Women must liberate themselves from patriarchy

WHILE the nation has been kept busy with the sensational news of President Jacob Zuma's love child, I have been part of a discussion on patriarchy and white supremacy on the Blackwash page on Facebook. The debate was robust and some sparks flew!

WHILE the nation has been kept busy with the sensational news of President Jacob Zuma's love child, I have been part of a discussion on patriarchy and white supremacy on the Blackwash page on Facebook. The debate was robust and some sparks flew!

The discussion was not moved by the hype around Zuma and his affairs in Soweto, but rather sought to understand the nature of a system that oppresses women in our society - called patriarchy.

Since Zuma's Soweto child there has been a curious alliance of self-righteous gender activists, religious moralists and opposition parties in the condemnation of Zuma. For some reason Zuma is expected to behave differently from the rest of South African men.

The truth is that South Africa is a patriarchal country. Patriarchy is part of sexism; it puts the interests of men before those of women. It uses culture, religion, tradition - and even love - to justify the enslavement of women.

Women do all the difficult domestic work, including childcare. Women are forbidden to have more than one husband or lover. If women have more than one lover they are called izifebe but men with many women are praised as amasoka. Patriarchy reduces women to being the property of men.

It is patriarchy that explains the shockingly high incidence of rape and related violence against women in our country. The discussion on the Blackwash page focused on how black men are agents of patriarchy, while at the same time being victims of white supremacy with their womenfolk.

This raises the challenge of whether black men can be partners with black women in fighting patriarchy since they are beneficiaries and perpetrators of the same system that oppresses women.

Views on this matter are diverse. Some people argue that only women can liberate themselves from male oppression. This view mirrors Biko's assertion that only the oppressed can free themselves.

While patriarchy turns women into slaves, white supremacy on the other hand places whites on top of all blacks, then place black men on top of black women, while oppressing both black men and women.

One of the examples used to explain how white supremacy sustains patriarchy is the fact that the ritual of Ulwaluko-hobolla-koma (male initiation into "manhood") has been preserved by colonialists to create black men who remain boys in the eyes of white women, children and men, but these fake black men would kill for their "manhood" within the black community.

The colonialist took everything away from black people, including their land, and let them keep and celebrate their useless manhood. White supremacy and patriarchy are like milk and tea. It's no longer possible or desirable to separate patriarchy from white supremacy.

Patriarchy is indeed bad for both men and women, so an anti-patriarchy alliance between black women and men is possible.

But men must be prepared to forgo some of the current benefits of patriarchy, such as owning the bodies of women if they want to be real comrades in the struggle against women oppression.

One of the most disturbing discoveries from the debate is that some of the black philosophies and movements that claim to fight white supremacy actually hates women, lesbians and gays. They use being "African" as a justification for their backward ideas.

The debate continues.

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