deem them problematic, that’s exactly where all our conversation and action should be targeted. It’s all good and well to preach to the converted, but those moments of friction, however infuriating and unbelievable, are important. They’re necessary - because that’s when change can start to happen. The time for ego, distorted notions of masculinity and grandeur is over. Womxn are dying everyday at their expense. Where men find in rape and misogyny the assertion of superiority and dominance, we should truly prove in our resolve toward combatting rape culture and refusing to allow it to have a home in our society. Find other ways to display your masculinity, if need be. Interrogate your masculinity, come to grips with what it means to be a man. As of now, men are representative of disdain, fear and toxicity. Let’s change the narrative and redefine ideas - through the way we act, behave and most of all, by holding ourselves accountable. Let’s be the ‘good’ guys we think we are.
And so, to all the womxn reading this - I hear you. I hear your frustration while knowing that I could never begin to understand it. I speak up, but never over - I lend my voice, my ideas and my attention in support and in fighting the problem. For me, I know that fighting the problem does not end here. When things are uncomfortable, when standing up against rape culture requires something of me, and when it would be easier turn a blind eye is when being ‘for change’ is actualised. I hear you in that as men, we need to do more. It’s always been ironic to me that through toxic masculinity men attempt to assert their power over women when in fact it is we who continue to fail you. I wish I could apologize on behalf of a gender and undo all the systemic faults at hand - but no one man can ever do that. One man can, however, attempt to start that; and that’s what this piece is written in an effort to do. Writing this is the easy part - it’s what comes next that is definitive. Spaces like Robyn’s Instagram live, Ukuzibuza and all the other wonderful, constructive channels fill me with hope in the conviction that this is all a means that leads to an end. I have hope in the conviction that September of 2019 was not meaningless - that your cries for change will be heeded. We can end the cycle of rape culture and ensure that all spaces are safe spaces for womxn. In order to do that; we must be consciously, deliberately and actively anti-rape culture.