Moving Beyond the “Harvey Weinstein Extreme”: the Next Phase of #MeToo

The #metoo campaign has had a profound impact on the world.

Many women have been empowered to speak about abuse at the hands of men and a few of the more powerful of these have seen their careers ruined. Some will go to jail. With the campaign has come the inevitable push-back from many men who feel victimised. These have been epitomised by the likes of Donald Trump. My concern: If #metoo (and related activities/campaigns in this space) are to fundamentally change culture; change the system; the way men see, speak of and treat women, we (men) are going to need to get out of the extremes of this narrative and into a place where we can take individual responsibility for what women face daily all over the world – and change our behaviour accordingly. The reality is that women from Boston to Burundi are oppressed and abused every day; they leave their homes rehearsing in their minds what they will do if they are set upon by men (physically and emotionally); they must fight a system that places women several rungs below men on life’s ladder; they are profoundly abused and dishonoured in myriad ways from the subtle to the horrific. Is it not time for me as a man to stand up and say #metoo? I am not suggesting this as a campaign name – this is strictly for women in my view. I am saying, “#metoo – I have contributed to a system that places women below men in every way.” This is different to the “men are trash” movement – although that is very powerful and necessary. This is about me outing myself and not just for the sake of it, but for a shift in my personal attitudes and behaviours; to create a consciousness in me as a man that I have a role to play in this thing. Now, in my mind I immediately move to the extreme of this narrative when I write this and say: “I don’t need to speak up here. I am not an abuser as I have never done anything to a woman against her will. I have never raped, abused or groped a woman. I have never laid a finger on a woman.” But just because I haven’t necessarily done anything to women that would land me in jail or lose me my job does not mean I have not contributed to the subjugation, degradation or weakening of women; contributed to a system that places women in daily peril and in a constant state of preparedness for the inevitability of being taken advantage of by men.  This becomes so much subtler than the abuses of the Harvey Weinsteins or the Bill Cosbys of this world. But, is it not day after day, incident after exhausting incident – just as damaging to women? Now, I am fairly and squarely on the hook. What does this look like in real terms? My name is Justin Foxton and I have contributed to a system that places women below men in every way. I have done this by being male. This is not a crime but not actively fighting against male privilege is. This is not just an economic thing; this is a system thing. I have done this by remaining naive about the many injustices committed against women daily in our world. I have done this by listening to men trumpet their own positions of power, privilege and wealth knowing that they are standing on the broken backs of women. I have done this by listening to sermons in which priests and pastors have misrepresented my faith by suggesting that men are dominant over women; that women should not be leaders at all. That is enough for me to feel most vulnerable. But that is how women feel all the time. I need to feel that way to identify better with women. #doyou?

