Illustration by Thandiwe Tshabalala

Call me clever: Clap for your sister?

03 June of 2014

By Thato Magano (@pothaeto)

This then struck me as one of the challenges to the feminist movement in the 21st century. Women often aren’t willing to stick up for other women. The women in the audience dared not even think to clap any of those men off the floor. If you must, lecture and mentor her in privacy. That is what men do. They don’t air their dirty brotherhood laundry in public. Nor do they clap each other off stage.

I’m sitting next to two ladies whom I’d gotten to know in the 15 minutes that we were sitting waiting for the official programme at an ANC pre-election event to begin. We quickly discover we have a lot in common and conversation flows easily. Within what feels like minutes, the programme starts and the programme director introduces the guests of honour. The Minister of Justice, Mr Jeff Radebe, delivers his talk and is followed by Mr Enoch Gondongwana, member of the African National Congress’ National Executive Committee.

After the official speeches, the programme director introduces the question and answer section of the programme and announces the order in which he will facilitate the session. Hand after hand goes up firing questions and it becomes apparent that most of these hands are only males. The awareness is thus created in this massive conference room that a comment or question from a woman would be greatly appreciated. After this, a hand goes up from a lady behind where I am sitting and the programme director affords her the opportunity to have her say. She picks up the microphone and starts talking, immediately berating how those who are not connected with the political elite are most of the time left to fend for themselves as those with the connections have an easier ride towards business success.

This lady goes on for what seems like five minutes, with what comes across as a little arrogance and preachiness about what she feels should be done by the governing party to create change in South Africa. The audience in the room becomes restless because she is now dragging on with her point, and even seems to have lost her train of thought somewhere along the way. Claps erupt to shorten her monologue but she takes no cognisance of this. She continues preaching. Then murmurs follow and she is derided as someone who loves her own voice. Further claps in the room erupt and she begins to abate. Finally, she stops talking.

I am fascinated by what had just happened and a thought strikes me. I realise that the ladies sitting next to me were part of the clapping crew indicating that the lady’s time was up. I also realise that the person who said the speaker ‘loved her own voice’ was another woman. I then turn to the two ladies sitting next to me and ask them why they joined in the clapping. They quickly offer “she was boring”.

I noted that when other men had the floor offering their opinions, suggestions and compliments, no one in the audience dared clap them off the floor even when they were offering unappreciated comments or belabouring their points. Men seem to never do that to each other. Men stick up for each other.

This then struck me as one of the challenges to the feminist movement in the 21st century. Women often aren’t willing to stick up for other women. The women in the audience dared not even think to clap any of those men off the floor. By their continued participation in delegitimising each other, women affirm the gospel of male patriarchy. Instead, wake up and stand with your sisters. Let her express her voice and represent you in the safety of your support. If you must, lecture and mentor her in privacy. That is what men do. They don’t air their dirty brotherhood laundry in public. Nor do they clap each other off stage.

vimbai

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