The struggle of the 21st Century woman: iLIVE
There is truth in the observation that says, “The struggle for the emancipation of women has come a long way over the centuries”.
We must however continue to reflect on the place of women in society and how it ought to transform, be bettered or ignored. The gender discourse is a political discourse.
Gender issues drastically change only if significant political progress or digression is observed in any community or nation. Politics have their roots in that basic unit of society – the family.
The first place that men exercised dominance over women was in the family structures. The men often defined how operations would be handled within the family unit and more often than not, this saw the woman having to be submissive to the husband.
It is safe to say, the notion of women having to be submissive to men is historical, and even the Bible captures it. However, it is this notion that today is being challenged by women. Of course, a woman was expected to be submissive only to her husband, but the reality is that when various families came in to contact with one another, the wives would most likely embody the same kind of submissive behaviour towards all present men, as a show of respect or further submission.
Today’s men have either been groomed or told stories that perpetuate this notion of women having to be submissive.
Carole Pateman, writing in her book The Sexual Contract (1988), makes an observation about how this submission by women in the family unit was transported when men were entering into a pact (a social contract) establishing a civil government to run their affairs; thereby not leaving life to the hands of nature.
Pateman writes that:
“Men’s domination over women, and the right of men to enjoy equal sexual access to women, is at issue in the making of the original pact [the social contract to establish a government].
“The social contract is a story of freedom; the sexual contract is a story of subjection. The original (social) contract constitutes both freedom and domination. Men’s freedom and women’s subjection are created through the original contract – and the character of civil freedom cannot be understood without the missing half of the story that reveals how men’s patriarchal right over women is established through contract.”
I must hasten to say that, in the 21 Century the democratisation of states and the world at large, which is a process of recognising freedoms and equal rights, has led to some kind of sexual/sex liberation for women.
Women in South Africa, black women in particular, today are much more aware of their sexual needs compared to women who lived 100 years ago. I make this race distinction because the white women in South Africa have their cultural heritage rooted in the political advancement of Europe, which at the time (in 1652) of the arrival of white people to settle in South Africa was somewhat ahead than that of black women in this country.
Even currently, though black and white women may be living on the same political landscape, they however have distinctly differing cultural realities. Whilst the advancement of the political landscape and its democratisation has implications for the cultural landscapes in South Africa, cultures remain difficult to transform.
Cultures transform much more speedily when they are tackled from within the communities that gave birth and sustenance to them. That is why even social theorists started to give weight to the notion of ‘Black Feminism’, because globally, black women have different challenges to white women, Indian women etc; but at times all races of the world do share similar and identical struggles.
The 21st Century black South African woman has to contend with this complex relationship between the transformation of politics and cultural practices in her country. This 21st century woman has come to challenge and criminalise some cultural traditions such as ‘Ukuthwala’ (being abducted into marriage).
There was a time where this was an acceptable norm across many black communities of different ethnicity. Today it is associated with statutory rape, kidnap and many other criminal acts. This 21st Century woman is living in a time of rebelling against traditional norms of having two sexes – simply men and women.
She is now fighting for the freedom of women to choose freely without prejudice to live as lesbians in our society. She also has the burden to fight for men who want to live as gays in our society.
She incurs these fights, without fully winning the emancipation of women from men domination in general.
The woman of the 21st Century has declared that she wants to live in a world that views her as an equal to a man, though I may argue this notion of 50/50 as being limiting and shortchanging to the struggle of women going forward.
Society does not accept easily the liberation of a woman; her struggle has to be aided by laws, gender policies and institutions. The 21st century woman is growingly realising that she will age without a husband, as marriage has become a falling institution currently.
She is also growing at a time of political freedom, which makes her conscious not to accept subjugation from a husband, unlike her great grandmother who tolerated and lived with it.
The 21st Century woman has her marriage based more on love as opposed to endurance and building the family. She wants to enjoy sex when and with whom she chooses to – this remains highly contested in society through morality.
The fact that her marriage remains dependent on a man asking her hand in marriage indicates that she still has to have a form of submission to the man. She is a boss at work and she must learn to be submissive at home – this is growingly a nightmare dilemma to handle.
I found myself saying: “Women will be truly liberated when the sexual or rather sex relations between men and women have changed. Sexual freedom will lead to true liberty.” Whether this will change the arrangement of society for the better or worse is another subject of analysis all together.
Carole Pateman further says, “The original pact is a sexual as well as a social contract: it is sexual in the sense of patriarchal – that is, the contract establishes men’s political right over women – and also sexual in the sense of establishing orderly access by men to women’s bodies.”
We must continue to ask, has this changed or it continues to exist in the democratic South Africa?