Silence: The Brave New Loud

“Outside, the music pumped. But no one looked like they were in the mood for a party. The late winter crescent moon hung in the sky like a scythe. Five pieces of paper had worked like a car bomb, blowing the night apart.” The Daily Maverick’s Richard Poplak on the silent anti-rape protest #rememberkhwezi during Jacob Zuma’s speech at the announcement of the election results. It was like a scene from a Hollywood thriller, though were it fiction you would have battled to believe it.  4 brave young women took on the State President, the Independent Electoral Commission and the nation’s top security – and triumphed. You could see it etched on their faces; bewilderment. Mere seconds after they began their protest, hand written signs held aloft (“I am 1 in 3”, “# 10 years later”, “khanga” and “Remember Khwezi”), they stole a brief glance at one another and almost sheepishly let their signs drop a little. They simply could not believe that they had managed to steal the show for that long. It was never part of the plan surely that the nation – the world – would get the full length of the President’s speech to read their signs and process the magnitude of what was happening. They had expected to be thrown out in a matter of seconds. But incredibly, no one moved to get rid of them. The President babbled away like some wind-up children’s toy and everyone else assumed that he must know what was going on – otherwise he surely would not have continued. Timing is everything and their’s was immaculate. They left the President’s – and by extension the party’s – integrity and even dignity in tatters on the floor or that building. The impact of Poplak’s quote above is that he likens the impact of this silent protest to a car bomb. What he is saying is that silence – peace if you will – is as powerful a weapon as the worst forms of public violence. Done properly and timed correctly, it impacts in similar ways to car, human or aircraft bombs by wresting attention away from the main event and making itself the main event. The difference is that with high impact peaceful protest – and it does not get higher impact than this – the only death is to people’s egos and heaven knows that is no bad thing. There is no down side. The irony of peaceful, silent protest is that its reverberations can be louder, longer and more powerful than any act of carnage. The vibrations of this protest will be felt for years – decades I would think. How this must have incensed the powers that be. But peace does that – it incenses those with any form of tyranny in their heart. It is quite possible that the seeds of this protest were sown on Friday 22nd July when SABC staff coordinated a “blackout” protest by all wearing black from the first to the last broadcast of the day. They were protesting against the unfair firing of their 8 colleagues and against the national broadcaster’s decision to censor scenes of violent protest in the build up to the 2016 local government elections. SABC management including COO Hlaudi Motsoeneng knew absolutely nothing about this; it was coordinated without a paper trail and as brilliantly timed and executed as the #rememberkhwezi protest. And like that protest, it hurt no one; it contained no violence and it resonated with the nation.  Again, the only casualties were inflated egos. Shame. The real victor? Democracy. It is surely no coincidence that these incidents of silent and very powerful peaceful protest coincide with a change in direction of the political winds of our nation. Silent protest at this level of audacity, impunity and bravery is a hallmark of deepening democracy and the results of the 2016 Local Government Elections demonstrate a similar trend towards maturity. These clever and well-coordinated silent protests – along with more balanced election results – reaffirm that our democracy is in better shape than even the most positive amongst us could have imagined. And the large-scale impact of the protests will surely begin to recalibrate how many perceive and enact protest in the future. Also, bear in mind that #rememberkhwezi was coordinated from within the EFF, the same party that walked out of the IEC Elections Centre when Jacob Zuma rose to speak. This is their ongoing form of silent protest as they refuse to legitimise the President by listening to him. As activists and politicians begin to understand and experiment with its power, we can all look forward to a lot more silence in the future. This column is dedicated to the memory of 17-year-old Anene Booysens: gang raped, mutilated and murdered, and our Mozambican brother Emmanuel Josias Sithole: beaten and stabbed to death.

