Continued from The F Word (Episode 1): An Introduction
K: Let me read some vital statistics to you about harassment of women. I’ve been reading this book and it has literally opened my eyes to a world that I was so ignorant of. This book is Laura Bates’ Everyday Sexism and she records a number of statistics about the struggle that women face on an everyday basis.
- After experiencing workplace sexual harassment only 27% of women reported it to someone (Slater & Gordon, 2013)
- Of women seriously sexually assaulted during their time at university, only 4% reported it to their higher-education institution and only 10% to the police (National Union of Students- NUS – Hidden Marks survey, 2010)
- 50% of those students seriously sexually assaulted who didn’t report it said it was because theyfelt ashamed or embarrassed (NUS, Hiddemn Marks survey, 2010)
- 90% of victims of the most serioussexual offences know the perpetrator (Ministry of Justice, Home Office & Office for National Statistics, ONS, 2013)
- Only 15% of female victims of the most serious sexual offences reported it to the police (Ministry of Justice, Home Office & ONS,2013)
- 28% of women who are the victims of the most serious sexual offences never tell anybody about it (Ministry of Justice, Home Office & ONS, 2013)
K: Now I don’t know if you know about this #killallmen, but I think it’s a phenomenon in a weird and very concerning way. It’s basically a hashtag where people just vent their views about feminism – about feminists. And this particular tweet I picked out it says: ‘Imagine breaking your back working two jobs, to send your little girl to university, to find out she took gender studies, and tweets #killallmen.
K: So what do you think about this, what do you think about the statistics? Yovanka, when was the last time you felt you were harassed, as a woman and a feminist.
Y: I’ve had a few stories of harassment. But more experience of being in certain rooms and bringing up certain topics. And people being uncomfortable, and sort of try to dismiss and put me down because of the points I was making. I’m not surprised at all about the statistics. Most universities don’t have any structures to help or support something like rape – most of the universities I visited didn’t have those structures.
But I know that in the US, it’s a very big problem and there’s a documentary called The Hunting Ground. In the US they have a system where they have campus police and all rapes are supposed to be taken to the police outside. But what happens is because the school doesn’t want to admit and have on record that 500 or 300 rapes are happening in a year, what they tend to do is hush-hush and usually tell the girls: ‘Are you sure this is what happened?’ or they do simply do a disciplinary action – so it stays within the university.
Going back to that tweet, what that person should be saying is imagine working two jobs, sending your daughter to university, and learning that you’re actually sending her to a very unsafe place. I never saw any campaigns in my 4 years of university. And I have personally witnessed older students going up to fresher students and targeting them, because they’re freshers with drinks in their hands.
K: But then you have that argument of reverse sexism, that says ‘learn how to take a compliment.’ That says ‘the girl is asking for it.’ The argument that says look at the way they dressing; the way women dress is something that a lot of perpetrators use when it comes to sexually offending these women. So what do you think Henry – as a man? Do the statistics shock you?
H: The statistics don’t shock me but it points this vile and foul irony, the sexist culture that we live in. On one hand objectifies women, and on the other hand blame women for the sexualisation of their bodies. The argument about how a woman dresses isn’t an argument at all.
K: This has been discussed and explored in public spaces – in media. One of the questions of a very popular daytime talk show was ‘Are woman putting this on themselves?’ in dressing provocatively, going to clubs and leaving at two in the morning, and walking home in the dark on their own. Are they intentionally putting themselves in a place where they’d be sexually harassed?
Y: In regards to appearance. We know that rape happens regardless of what sort of clothing you have. So you might be covered from head to toe but that doesn’t mean you’re protected from rape. Rape doesn’t happen as just a cocktail of circumstances; you just happen to see a girl drunk and you just happen to have drugs to slip into her drink. These are people that actually think about it; it’s pre-meditated. It’s just like murder. With pre-mediated murder, the blame is not on the victims usually but when it comes to rape, somehow it’s always the woman’s fault. When people try to say it’s always on the woman, it says a lot about the nature of man. It’s almost saying that men cannot control themselves. Men are almost like beasts.
K: The true is men can control themselves because there are men out there who do control themselves. This makes me think that the rape is not necessarily a sexual act, but it’s an act of power and control. It’s about power and controlling the female body.
H: It’s the slave system where the masters mark their slaves as property to violate. It is an assertion of power and an assertion of control. And any woman who would deliberately place themselves in harm’s way seems counter-intuitive. The issue points to men but not all men. Essentially it points to the system of patriarchy that produces and reproduces these ideals; how men feel they need to assert myself over a woman in order to confirm my masculinity. This is why I feel that men should be an ally to feminism because we all – as men – have benefited from patriarchy. So we all my participate in dismantling it.
Join us for a series of semi-formal candid conversations on all things ‘feminist.’ In the run up to the annual literature and book festival, Africa Writes 2016, The Royal African Society have invited Henry Brefo and Yovanka Perdigao to discuss one of the festival’s main themes; African feminism. What is African feminism and what does it mean to be a feminist in today’s world? Everything from Intersectionality to the controversial hashtag #killallmen will be explored and dissected by two individuals well versed in the ideas and the issues that connote the F word.
Henry Brefo is the co-founder and editor of Afrikult; an online platform that discusses explores and celebrates African literature. He is also an English tutor for Equal Education Ltd, mentoring and providing literary support for secondary students. Henry was a freelance journalist at African Voice and a graduate researcher for Network for Black Professionals. He did his BA degree in British Contemporary History and his MA in African Studies. Henry believes that as long as there is patriarchy to dismantle, there will always be a need for feminism in society.
Yovanka Paquete Perdigao is a Bissau-Guinean writer, who has lived between Senegal, Ivory Coast and Portugal and is currently based in London. She has an Msc in Violence, Conflict and Development and is interested by all things gruesome but more importantly how violence transcends generations. She is an African feminist and political pen activist and is currently working for Africa Research. Yovanka loves African art and is an enthusiastic cultural producer. She recently wrote a piece entitled Do a Little More: A Black Woman Reflects on Global Crisis. Yovanka works to “promote the versatility of black women –their spirit and their experiences – particularly in the UK and, hopefully, Europe as a whole.”
Stay tuned for more meaty discussions from The F Word duo in the coming weeks!
African feminism in literature will be a topic explored by our headline guest writer Nawal El Saadawi this year at Africa Writes, the UK’s biggest annual African literature and book festival at The British Library, 1-3 July 2016.
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There will also be a number of free workshops and events taking place at the festival: http://bit.ly/AWworkshops