Thursday, August 18, 2016

11th August 2016
by Staff Reporter Posted in Viewpoints.

 In all corners of society, females are subjected to subordination, exploitation and oppression. Language, art, religion and other forms of modern socialisation of human beings are embedded with patriarchy within the make-up of their very DNA.

In what is described by many as a feminist classic, ‘The Second Sex, Women as Other’ Simone de Beauvoir explores the idea that man ‘is the Subject, he is the Absolute: she is the Other.’[i]

Through institutions of socialisation men have asserted themselves as subjects of history and women as the other only necessary to support the manly duties of supporting life of the off-springs.

Language in its current form reflects the power that men have historically held in society. It reflects this social power by treating words referring or describing women as an extension of words referring or describing men. For an example:

Male = Female

Man = Woman

Actor = Actress

Poet = Poetess

This trend transcends across individual languages. An example is the name “Nonceba”(my own name) is an extension of the male “Nceba” with the “No” being a prefix at the beginning which is a norm in the IsiXhosa language. Same goes for words such a “Titshala” to describe a male teacher and “titshala-kazi” to describe a female teacher.

This is but one example of how the world, in its current form is set up in such a way where the female is the second sex. The sex which comes after the absolute sex, which is man.

Beauvoir argues that “The whole of feminine history has been man-made. Just as in America there is no Negro problem, but rather a white problem; just as anti-Semitism is not a Jewish problem, it is our problem; so the woman problem has always been a man problem”(ibid).

De Beauvoir draws parallels between women and other oppressed classes of society throughout the book. However, she always includes a significant warning: “unlike blacks in America, Jews in Europe, or any other oppressed minority group, woman is not a minority. Females constitute roughly half the human population at any given period in history” (ibid).

Another crucial difference: woman has never lived segregated from man, as Jews have been segregated from Christians and blacks from whites. Economically, woman belongs to a lower “caste”—a term de Beauvoir uses often to emphasize the institutionalized quality of female subordination. Despite her lower caste, woman has always lived alongside her “master”.

This is perhaps why patriarchy is so entrenched in the female mind, to the extent that it is not even identifiable and thus results in the oppressed oppressing themselves even further. Comments such as “women hate each other” have become every day slogans thrown around by men whenever a cat fight breaks out, and in most cases, the man is the central feature of such cat fights. Generations of women have for centuries dragged each other at the amusement of the man, hence the evolution of the Sisterhood movement over the years to counter this phenomenon.

Bell Hooks defines patriarchy as “a political system that insists that males are inherently dominating, superior to everything and everyone deemed weak, especially females, and endowed with the right to dominate and rule of the weak and to maintain that domination through various forms of psychological terrorism and violence.”[ii]

There is a deep seated believe that men have a birth right to the female body as well as sexuality. The idea of ownership of the female body is played out in every day conversations. We encounter daily instructions from a capitalist and patriarchal society of what a good woman is and how she ought to act. If she dares to deviate from the prescriptions society places on her behaviour, we have all sorts of names for her.

Because we live in a capitalist, patriarchal society; the female body is for sale. The very system that socialise men and women alike that women are naturally the object of males which could be put on sale anytime of the day. Men in South Africa, and elsewhere in the world believe that they can buy the female body. I can buy her a few drinks in the club and thereafter have an unspoken, unquestionable right to take her home. This is not to argue that sexual relations are not transactional, however, more often than not, the transactional component is assumed as a result of having “invested” material/monetary value hence the prevalence and persistence of rape and rape culture in our society.

The female body is under constant scrutiny, from both male and female. There seems to be a universal unwritten code of conduct for the female. She must dress in a particular way, if she does not; she invites whatever violence patriarchy confronts her with. It is for this reason that when a woman is raped, the first question that is asked is “What was she wearing? What was she doing there? Because whatever she wears which deviates from what patriarchy tells us a good and respectable woman must wear means she has opened herself up to abuse.

The idea of being the second sex, ‘the subordinate other’ has become so naturalised that the main defenders of it, are women. Patriarchy, like slavery has created a defence force for male privilege whom are women themselves. The typical house nigger mentality is where the ‘good nigger’ is employed by the master to guard his privilege through the policing and further oppression of the slaves. History showed us how house niggers ended up being far more brutal than the masters themselves. This is informed by the dire need to prove to be worthy of approval and acceptance by the master.

In the face of daily slut shamming and cyber bullying, as women, we are at the forefront of our own destruction. The defined norm of womanhood (as defined by the oppressor) has become institutionalised and any deviation deserves to be confronted with violence, with corrective rape and gender violence being the leading and most prevalent examples of such violence.

It must however be put on record that women have (despite popular beliefs that they are the not-so-significant other) been in the forefront of the struggle for better living conditions of human world-over.

In our country, it was Queen Manthatisi who brave and led the Basotho Militia from the front upon the death of King Moshoehoe. The 1958 August 09 revolt is among the leadership provided by women to society in general. Through arts and culture; in politics and at work; in academic and science, various women did and are doing their best to provide much needed leadership to society.

The current rate of females graduating in sciences and commerce also undermines the century’s old notion that those were fields of study reserved for males.

The Constitution of the Republic of South Africa recognises equal rights but clearly a more focused, structural approach is needed if we’re going to unlearn our naturalised position of subordination as women and the naturalised position of domination as men. Gender quotas are not dealing with patriarchy and could in fact be argued to be further entrenching it in some quarters of society.

The introduction of Gender Studies through sociological studies in the school’s curriculum is an important step towards structurally putting in place measures to dismantle the ideas of domination vs subordination. Perhaps it is also time we consider legislation prohibiting sexism and treating it with the contempt it deserves.

For revolutionaries, the task is also to re-socialise society, to create in existing institutions the more equal environment for all sexes. If the existing ones are failing to live up to that revolutionary task of re-socialising society should inevitable be replaced with new ones.

We must learn that ‘The Second Sex’ does not exist. Women are not the subordinate other but rather the significant equal.

[i] De Beauvoir, S. (1949). ‘The Second Sex, Women as Other’

[ii] Hooks, B. (2004). Understanding Patriarchy’


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