Love your Penis. Love your Vagina

“Do you think my vagina will be safe in the car?” asked Sue Barnes as we alighted from our rental vehicle. It would have struck me as an unusual sort of question but for the fact that we had been discussing Sue’s vagina and other related topics for the best part of the morning. We were on one of our “menstrual missions”, distributing packs of Sue’s miraculous washable, reusable Subz sanitary pads to 500 impoverished girls from 5 desperately needy community schools. Before handing out the packs, Subz founder and inventor Sue does a brilliant talk in which she lovingly explains menstruation and the fact that each girl’s body is a precious thing; something to be honoured and respected. This is not as obvious as it might seem to you or I. As I have written before, many of these girls make use of toilet paper, newspaper and even soiled sanitary pads belonging to friends or relatives during their monthly period. The harsh reality is that menstruation will keep over 60% of South African girls away from school for a cumulative total of more than one-and-a-half years of their 5-year high school career. This makes passing matric virtually impossible and their options become limited to menial work or worse still a life at the mercy of a sugar daddy, now disingenuously referred to as a “Blesser”. For the purposes of illustrating the various parts of a woman’s body, Sue makes use of some highly innovative props; an apron complete with breasts, removable nipples and a vagina and a 3D model of a woman’s pelvis. This is the particular prop that she was referring to when we got out of the car. Spending time with Sue Barnes on what she refers to as a school activation, is a truly enriching experience. Not only do you get to see the utter joy on girls faces as they receive their free 3-year supply of washable, reusable sanitary pads, but you also get to speak openly about sex, breasts, nipples, penises and vaginas. I find this to be extremely liberating and very necessary in our society. You see a significant contributing factor to our very high levels of woman abuse, unwanted pregnancies, abortions, abandonments etc. is the gradual erosion of dignity and sanctity that so many girls and women in our country experience. This happens when young women are denied access to proper information presented in a respectful, open fashion and products that dignify them and celebrate their femininity. I also believe that the language (or lack thereof) that we use for sex and related issues is highly problematic and plants early seeds in both boys and girls that sex is dirty and shameful – even violent. This creates fertile soil for later perversion and abuse to flourish. When Cathy and I became parents we made a decision to refer to our and Lolly’s genitals by their proper names. No peepee and foofoo for this family! We allow her to look, we talk with her about our differences and – in an age appropriate fashion – we answer her questions. It is quite telling that we have copped some serious flak for this approach. Now please understand, this is all new to us and something that we are really battling with ourselves. In fact, we have to steel ourselves every time we use the words or have the conversation. Neither Cathy nor I come from families in which sex was discussed. In fact, recently, Lolly loudly announced to her Granny that she had an itchy vagina and my poor old Mum nearly lost her lunch. “Don’t say that word!” she said in hushed tones. Now my Mum’s response would actually be Cathy and my response had we not taken the decision to make a concerted effort to try and normalise these things. This is an attempt to help our child grow up without the sexual hang-ups that we have. My point is that so many kids grow up with a sense that you can’t even call something its proper name – it’s that bad. The words vagina and penis – even menstruation or intercourse –  have almost become swear words to the point where we often use slang words to describe our reproductive life and organs; words we deem to be more appropriate but that I would not necessarily put into print. So, many children – girls in particular – grow up stripped of their dignity through a combination of shame, a lack of suitable sanitary products and very low levels of real understanding around their menstrual cycle and even how they get pregnant. This leads to a degradation of their and others sexual selves because of a general lack of care and openness around these topics. For this reason, I suggested to Sue Barnes that this Child Protection Month we should launch a “Love Your Penis Love Your Vagina” campaign. Even she said no! However, you can help. To date Mercury readers have raised a staggering R150k for girls to hear Sue’s life-changing talk and receive a pack of washable, reusable sanitary pads. With your support we have reached over 1000 needy girls in 10 schools. We invite you to join us and sponsor a (nother) 3-year supply of pads and panties for one girl. For just R140 you will change her life forever. The Peace Agency bank details are as follows: FNB Durban North Acc #: 6215 995 8217 Branch code: 22-04-26 Please reference your donation with “Project Dignity” Justin Foxton is founder of The Peace Agency. This column is dedicated to the memory of 17-year-old Anene Booysens: gang raped, mutilated and murdered, and our Mozambican brother Emmanuel Josias Sithole: beaten and stabbed to death.

