Most of us know the huge issues our country faces with regard to gender violence, but what we don’t know is how everyday sexism has an effect and what we can do to end it and win the war against gender violence.
'Feminism' has become a word loaded with negative connotations and one that many people don’t like to associate themselves with. But many don’t know its true meaning. I understand that a feminist is someone who believes that men and women should be equal politically, socially and economically.
A sexist, in my opinion, believes the opposite; therefore, if we are not feminists, aren’t we sexists?
Some people believe there is no need for feminism any more because men and women today are, in fact, equal. I do not disagree that we have made great strides when it comes to women’s equality, but we must understand that rights on paper do not automatically mean rights in reality.
I believe that the root of today’s gender violence is the way even educated people talk about women, especially in schools. Everyday sexism is so discreet that many people don’t even notice it. Sexism seeps into our lives, our homes and our communities; it eats away at our society, one woman at a time.
The problems start in our schools. One only has to listen to a schoolboy conversation. When boys call women bitches and sluts, it has an impact; when boys refer to women as objects and not people, it has an impact. When boys tell sexist jokes and the people around them laugh, it endorses such behaviour and it plants seeds in the minds of future rapists.
Some people refer to rape and sexism as “women’s issues”, creating the idea that women must solve the problem. Rape and sexism are not women’s issues – they are men’s issues.
We need strong male leaders who are not afraid to call themselves feminists. We need to learn that what we say has an impact on women worldwide and the war against sexism. If we learn this, we can be empowered to solve it.
If white schoolboys started liberally using the k-word to describe black people, there would be a major outcry; it would rightly be seen as racism. When schoolboys liberally use the word “slut”, it is seen as normal.
We think it’s okay to call boys studs and girls sluts, and that it’s fine to attach labels and tags to women such as “bossy” or “cheeky”.
The double standards we have created affect the way women are brought up and how the world views them.
We need to stop condoning the use of such degrading words and start standing up to the boy who said “bitch”, or the teenager who grabbed a girl’s breast, or the men who gang-raped a girl from a neighbouring community.
We must stand up as leaders, as feminists and as people.
The first step is understanding men’s issues. We need our schools to start educating us with a feminist agenda in both boys’ and girls’ schools, public and private. If our schools really wished to stop the rape and abuse of women in our communities, they could.
We need to start appreciating women for what they can add to our community and not just what they can add to our egos. We need the men in our communities to start standing up for the one-third of South African women who will be raped sometime in their lives.
We need men and women to start reclaiming that f-word: feminism. We need people to stop calling women bitches and sluts, or any other degrading words.
Sexism is not something that people like talking about; it makes us feel uncomfortable, and that’s exactly why we need to start talking about it.
*This opinion piece, by 17-year-old Durban school pupil Nicholas Farrell, was first published on www.mg.co.za on September 12.
Click here to listen to Nicholas Farrell's interview with Trending Tonight
(File photo: Gallo Images)
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