We’re in August, Women’s Month, a mere 31 days out of 365, that are meant to celebrate everything female; highlight successes; focus on the challenges that lay ahead and how to overcome these. Since everyone wants to be heard and seen ‘to do the right thing’, we are confronted by many, corporates included, that offer their acknowledgement and use this as an opportunity to grandstand.
Manglin Pillay, CEO of the South African Institution of Civil Engineering [SAICE] really got into it in full patronising mode; “To the women in STEM – you know I am your friend. I wrote you Character Currency, gave you poetry and even sang you songs, so you know I am on your side. But we need to discuss a few things”. It all went downhill from there.
We continue to live through the abuse of women; emotional, financial, physical, and many fatal.
Without going into too much detail on that piece, other than to mention that the very organisation he leads categorically distanced itself and is “horrified at the innuendo that girl-children are less in the fields of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM)”. My only hope is that swift action is taken. We continue to live through the abuse of women; emotional, financial, physical, and many fatal. The #TotalShutdown march took place a few days ago on 1 August as a signal that we will never be silenced.
These are my thoughts on this disease of patriarchy. Cause I think we have to name it that: a disease. As a mother of two boys under five, I’ve mentioned the daily intention to dismantle the seemingly innocuous ways we entrench gender bias. Just this morning, I had to convince my 4-year-old that the pink toothbrush – one of only two left from a pack of 5 multicoloured ones – was as good as the blue one. I didn’t succeed, but I guess I could say it was countered by his recent musings on why the PJ Masks trio “only has one girl?”. To which I replied, “that’s a good question. There should be two girls and two boys as we’re all equal”. My explanations will get more expansive as they grow. The point is that we must lay the foundations at an elementary level in the hope that society won’t have to deal with two more obnoxious adult men.
He most probably thought that he was being quite clever and endearing, perhaps even thought-provoking.
Patriarchy, much like white privilege, has its claws so deeply entrenched in ‘common culture’ and ‘it’s always been like this’ that the advantaged often don’t concede to their positions of power and therefore rarely question them. Oh, and when confronted, they vehemently deny. The aforementioned CEO is merely one case in point. He most probably assumed that he was being quite clever and endearing, perhaps even thought-provoking.
After the public shaming, he has supposedly ‘acted alone’ even though the piece was published in an industry magazine and on his Facebook page. This points to two possible scenarios: he was either advised against it and went ahead. You know, I’m the CEO aka the man who doesn’t get questioned. Or the more plausible explanation that he actually got a pat on the back for his fabulous piece. And I suspect that much like most of my writing is based on discussions and thoughts I regularly have, this is the usual boardroom/bar/golf course/locker room banter he’s familiar with, often accompanied by high-fives and raucous laughter.
It makes me sick to my core and another reason why I’m convinced that our boys should not be educated in a same-sex institution. It’s inspiring to see some schools embracing gender-neutral uniforms as well as sporting activities. These small changes will go a long way in levelling the playing field and hopefully create the gender-equal societies that will benefit the world over.
When we make it seem so ‘complicated’, we’re setting up stumbling blocks before we even begin.
Sexism, like racism and all other forms of discrimination, requires the perpetrator to acknowledge their bias before any meaningful intervention, let alone healing, can take place. So, Mr. Pillay believes that “gender equality and equity need deeper understanding than simplification into male dominance, patriarchy and companies providing baby care in the office”. When we make it seem so ‘complicated’, we’re setting up stumbling blocks before we even begin. What’s the take-out? It’s really not that easy to dismantle; it just is.
Every woman knows and feels patriarchy daily. You don’t have to do any research to tell us what we experience; the devastating impact it has on our lives. From the sister fetching water in rural Tzaneen to the one driving a Porsche, occupying a top position in Sandton, and everyone in between, we loathe it, we despise it and it must end. It starts by speaking up when we’re uncomfortable. Questioning when there are no women in the room. Being conscious and deliberate in our parenting of, and interaction with, both girls and boys. And finally, supporting each other through our struggles to overcome this despicable disease.
We have witnessed the fall of apartheid in our time, I pray that we will see the death of patriarchy.