Being love

Whether one is religious or not, so much can be learned from the life and leadership of Pope Francis. In the blink of an eye he has transformed the Papal office in ways that will materially affect not only the Roman Catholic Church, but the spiritual and indeed physical lives of generations to come. He has done this by working hard, eschewing the trappings of the position and resisting the temptation to settle into the comfort of being a benign figure-head. In short he has decided to live simply and with love – surely the mandate of all leaders religious or otherwise.  He places the foundational issues of justice, mercy and compassion at the top of the agenda and sets aside all pomp and ceremony to ensure that this mandate is met. Some of course say that he is too real; too down-to-earth, maybe not ‘regal’ enough to be a pope. But this demonstrates a lack of understanding of his Spiritual father and namesake Saint Francis of Assisi and the simple mission of love and compassion that he embodied. The Pope would echo St. Francis’s famous petition: “Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy.” But what ensures that this man’s name will be etched in the annals of not only religious, but secular history is that he has crossed over to the dark side as it were; he has got out from behind the pulpit and he has entered the domain of real life, off-limits to many religious leaders. For far too long the church has remained largely passive on issues of politics, justice, human rights, race, equality, lawfulness, poverty – ironically all the things that Christ spoke of a great deal. It has preferred to play it safe and keep its rent payers happy by being vocal about what it deems to be the greater sins; abortion, contraception, homosexuality, worship of other Gods etc. This Pope is working to turn all that on its head, and is for a great deal more than he is against. He is all too aware that a church that remains in church may just as well not exist.  He is also radically inclusive and this is setting people free, something that the church has historically traded on preventing. I have followed this man since his ordination and have been endlessly inspired by his feet-washing brand of leadership. But I was totally winded by what he did last week on Lesbos island in Greece. He went to this island – a primary gateway for refugees to Europe –  to witness first-hand the devastation caused by Europe closing its borders to refugees. This was a radical move in itself. But the billed main feature of the trip was quite foreign for a Pontiff.  After a tour of the refugee detention facility, he sat down for lunch with some of the 3,000 plus men, women and children being held in overcrowded conditions awaiting their likely deportation. At the end of this emotional and deeply symbolic visit he did the unimaginable; he acted out his counsel that refugees be embraced, not shunned by taking 12 Syrians – Muslims to boot — including six children — back to the Vatican with him. In an act of kindness bordering on the irresponsible – even scandalous – he did the religious equivalent of giving Europe’s leaders the middle finger. What do we make of this? Do we dismiss it as posturing, reject it for its clear political message – or do we perhaps accept it for what I believe it was first-and-foremost meant to provide; a new life for 12 people. And might we even ask: “If he can do this – why can’t I?” Or is that taking things too far because he is, after all, the Pope. This kind of leadership can inspire us if we are prepared to be brave and let it. It can cause us to ask: “What can I do to play a role in a world – a country – that is seemingly so broken?” And lest you imagine that this trip was all about the grand gesture, we can perhaps learn and be inspired even more by the less documented parts of his trip; parts that might speak to us even louder than the saving of the 12. As Francis made his way through the camp — surrounded by high fences and patrolled by police — he greeted observant Muslim women who had their scarves pulled over their hair, by placing his hand respectfully above his heart and bowing. In these small but powerful gestures, Francis invites us to shrug off our bigotry and become radically inclusive of all races, religions and orientations. And little children handed Francis gifts – drawings they had done for him. One little girl tried to fold up her artwork, presumably to make it easier for Francis to carry. I believe that in this moment years of contemplation and a life of love welled to the surface for Francis as he said to the little girl: “Don’t fold it. I want it on my desk.” Justin Foxton is founder of The Peace Agency. This column is dedicated to the memory of 17-year-old Anene Booysens: gang raped, mutilated and murdered, and our Mozambican brother Emmanuel Josias Sithole: beaten and stabbed to death.

Hope for Menstruating Girls – part 2

Many of you will know that I am passionate about a number of topics not least of all sanitary pads. You will know this because for the past year I have been appealing to readers of this column to join me in providing packs of washable, reusable sanitary pads to impoverished girls in rural schools. This innovative and uniquely South African product – beautifully designed packs called Subz Pads and Panties – costs just R140 and will last a girl 3 years. For literally millions of girls across our country, such a product is nothing short of a miracle; it will prevent the indignity of using toilet paper, newspaper and in many cases used pads passed on by friends and sisters; it will prevent the spread of diseases; it will prevent girls from missing more than one-and-a-half years of school during their high school career because of their monthly period – a major determining factor in terms of girls matriculating. Readers of this column have contributed a fantastic R100 000 to this life-changing initiative known to us as Project Dignity. I want to take this opportunity to thank you all for your incredible generosity. With these funds we have helped nearly 800 girls in a number of different rural schools. It was on a recent activation at a school in one of the poorer communities we have visited that we all became aware of a very unusual reaction from the girls to the product. The girls usually whoop and high five one another when Sue Barnes of Subzs shows them the pads themselves. But in this community the greatest joy was reserved for when she pulled out the two pairs of panties that come in each girl’s pack. We couldn’t understand this reaction until after the activation when we were talking to one of the teachers at the school. She explained to us that not only do the girls have limited access to sanitary pads – they have no panties either. The result of this lack is extremely damaging to the young female psyche; a stripping of self-worth and dignity; lowered levels of self-esteem; even self-loathing; a giving over of her body – an object of embarrassment, ridicule and disgust – to very youthful sexual relations, unprotected sex, sex for money and other forms of abuse. The knock-on consequences of all this? Apart from the detrimental effect on the girls themselves, Marie Stopes International tells us that there are approximately 260 000 abortions in South Africa per annum of which between 52-58% are illegal. 3500 babies are abandoned each year. The 2011 census revealed that there are 7 million girls between the age of 10 and 19 in the lower Living Standards Measurement (LSM) brackets. We can safely say that a significant percentage of these girls will have limited access to both sanitary products and panties. Now we can campaign, protest and generally jump up-and-down during these 16 Days of Activism for No Violence against Women and Children – and we should. But how can we have meaningful impact on our extraordinarily high levels of abuse if we allow the perpetration of such indignity and degradation on our girls on a daily basis? Abuse of girls and women must include not providing adequately for their monthly periods. Empowering women has to begin at the most fundamental level; honouring their femaleness – not as something base and dirty and embarrassing – but as something God-given and miraculous. Girls and women must be enabled to embody their femaleness with absolute pride and dignity. This is the most powerful anti-abuse message we can send. I am acutely aware that many of us feel overwhelmed and helpless during the 16 Days of Activism. What can we do to help? Well, working together we have empowered 800 young girls this year alone. We did this ourselves; this generous community of readers. We invite you to join us and sponsor a (nother) 3 year supply of pads and panties for one girl. For just R140 you will change her life forever. The Peace Agency bank details are as follows: FNB Durban North Acc #: 6215 995 8217 Branch code: 22-04-26 Please reference your donation with “Project Dignity” Justin Foxton is founder of The Peace Agency. This column is dedicated to the memory of 17 year old Anene Booysens: gang raped, mutilated and murdered, and our Mozambican brother Emmanuel Josias Sithole: beaten and stabbed to death.

