With the end of the year approaching, I feel myself becoming more nostalgic and more reflective. This is not an unusual feeling. I’m a big one for reflection and introspection and very caught up with endings and beginnings. (A beautiful title I’ve always thought of Redi Tlhabi’s first book, though her book Khwezi is, dare I say, even more important. Another I have yet to read.)
It’s probably got something to do with the fact that my oldest daughter has finished her school career and is, as I write today, waking up in a place I don’t know with a group of girls having partied with lots of cool guys and alcohol and my favourite son, my eldest and only boy is leaving his teenage years, tomorrow.
He turns 20 tomorrow which means that it was 20 years ago today that I walked around with a fine-looking pregnant- round belly, and the next day 3 December 1997, that belly changed shape and changed my life. My pre-kids existence was about to undergo a metamorphosis for which I was entirely unprepared and could never have foreseen in its totality of consequences. My second daughter has just completed her first year of high school and my youngest has one more year of junior school. It’s been a busy year in the kids department.
In its place- my life with kids- I have had the privilege of a blessed existence: blessed in so many respects that to set them out on an average Saturday afternoon in my little blog would make them appear facile and superficial. Setting them out to be read by people who care or not, most of whose faces bear no recognizable form would seem to undermine the very intention with which I wish to list them. In other words, sometimes blogs seem so pointless.
One of the things that have bothered me a little lately, though is the distinction between people on the planet who are either famous or ordinary with the whole Weinstein thing: ‘famous’ in the sense that the media seeks to capture their every move or perhaps just ‘notable’ or worthy of story. The power of the media and the power of story telling is fascinating. More so, though is that a celebratory-type status, however way you wish to define it, seems to occupy a place which elevates the plight of some in place of others. So when the Weinstein avalanche fell into the world and #metoo became a new noun, the stirrings of so many ORDINARY people must have been so tremendous, but because they didn’t have a notable voice, they were implicitly silenced.
There must be tons of these. I wondered about this divide between the ordinary and celebrity and tweeted the author when his wonderful article about people who are campaigning and making movies about this whole world phenomenon on women and harassment came to my attention.
So I thought that I had one more important blog to add to 2017 before December’s Christmas madness starts to take hold. I hope though that it ends off with a message of hope, rather than misery because I think I have found something to hang my hat onto: hope in the dark, which is another delicious title of a book by Rebecca Solnit.
When the revelations broke, I wondered whether I too could claim the hashtag #metoo seriously. It didn’t take much memory to know I could easily claim it though the details of each incident are not the things I want to flesh out here. Nothing too horrific and scarring but harassment nonetheless. But the ones I do want to talk of are those which at the time frightened and confused me (and I say ones because it happened on at least 3 occasions when I was young girl, walking home along the paths of Parkview to school) . The men I feared and loathed were the same men for whom I later came to feel sadness and even empathy because I thought they must be so sick, so weird in the head and their lives so miserable.
You see, I was walking to school and saw a man standing near a tree. And as I got closer, I just knew what he was doing and that he wanted me to see and that I needed to get away. I didn’t believe he could physically harm me. I wasn’t even scared. But I was incensed because this had happened to me before. It had happened more than once on a walk to school. The same kind of thing: a man in his car, stopping and leaning over to me to ask directions, or so I thought as I believed everyone to just be nice, and then innocent me, coming closer and being horrified and disgusted at the sight of him masturbating while pretending to ask me directions.
So this time I thought, No, this is not going to me happen again. He will not get away with leaving me feeling ashamed, overpowered, helpless, vulnerable. So I turned around and forced myself to remember the number plate of the car behind him, assuming it was his as it was parked close to him and walked straight to the police station and reported it. It was a scary experience that followed. I had to identify him in an ID parade.
The policeman instructed, ‘Touch him gently with your right hand on his left shoulder. You don’t have to look him in the eye. But I’ll give you a hint: he’s the one in the brown shoes.’
The others were all plain clothes policemen with black clothes but I didn’t have to be told which one he was. I was certain who had taken my dignity away that day. From a little girl in a blue dress on her way to school. Needless to say, he was convicted and sentenced. A father with three children of his own I remember my mum telling me. Shame. Poor children I remember thinking.
Since it all first broke there have been tons of reports on the psychology of why men do this. Here’s one as an example.
It confirms that a sexual assault is ‘any type of sexual contact or behaviour that occurs without the explicit consent of the recipient.’ It refers to another article I read which describes these sorts of people as displaying ‘sexualized hostility’, possibly as a result of childhood sexual abuse they experienced themselves. Other therapists put it down to a lack of empathy for the victim.
The agreed conclusion though is that it all about a sense of control and power. No consent means that you have seized control without permission. And that’s no good.
(Okay, where am I going with all this now? This is not where I wanted to end.#streamofconsciousness #unedited #writingishard)
I wanted to end with how we are then supposed to deal with all this STUFF in the world?
And I think it all ends with stories.
‘If a story moves you, act on it,’ says Sisonke Msimang in a brilliant and funny TedTalk I listened to.
It’s a must- listen- to if you believe in the power of stories and justice as I do.
I have yet read to read her book, Always Another Country’ and can only attribute it to the fact that I would be stone broke if I had to buy all the books I thumbed through at Exclusive Books this week. That and the precious gift of time which must be prioritized, especially at this time of the year with children who are growing up and moving on and you are desperate to hold on to them a little longer.
But I’m going to end off this one which I think is an important reflection for 2017, and inspired entirely by Sisonke with her wise and beautiful insights she shared in her TEDtalk if I may, Sisonke?
For she says, (and this is my précis) though story tellers are important, it’s not only stories that make the world a better place, but audiences: audiences who are curious and skeptical, and even those who don’t necessarily like the protagonist in the story they read.
But it’s also justice that makes the world better, and so, she concludes, ‘it’s up to all of us to have a plan for justice’’.
I hope I have left you with someone to think about. You don’t have to be story-teller. But try to be an engaged audience if you want to see justice in the world.
And who doesn’t want that?