Foschini: Buying into the T-shirt rhetoric

Nov 07, 11 Foschini: Buying into the T-shirt rhetoric

Posted by in Culture, Featured

The T-shirt is a global struggle icon. But over the past fortnight, sexist slogan T-shirts have attracted criticism from the South African women’s movement and justifiably so. Offensive printed T-shirts are not unique to the South African context but rather indicative of larger difficulties facing women who react with anger or frustration to a worrying or alarming situation. Recently, British retailer Topman introduced  a range of T-shirts, including two offensive slogan T-shirts which were eventually taken off the shelves following a similar outcry to that against the Foschini Group. In the Topman case, the retailer claimed that the T-shirts were ‘meant to be lighthearted and carried no serious meaning’, while the South African retailer pulled the T-shirts relatively faster and in a flurry of spin. The Foschini Group maintained that their T-shirts were also meant to be ‘tongue-in-cheek’ but they would not be deaf to the community’s outcry and would not hesitate to act immediately. Some of the offensive and subsequently removed T-shirts read ‘SINGLE: Stay Intoxicated Nightly Get Laid Every day’,  ‘YOU LOOKED BETTER FROM BEHIND’ and  ‘I put the STD in STUD, All I need is U’.  These slogan T-shirts were withdrawn because the Foschini Group felt that they had ‘crossed the line between humorous and offensive’. Sexist slogan T-shirts are really just in bad taste, lack any fashion-forward nuance and are probably counter-productive to the slogan they bear. So then how do these T-shirts find their way to the racks in the first place? Well apparently, these T-shirts are large turnover items for the retailer. Thus, I don’t believe the problem lies with the Foschini Group. The problem lies the guys buying the shirts who remain oblivious to the offensive character of the merchandise. The South African women’s movement objected to the marketing of this attire because it normalizes and valorizes risky sexual behavior in a country where the link between HIV/AIDS and overlapping multiple sexual partnerships is well established. I take a less sugar-coated view of the sexist slogan T-shirt. For me, the...

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Reformers and Peacemakers, Nobel Women

Oct 24, 11 Reformers and Peacemakers, Nobel Women

Posted by in International

Liberia’s first woman president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Liberian peace campaigner Leymah Gbowee and youth activist Tawakkul Karman are the first women to receive the Nobel Peace Prize since 2004. These three women were chosen for their non-violent struggle for the safety of women and women’s rights to full participation in peace-building work. It seems the overarching theme attached to 2011’s prize was that of women’s rights and activism. In this regard, the Nobel committee was spot on. Democracy and lasting peace can only be realized if women’s needs and concerns are recognized in conjunction with the expansion of women’s aspirations and skills to their fullest potential. Until women are formally educated and can earn a living wage, they will not be able to take their rightful place in influencing development at all levels of society. However, having been criticized for imposing a political agenda on continuing events rather than capturing a moment of hope, the Nobel committee has received flack for their choice of winners.  I have no problem with this perceived political agenda, as long as that agenda arises from support of particular issues and is not just blanket coverage for the sake of granting women the Nobel peace prize. In a blanket coverage stance, the committee seems to have arbitrarily thrown the prize at three women, all in the name of merely supporting women’s interests. By doing so, they have diluted the standing of the Nobel peace prize. What the committee really needed to do was pick a particularly pertinent issue and stick with it or adopt a more representative approach. Over the last year and from their list of possible winners, the Nobel committee could have picked out three issues within the context of women’s rights and activism: The Arab Spring, Liberian women peacemakers and a decade of conflict in Afghanistan. But instead of focusing on one issue, the Nobel committee picked out two issues, Liberia receiving more emphasis than the Arab Spring while ignoring Afghanistan altogether. As part of a focused approach, the...

