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Hello Dick

Hello Dick

by Brandon Edmonds, image by Jason Bronkhorst / 30.04.2010

Are women disappearing from South African public life, only to return, distortedly, as caricatures? Consider that the last two major media moments exclusively involving women were framed by aberration, by panic over non-normative “strangeness”. The Culture Minister’s “see no evil” walk-out when faced with the loving sapphic couplings of Zanele Muholi and Caster Semenya’s disturbing ordeal in the prurient global spotlight of a perturbed “male gaze” – demanding “what in hell are you?”

To matter, to register, to appear in public, the presence of women seems to require novelty – as if masculinity holds such sway over South African media space, is taken so unthinkingly as the default setting of articulation, that women are increasingly announced as oddities, gold-diggers, angels or witches. Why?

Obviously an unconscionable President smeared with libidinal goo, doesn’t help. His own friend’s daughters aren’t safe. The man is a priapic dynamo singlehandedly morphing the once-righteous rurally-rational tradition of polygamy into a sordid contemporary excuse to pile on wives like wood for winter. He has enough spare children to get calls from broody Hollywood starlets looking to crash-dive maternity without the exhausting rigmarole of gestating. Ours is a political imaginary haunted by a shower scene – it’s as if Hitchcock’s Psycho is our national sexual anthem! That scathing Zapiro shower-nozzle is the defining millennial image of our country and the utter encapsulation of the miserable public presence of local women – appearing only in relation to the dangerous desires of men.

With sugar daddy lotharios like Zuma at play, his wandering eye a kind of analogue for the unthinking patriarchal habits of mainstream media, women make the news only insofar as they are getting fucked, beaten, and rhetorically praised to the hilt (cue the neo-liberal cocktail-circuit of mostly meaningless “Women of the Year” awards). Behaving against the hetero-normative grain of accepted femininity by loving each other or rejecting the all-defining rabbit-hole of marriage and reproduction, may see these women get covered, but only ever as warning signs, their exposure warding off the liberating instincts of other women by the price they pay. Hence the grisly specter of “corrective rape” for exposed township lesbians.

Bluster isn’t helping either. Het up male rhetoric steeped in accusation and fisticuffs, and charged with antagonism, pervades public life, from Parliament to the streets. Women must either out-shout the carnival barkers or turn into mice. The maximum privileging of “race” as the primary mediator of local social dynamics shuts out other ways of seeing the world. Feminism, and many other effective approaches to addressing inequality, takes a back seat.

Resisting the erasure of “women” from public life, thanks to the looming presence of outsized male ranters, and our default masculinist media setting, involves the slow enabling of female experience, achievement and expression through alternative media, popular campaigns, social movements and open forums. The ANC Youth League Prez is certainly no friend of “women’s issues”, nor do the patrician ranks of the ruling party seem particularly roused by the grinding poverty of women-headed households proliferating daily in this country. The effort will have to come, as it always does, from women on the ground taking time out from demanding lives to organize, inform themselves and address us.

Lastly, beyond the menfolk, there’s a problem with the emerging self-articulation of black women in our country – it’s running along banal consumerist globally standardized post-feminist lines. Self-serving, bi-polar socialites in barely there dresses at camera-choked launches win local media space for women framed entirely by glamour, conspicuous consumption and narcissistic self-promotion. This does not advance the cause of female prominence. It merely endorses the regressive culture of entitlement plaguing the ruling party. Given the immense and decisive involvement of women in “the struggle” – is it too much to expect a little more from its direct inheritors, the young ones in whose name it was waged? Liberation increasingly seems to mean boning a banker, getting your boobs done, and shaking your ass at the club before shopping very hard indeed.

Imagine a continuum of female public presence running from Albertina Sisulu at one end, the end marked “overwhelmingly positive”, and model-actress Khanyi Mbau at the other, the end marked “utterly underwhelming”. Be fascinating to graph the cluster of local media representations of women over time – would they bunch closer to MaSisulu or the self-styled “Queen of Bling”?

Mbau was Doobsie in Muvhango for a bit before marrying a very rich older man who spirited her away to a penthouse in Marble Arch. They had a child together then the marriage broke apart like bank notes in brine. Khanyi enjoyed access to a yellow Lamborghini as well as a pair of out-sized breasts. She replaced them both upon divorcing. “The last thing I want,” she said, “is a man coming back to me saying
‘I bought you those boobs and want them back’.” Yup. Someone else, older and rich, squired her for a while. This resulted in another Lamborghini – black this time – since lost. She also got new breasts, sang a bit, modeled, acted and got an online “reality show”. Her facebook fan page neatly heralds her as “South Africa’s Queen of opulence, Bling and fabulosity”.

Here are a few of her recent tweets to get the feel of her mind at work: “Tummy sore my word! Need to fart but with ppl gsh! Wht do I do?” / “I know I’ve said this before, but I live in a beautiful house. quite nice. love my pad.” / thanx guys for the love too haters poor pple r fucking petty! Sitting on a russels lounge sweet! i am Khanyi mbau”. The capitalization of her own name in the last Tweet is perfectly symptomatic of her approach to life: me myself and I. To date her only contribution to South African public life is smelling condoms for an article in the Sowetan – “these are not easy to open, other than that it smells of a dead rat!” – and reminding us that “putting on a condom is absolutely necessary.”

