Sowetan opinion piece does women an injustice

  • Kim Johnson - 19 October 2012

A tasteless opinion piece in the Sowetan warning parents to lock up their daughters in order to protect them from sexual assault and “Aids” ironically contributes to a culture of gender inequality which heightens women’s vulnerability to HIV.

Last Friday (12 October 2012) the Sowetan published an opinion piece warning parents to keep a watchful eye on girl teens—who the author labels as drunken and sex-crazed—because, “…rape and Aids are nothing to joke about”.

While we might wholeheartedly agree that rape and HIV are serious scourges affecting South African society in general and women in particular, something is seriously wrong with the rest of this picture.

What is wrong is that this piece—which is written by a woman—buys into one of the key tenants of our patriarchal culture. It quietly excuses men of any wrong doing in sexual assault, shifting the blame onto women themselves.

By focusing on the fact that teenage girls (and by extension women) must be policed or police themselves, this piece tacitly promotes the ‘boys will be boys’ mentality, relieving men of any responsibility when it comes to sexual assault.

It intimates that women (or the parents of young women) must be on guard instead of condemning and trying to address damaging norms and beliefs that make up many masculinities; masculinities which support gender inequality and entail the tacit sanctioning of misogynistic behaviour—including sexual violence and sexual assault.

Although at first glance this article might seem like an effort to address sexual assault and the high HIV incidence among women by cautioning parents, it in fact does the opposite.

By reinforcing and therefore perpetuating a culture of gender inequality it places women in a space where they are vulnerable to HIV through sexual assault.

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