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Scarred But Not Damaged

Sep 15, 11 Scarred But Not Damaged

Posted by in Culture

Every young woman I have spoken to has a story – stories of coercive circumstances; harassment, sexual propositions and overtures; emergency contraception; sexual abuse; controlling behaviour or intimidation.  I am not writing on behalf of all victims or survivors of sexual assault, harassment or gender-based violence (GBV). Nor am I writing about the all-encompassing normative power of GBV legislation for victims or survivors. In fact, I say ‘victim’ and ‘survivor’ with a degree of caution because of their doubtful connotations of strength and weakness. Quite simply, for my tenth African Scene piece, I’m going to turn my analysis of gender relations inward and share my own story with you. A story which began with a guy I considered a friend. A person I trusted who threatened to break my pelvis in an act of sexual violence and ruin sex for me forever because I did not give him what he wanted, when he wanted it. And, in my lawyerly mind, I found it liberating to locate my experience squarely within the Domestic Violence Act 116 of 1998 (DVA). This legal framework (for all of its procedural flaws) has incredible value as a normative touchstone in reminding me that a threat of physical and sexual violence against any women is inherently wrong and therefore, allowing me to work through my own internalized self-blaming GBV myths. But how could someone within my circle of friends – someone I thought was the teddy bear of the bunch – threaten me? For me, this question was founded on a myth of two extremes. On one side, women were only supposed to be harmed by nameless strangers. While on the opposite side, ‘domestic violence’ only occurred in the context of a ‘home’ or ‘family’ environment. There could be no grey area. Nonetheless, the DVA makes provision for grey areas by sanctioning a broad list of people who could qualify as abusers, ranging from someone with whom you’ve shared a residence to a person you’ve had any kind of romantic relationship...

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Anders Breivik: ‘Why Norway?’

Jul 25, 11 Anders Breivik: ‘Why Norway?’

Posted by in International, News & Media

‘One person with a belief is equal to the force of 100 000 who have only interests’ sounds like a quote you’d expect an Islamist fundamentalist group would subscribe to. And this is exactly what the Scandinavian community assumed in the aftermath of the explosions that devastated Oslo’s government district on Friday afternoon and the subsequent shooting spree on Norway’s holiday island of Utoya. Many commentators were quick to attribute responsibility to an al Qaeda-esque extremist group. The question which seemed to ring from the coverage by international news networks (from the BBC to Al Jazeera) was ‘why Norway?’ Speculation immediately revolved around Norway’s involvement with NATO in Afghanistan and Libya. Muammar Qadaffi himself had threatened to strike at the heart of Europe and, as a liberal open society unaccustomed to violence or terror of any significance since World War II, Norway may have been seen as a soft target. Another possible angle was that of a Muslim cleric facing deportation who had made similar threats of reprisal. On this aspect, most were at least partially correct – the acts of terror did centre around immigration. But when the suspected terrorist was arrested, the international media was introduced to a creature they had not seen since before the turn of the century: A home-grown, right-wing, nationalist unhappy with multicultural societies and slack immigration policies. Tall with blonde hair, blue eyes and Norwegian citizenship – Anders Behring Brevik was the last person expected to be a terrorist. The peace-loving Norwegians believed an attack would be organised externally by an Islamic terrorist organisation rather than an internally-generated response their own politics. Although bearing the general hallmarks of an attack by Islamic jihadists, from the beginning, the Oslo bombing and the lone-gunman nature of the Utoya shooting did not feel like an al Qaeda attack. It felt more like Timothy McVeigh or even Columbine. However, in this case the suspect was captured alive, not as a credit to the Norwegian authorities, but because Brevik wants to revel in the notoriety and...

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SlutWalk SA? No way!

Jun 09, 11 SlutWalk SA? No way!

Posted by in Culture

When police Constable Michael Sanguinetti advised female students at Osgoode Hall Law School to not dress like sluts in order to avoid being victimised, it gave the Toronto community an insight into the attitude of law enforcement towards survivors of sexual violence and ignited an angry response in the form of SlutWalk Toronto. Since the pilot protest, numerous satellite SlutWalks have spread to cities in the United States, Europe and Australia. SlutWalk London is scheduled for 11 June 2011. I think SlutWalkers should be applauded for their ability to create awareness and generate publicity in the name of the movement against gender-based violence. However, before we see SlutWalk Jozi, in many instances I believe that SlutWalks are sending the wrong message in a form of activism which is inappropriate for the South African context. We should not be focusing on the survivor’s clothing or women’s clothing at all because clothing is not an indicator or guarantee of sexual autonomy or safety against sexual violence. Rape is a crime of power committed against a woman because she is a woman. So in many cases, blame will be cast regardless of what she was doing or wearing. The mental process of justifying sexual violence or avoiding personal responsibility for a crime involves the use of rape myths. SlutWalk helps to cement the myths around women being responsible in some way for her own victimisation in that a woman is at least partially or totally responsible if she was wearing sexy or revealing clothes. In South Africa, the focus on women’s clothing is a also a means of redefining masculinity and acceptance of the myth that men are just not able to control their sexual urges. For example, in the rape trial and acquittal of the Jacob Zuma, the victim was questioned about why she was wearing a kanga (a long piece of cloth wrapped around the waist and deemed to be ‘revealing clothing’. Following the President’s acquittal, two other incidents drew attention to the rape myths around women wearing miniskirts and pants....

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