Violence against women: it's a guy thing

Columnist Jen Thorpe takes on the suspended writers from FHM and their supposed 'sense of humour'.

When two FHM staff joked about rape and corrective rape earlier today, and I was shown the image, I just sighed loudly. Where does one begin?

Was I surprised that it was FHM? Not at all. Because violence against women in South Africa is ‘a guy thing’. In fact, most violence in South Africa perpetrated against men or women is a guy thing. It’s a thing that guys do on their own, and bond over in groups. It’s a thing that’s part of South African manhood at its foundations. Sexual violence and rape are symptoms of a problematic violent masculinity.

Corrective rape in particular is a powerful example of the crisis of South African masculinity. The myth that lesbianism is wrong, or that violence is a legitimate means of indicating belief in this myth, has its roots in patriarchy and hetero-normativity. Patriarchy says that women’s bodies and sexuality are male property, and hetero-normativity says that being straight is right and that lesbianism is wrong. In essence then, lesbians definition of their sexuality outside of men’s interests challenges the system in a powerful way.

Let’s also not ignore that it is particular women who are most vulnerable to correcitve. The fact that it is black poor lesbian women living in informal settlements who are the most likely victims of this crime is often ignored by the media when reports about  corrective rape are made, something that was raised by Sekoetlane Phamodi recently. Joking about corrective rape is joking about violence against these women.

So what does it mean then when two staff members of a male magazine (that also rates women’s bodies hierarchically each year) incite corrective rape? What does it mean when they joke about date rape? It means that they don’t take it seriously. It means they don’t care about how their comments affect women, especially rape survivors. It means that they say to other men that these issues are not serious. It means that they are bold and proud supporters of rape culture.

South Africa has an incredibly powerful rape culture. This culture is sustained by many things: low conviction rates for perpetrators, an unpleasant criminal justice system that alienates survivors and reduces reporting, a history of South African violence, and inequality amongst the sexes. It is also sustained by our laughter at jokes that condone violence against women. Rape jokes are part of rape culture. Rape culture is bad for men and women.

Corrective rape and the Facebook posts of these two FHM staffers have something in common. They are messages. They are messages to women and to lesbian women in particular, that violence against them is tolerated by men, even if they never perpetrate the violence themselves.

As such, they affect not only the actual victims of rape and corrective rape but the other members of the group and community. When a black lesbian woman is raped in a setting such as a township, it sends a clear message to other lesbian women – if you are openly gay, you are at risk. When rape of women is joked about on Facebook, it sends a message that social media puts women at risk.

This message will now be debated, and the decision of the FHM management about how to deal with these offenders will send another message. I hope that it is one that says no to violence against women, and that requires these two staff to do some form of community service with rape survivors so that they understand that rape is not ‘theory’, it is very painfully violently real.

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