A man’s world – and always will be?

It is seldom that I read something that physically winds me. John Metta’s piece on Huffington Post entitled “I-Racist” did just that. If you haven’t read it I suggest you take a few deep breaths and do so. It is deeply challenging. I don’t want to ruin the read for you but at the heart of Metta’s piece is a simple hypothesis: the world order is still fundamentally white and not much about this fact is changing. But I don’t want to go down the race road in this piece; you can read I-Racist for that. I want to make a connection between what Metta is saying and Women’s Month/Day; the world order is still fundamentally male and we – men that is – are not doing enough to change this. In fact it can be argued that we are contributing to it. Over the years I have become increasingly concerned that August’s focus on women is beginning to do more harm than good. In a very insidious way we have begun to trivialise the issue of the inequality and abuse of women on a very fundamental level and – in so doing – we have watered down the very message that this month is aiming to communicate. August was meant to remind us that the emancipation of South African women is an ongoing project that is nowhere near completion. Instead we have slowly but surely turned it into something that looks like a cross between Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day: “Have you told your girls how much you love them?” I was asked on Women’s Day. I believe that this creeping distortion of what this month is all about is damaging the cause of the true emancipation of women. Contributing to this distortion is the growing commercialisation of Women’s Month; it is being used to market and sell products from beds to stationery. The current strapline of a Bic pen campaign is particularly troubling: “Look like a girl, Act like a lady, Think like a man, Work like a boss. #HappyWomen’sDay.” This campaign – and indeed many others –belittles the devastating issues facing millions of women on a daily basis in this country. Back to the connection with I-Racist: We live in a society in which men benefit from the oppression of women. Fundamentally we don’t believe that there is a problem with women’s equality in South Africa, just like we don’t fundamentally believe that there is a problem with racism. White people believe that black people should just “get over themselves” and “stop playing the race card”. Men fundamentally believe the same about women; “what do you mean you don’t have the same opportunities as men?” we ask incredulously. And if this sounds harsh then I invite you to ask yourself a few questions: how many female directors are there on your board? How many female leaders are there in your church/place of worship? How many male secretaries are there in your company? If the answer to all these questions is 50:50 then you have joined the fight against the abuse of women in South Africa. If not – then you are contributing to it. As President Obama said about tackling racism, it is not simply “avoiding the use of the word nigger”. By the same token, we abuse women in myriad ways and not just in how we talk about them or have sex with them – although those are massive issues in this country. We abuse them by accepting salaries that are higher than our female counterparts (on average 30% higher); we abuse them by investing in JSE-listed companies in spite of the fact that only 16% of executive directors in these companies are women; we abuse them by attending places of worship that continue to privilege men for positions of leadership and we abuse them by using Women’s Day to market products. The reality is that we are women abusers not necessarily because we lift a hand against women (although many do that too) but because we fail to lift our voices against a system that fundamentally, intrinsically privileges men. Justin Foxton is founder of The Peace Agency. This column is dedicated to the memory of 17 year old Anene Booysens: gang raped, mutilated and murdered, and our Mozambican brother Emmanuel Josias Sithole: beaten and stabbed to death.