Most young children growing up in the 1980’s in South Africa would have been oblivious to the risks of crime and how to avoid being a target.
Yet, as a 10 year old South African girl on our annual Easter holiday, I distinctly remember walking down the Durban Beach front in my costume, sarong and slip slops and feeling so threatened by a group of older white males staring at my chest, that without any thought, I lifted the newspaper I was carrying from the beach, to cover my underdeveloped chest. I was mortified that I was being looked at in a sexual way and accepted at the time that it was my fault for walking on the beach front without a shirt to cover me.
Jump forward to the year 2012 and the majority of South African’s would still think that I was at fault for walking in a costume on the “Grand Parade”.
To say that this incident was the only reason I chose to be ‘demure’ for most of my life would imply that I grew up in a community and family that respected my right, as a woman (or girl), to dress or behave in a way I chose without any ill will towards me, and that this was an isolated incident. But, unfortunately this is not the case and my reaction to it on that day was so ingrained that it was sadly a non-event in my family’s eyes, except for a laugh at my embarrassment, because this was and (30 years later) still is the status quo.
I have often travelled to European countries where it’s perfectly normal to find a group of people sunbathing in their skivvies in some stunning green park. Most South African’s react in the same way by giggling at their bits being exposed to everyone passing by. Our naiveté is so lost to us that we do not see any fault in our judgement of them, because we believe we are assuming the ‘higher ground’.
In my most recent trip to Germany, this judgement became so obvious to me, while trying to explain to friends of ours why it would be unsafe for a woman visiting or living in our country to even consider sunbathing topless, never mind nude (if it were legal, of course). It is not only that a woman in my country is more likely to be raped than educated but most women in my country are taught that it is our responsibility to society to assist men in controlling their sexual urges by dressing in a manner that is not sexually provocative; that should something happen to you, the natural conclusion would be that you behaved in a manner that left the man helpless to resist your ‘vulgar’ behaviour.
Every single day of our lives, we subconsciously modify our behaviour, our dress and our words to ensure that we comply with our responsibility towards men. We hide and mask our own bodies and sexuality from ourselves, our family, other men and woman, from people we do not even know. We drive ourselves insane trying to be safe in a world where men have no responsibility to care or look out for the “fairer sex”. We have become so disconnected from our bodies and from nature that we are ashamed of who we fundamentally are. We demean and debase other women who dare to fly in the face of the ‘norm’ in order to justify our own twisted sense of ‘morality’.
We have become robots ruled by the unconscious instead of being grounded in and loving our own bodies, the source of life on earth.
It is said that the mind is to the body what culture is to the planet. It is little wonder that our planet is slowly being raped of its fruits and being left unprotected and unguarded. Just as we have disassociated from our bodies we have disassociated with the most perfect woman of all, our planet.
There is no beauty in this world that can compare with a woman who is confident and kind towards herself first. Let us, as women, begin to reclaim what is ours and ours alone without the conditions and exceptions that are placed on us. Let us not judge other women by the way they choose to dress or behave, but celebrate their confidence and love of their bodies. Let us teach our daughters that their sexuality is not a weapon against themselves but a gift that has been bestowed on them because we are worthy. Let us teach our sons to respect and protect all women on this earth, because every single one is their mother, their sister, their daughter not only the ones who comply.