By Nomali Cele
In a sick society that hates women, the first thing you will be taught is how to stay “safe.” Maybe the system is too broken to fix so you have to do what you can to stay alive until you die. As a girl, and then as a woman, you are taught that the world will not get better and your best bet, your only hope, is to never leave yourself vulnerable.
This, of course, is the first rule of rape culture. Rarely is blame laid squarely at the door of the rapists and enactors of other violence. No matter how much empathy people seem to have for the victim, it doesn’t last. Soon enough, the discussion reverses, drives back, pulls up and asks the victim what she did to invite this terror upon herself.
Everyday Feminism defines rape culture as a “situations in which sexual assault, rape, and incidents of violence are ignored, trivialised, normalised, or made into jokes. It refers to cultural practices that excuse or tolerate sexual violence by trivialising, or normalising it.” Rape culture has been on the rise for years in South Africa. It thrives in a patriarchal system.
But even knowing logically that nothing we do should leave us vulnerable; that the responsibility not to rape or kill should be that of potential rapists and murderers, we re-adjust. We shrink ourselves, we change routes and take three friends when we go to the bathroom at events.
In 2016, a neighbourhood I grew up in suddenly showed me its fangs when I was robbed at gunpoint. Most of my WhatsApp correspondence with my younger sister in 2017 was us sharing the latest alerts with each other as girls were disappearing at alarming speeds.
For Kaya 959 Journalist, Lindi Sirame, the idea of safety in numbers and changing her life to create “safety” wasn’t always the case. “As I grow older, I’ve become more anxious about my safety and that of my family,” she says.
Sirame remembers her matric year where she did the regular sneaking out at night thing teenagers do. “Growing up, I never had to worry about finding safety in numbers. Even after my cousin was raped in my matric year near her school, I still went about my life doing and wearing what I wanted.”
Sirame names sneaking out to go to parties at night, using public transport late as some of her early adventures. Now, a familiar face at an event is a source of relief for her.
Most of how girls and women approach life in a violent society can be put down to the ignorance of youth or, as we get older, optimism. We get online every few weeks and someone asks, “women, what would you do if men had a curfew?” And we let ourselves dream in threads.
“I don’t recall very many instances when I have been in the outdoors, alone at night. At least not without the fear that anything could happen to me,” says Ncebakazi Manzi, Executive Content Producer at Kaya 959.
Longing for a chance to bask in solitude in the quiet of the night, Manzi has often found herself disappointed because being a woman and outside at night is not a calming situation. “On those rare occasions that I walk alone in the dark, I walk so fast that I don’t even think of looking for stars or feeling the cool air against my skin.
“Every tree becomes a hideout for my potential assailant and every passing car, my potential saviour. At least that’s how things play out in my head until I reach home where I hold in my mouth the melting fear and the stolen taste of darkness and solitude combined.”
We know that things, like taking different routes or being “vigilant” or relying on safety in numbers, are not what will keep us safe ultimately or what will change the tide. Women know where the blame should lie and what needs to change. But every generation of women eventually starts sharing safety tactics, starts seeking safety in numbers and the knowledge that your favourite WhatsApp group knows where you are. We also know that sometimes we wake up to realise the monster is right inside our homes.
Do you seek safety in numbers? Share your experiences using #KayaOnline