Albertina Sisulu, on the other hand, besides spearheading campaigns against Bantu Education and pass laws, enduring house arrest and solitary confinement, being the only woman present at the inaugural ANCYL meeting with her beloved husband, Walter, and rallying the greatest of all popular fronts, the UDF, along with worrying over the daily finances of the Women’s League, was a nurse and midwife for over forty years. “You know what it means to be a midwife? You have got to carry a big suitcase full of bottles and lotions, bowls and receivers, and we used to carry those suitcases on our heads, everywhere on foot.” Countless babies fell into her hands over the years, justifying her hard-earned handle, “Mother of the Nation”.

“Although politics has given me a rough life,” she once said, “there is absolutely nothing I regret about what I have done and what has happened to me and my family. Instead, I have been strengthened and feel more of a woman than I would otherwise have felt if my life was different.” Wow.

You can torture yourself with Mbau’s painfully generic dance pop here.

Image © and courtesy Jason Bronkhorst check more from his twisted pen here.

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RESPONSES (14)
  1. The Fascist Dictionary says:

    Bravo Mr Edmonds. Every word rings true.

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  2. brandon edmonds says:

    ha jason that image is awesome!

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  3. The Fascist Dictionary says:

    Except the last word in your comment above. You’re doing this on purpose, right?

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  4. jahrule says:

    so funny the sistah’s saying nothing here about this proves its bullshit the only sexism is in your head so stfu my girl says this is bullshit!!!

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  5. Doctor L. says:

    Dope. Brandon and Montle are my favourite writers on this site. Roger Young, too, for always making sense and being immovable on it.

    The absence of the likes of ‘Sword of Damocles’ and ‘Bloody Agent’ on this drop lead me to conclude my long-harboured suspicions: discontent expats have no interest in women. Think about it: who would bring themselves to flee from this bounty!?

    Not that I discriminate: some of my favourite writers were gay: Jimmy Baldwin, K. Sello Duiker, Chuck Palahuniuk, and that other fellow, Burroughs, who made it possible for Ginsberg to swing his beard over his balls in Central Park. Which brings me to my main point: how did this piece manage to miss Stacey Ann Chins seminar and reading appearance at WISER at WITS earlier this week? Holy fucking shit, man! Theres nothing I like more than beating it up, but homegirl made me feel like a rookie, yo! Not to mention how deeply personal – racially and sexually – she takes it with the words on those pages.

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  6. Doctor L. says:

    Oh and yeah, ‘Snore’ [you might know me from the last Brandon Edmonds drop] im in Brixton ‘practising my wardrobe and accent’. if that, Brixton, is too much for you, ill be in Melville catching the Archetypes, tonight. You wanna conclude our debate? given you really arent speaking from Londons Ivory Tower, then come through. First rounds on me. And this time i really am ‘on the sauce’.

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  7. Sword of Damocles says:

    “Until lions have their historians, tales of the hunt shall always glorify the hunter”

    Doctor L. Tut. Tut. Tut. I will steer clear of insulting you personally.

    Firstly. You insult me gravely. I am no expat. What gave you that assumption? I was born South African and I will die South African.

    Secondly. No comment was required. The article rings true. Yes, as could be expected, Brandon’s heart bleeds for the females of colour only. Geen Blanke. But. Hey. When the turntable gets stuck there will be no end to the revolution.

    Sure, it would have been better balanced and post race if mention was made of the other african women and there hardships. The Boere volk meisies who survived the adversity of the Trek, creating homes in the relative wilderness and the Second Anglo Boer War. Percentage wise, they most certainly came off second best in terms of giving to a struggle. The black sashers also get no mention but I guess they were not of the right demographic for this piece. Which afterall was meant only to create more sympathy for, and pay homage to, women of colour.

    So. Doctor L. In short. I have no gripes with the article. I’m sure Mahala will also be exploring the struggles of others and also praising the blood, sweat and tears they have poured…

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  8. The Fascist Dictionary says:

    “When the turntable gets stuck there will be no end to the revolution” – now THAT is poetic in a deliciously contemporary way.

    But hey, SoD – in our racially charged environment that Mahala seems to feed just as much as it chastises, there’s always a way to flip any argument around to once again prove that the concept’s downfall originates from within itself. For if a treatise on the hardships of women focuses more on one sector of society there is the subtle insinuation through omission that this sector is more inherently problematic than others on the gender front. Is there a carefully packaged racist assertion here that blacks in SA have further to travel towards gender equality than their paler compatriots?

    Damned if you do, damned if you don’t. Several commenters here in recent months have said in their own ways that we really need to move beyond race in our discussions. Trouble is, the issue of race does not want to be left behind.

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  9. Roger Young says:

    I have these Hippie friends who tell me that I shouldn’t write criticism because I can never tell the full story in any one article and if I don’t tell the full story then it is not the truth. I tell them to get a fucking life.

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  10. Sword of Damocles says:

    “The truth is not for all men, but only for those who seek it.” Ayn Rand

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  11. Roger Young says:

    “Truth is elusive, facts change, only honesty is possible” – Roger Young

    – oh and fuck Ayn Rand.

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  12. Jason says:

    Thanks Brandon, you do bring out the worst in me.

    And I prefer the word ‘awesome’ to any of the low-calorie alternatives.

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  13. Ed says:

    The media is run by women and is thoroughly feminist and anti-male.

    What the hell are you talking about, female?

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  14. - says:

    Thank you so much for writing this. Thoroughly interesting and true.

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