TRIGGER WARNING: sexual violence
Let me start by saying that I feel very ambivalent about causing two workers to lose their source of income. It makes me uncomfortable to have deprived anyone of a wage in this time of crisis. ‘Getting someone fired’, more than a victory, makes me feel miserable, concerned, confused.
There are a number of other things contributing to my current lack of emotional wellbeing – my anxiety, nausea, vulnerability, unhappiness; a feeling of being overwhelmingly incapable of working or writing or any of the daily activities necessary for my survival. Many of the feelings I am describing are those associated with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and relate in part to my own past experiences of violent men. While the medicalisation of trauma and ‘post-trauma’ is too complex a discussion for this text, for the sake of brevity I will use this term to refer to the way I have been affected, and am constantly affected, by particular traumas. My PTSD was triggered, that is my feelings of helplessness, victimhood, pain; the feelings of fear associated with sexual violence; trauma, when a friend of mine sent me an email with screenshots of a Facebook thread starting with a status by Max Barashenkov. In her email she asked me to please say or do something about it since she was too scared of the men concerned to do it herself.
The status reads:
I propose correctional rape and sterilization for any white person who twerks.
Immediately two woman friends object to Max’s light, joking reference to correctional rape. Correctional rape is a term used to describe the practice of raping someone (usually a woman) in order to ‘cure’ them of their homosexuality. This is a common practice in South Africa particularly in South African townships.
Max and his friend and former co-writer at For Him Magazine (FHM) South Africa, Montle Moorosi immediately attacked and bullied them:
i think rape can be quite fun if executed in a romantic manner. like saying “i love you” before you slip a roofie into her Earl Grey tea.
When challenged on this, Max writes:
i myself, was a victim of correctional rape, so I can make jokes about it
No, Max, you weren’t. Seeing as you are a heterosexual white man, it is also very unlikely that you ever will be. This, clearly, is in fact why you can make jokes about it.
The thread continues. In particular one woman, Kyla Phil, continuously tries to object to Max and Montle’s trivializing of rape and violence, however she is continuously bullied, talked down to, ignored.
Each comment made me feel more sick, more angry, more out of control. I understood why my friend was scared of these men: It is not just the cultural capital that they wield against anyone who challenges them that makes them an object of fear; it is that what they are saying is genuinely terrifying and threatening:
in all honesty, im just a ignorant selfish fuck who choses not to care unless something affects me personally… as big pun said “respect crime but not when it respects mine”… big pun used to beat his wife
I tweeted the screen shots of the conversation. People all over the country were horrified. People retweeted at FHM. Eventually editor, Brendan Cooper, was pressurized into suspending the two writers. Cooper is quoted in City Press as saying: “They’re actually nice boys. But having these comments linked to my brand (has) me absolutely furious.”
Nice boys, he says.
Max and Montle then issued an aggressive non-apology in which they accuse South Africans of embarking on a ‘witch hunt’ (way to instrumentalise the abuse and murder of tens of thousands of women to defend men making jokes about abusing women) based on ‘blind hate’ for the two writers, writing: ‘We find honesty in the unfiltered horror of life, not in politically and socially correct reportage which trivializes the real issues. It is our hope now that the newspapers and the social media mobs will react as strongly and as violently to more important matters in our country.’
Max and Montle’s continued trivializing of their comments, and of rape culture, the continued aggression and dismissal of many others, the vapid Daily Maverick post that says the real problem here is people getting angry, insensitively claiming ‘outrage porn’. The “Thought Leader” blog crying because ‘Two people were suspended. Just like that. People who, from what I can tell, were respected enough and presumably liked among their peers’ and calling me a vindictive killjoy who single handedly ruined Mandela’s birthday. The comments on the blogs about evil twitter feminists, the pointed personal comments on blogs that are clearly by people who know me. The rape threats. The hatred. The patronizing, mansplaining assumption that we are idiots who don’t understand the joke. Every single person who feels like it is more important to critique the media outcry about violent hate speech than it is to think about what this hate speech actually means, what it does, is one more person telling me that these boys’ lives are more important than mine, than ours.
Every singe tweet, every defense, every ‘angry twitter feminist’ accusation, makes me more scared when I walk home alone, less capable of being in any kind of emotional relationship with men, less sure of my capacity for serious writing, Every single attack makes me less of myself, because I know that you care more about the welfare, about the wages, the reputation of two violent men than you do about the pain of women; because my life is worth so much less to you. Every single attack, however stupid, however badly written, however much I laugh it off, is a knife on the edge of my throat again.
This piece, of course, is not ‘serious writing’. I know that by writing this I am opening up myself further to more hurt, more trauma, more abuse; of course I am lacerating myself to the point where the immediate response can only be well that’s your subjective emotional unreasonable hysterical feminine response, you can’t blame us for that. Well, firstly, I can and will. Secondly it is not just my position. The position of traumatized subject is shared in its infinite horrifying variants by countless women (and men) in South Africa and elsewhere. It might be useful to remember that it is estimated that 40% of South African women are raped in their lifetimes and that only one in nine rapes are likely to be reported. A much higher percentage have experienced some kind of sexual violence or attempted sexual violence, and I would argue that near to every single woman and girl in South Africa has experienced some kind of sexual harassment.
We have suffered, we suffer, we are suffering. And your violence, your defense of violence, your disregard for real victims, your aggression, your silencing, your abuse is making us suffer more. I did not call out these men because they made jokes about violence; I called them out because their jokes are violent, and because they cause real and serious damage to me, to survivors, to us.
I wish I could take away Max and Montle’s violence. I wish that I could stop them from hating me, from hurting me and my sisters. But, I don’t know how to do that, how to take the violence from men (this testimony is a way of trying, but it rarely works). What I did, what I will continue to do, is to stop them from writing, from having a voice, from having influence, from being that joke in a room full of drunk boys and a girl passed out on the couch, that joke that says hey lets fuck her, lets film it, lets show everyone, hey I hear she’s gay she deserves it hey lets destroy her lets cut her maybe lets kill her no but that’s too far it wouldn’t be that kind of rape right it would just be the kind where she’s my girlfriend and it was romantic and no means yes right and this is all really funny anyway and lets just slip it in her just this once it will be hilarious …
Or maybe it will be the kind of rape Max himself fantasizes about in one of his published texts for (surprise!) Vice titled ‘THE JOURNALIST’S GUIDE TO ECO-FRIENDLY PEDOPHILIA’:
Admittedly the only reason to actually come here, unless bound by journalistic duty, is to get ass. The tent next door is crammed full of virgin, eight of them, though the number fluctuates. Doing some quick math, that puts anywhere between thirty and sixty-four semen receptacles within a fifteen meter radius of our sleeping grounds. Hunting in the daisy fields is much like hunting in the savannah: locate the weak one in the herd – usually swaying a little too much to whatever crap band is playing; approach and begin lying – how much you love this band, how you know them personally, how you were actually in the band at some stage; flash your media pass and, if you work for One Small Seed, drag the meat back to your magazine’s snazzy tent, club it into submission with pumping house music and have your way. Clean up. Repeat. Glorious.
Max and Montle, I am not in any way sorry for what is happening to you. Do not be misled – I am not misdirecting my anger, I am not ‘more angry’ with you than a man who rapes a woman, I do not hate men or even either of you. But, I do hate rape and abuse and male violence and the structural sexism and misogyny that allow fear to govern our lives. I hate what you said and how you spoke and how you continue to speak. I am angry with you. I am furious. And however much you continue to hurt us, to hate us, to try and destroy us, as best as I can I am going to stand square in the middle of your fucking way…
* Image by Zanele Muholi.