Last month, President Jacob Zuma was slammed in the press for publicly stating that “daughters who are not getting married […] is [sic] a problem in society.” He continued, “I know that people today think being single is nice. It’s actually not right. That’s a distortion. You’ve got to have kids. Kids are important to a woman because they actually give an extra training to a woman, to be a mother.”
Despite the fact that last month was Women’s Month, such a possibly inflammatory statement from our country’s leader is dangerous on any day. Is our country anywhere near achieving gender equality and doing away with outdated gender stereotypes? Perdeby investigates.
Our president isn’t the only one with controversial views when it comes to gender equality. Also in the last month, 36 universities in Iran declared that they would no longer allow women to enrol in certain courses while one institute, the Oil Industry University, announced that it would not be accepting any female students at all. This, apparently, is a way of reversing or “balancing” the ratio of female to male students in Iran. In addition, Iran’s religious leaders are worried that educating women threatens to decrease the rates of marriage and childbirth in the country.
The feminist movement has done a lot for gender equality in the past. But to come out as a feminist nowadays often means risking ridicule and a few eye-rolls. One wonders why this is the case when countries like Iran could probably still benefit from a feminist march or two. Gert*, a self-confessed anti-feminist, offers his explanation: “Feminists wish for a world where they could click their Crocs together three times and get pregnant. They claim to be fighting for women’s rights, but they think that they need to castrate all the men in the world in order to do that.”
Sexism often seems like an extinct school of thought, especially amongst our generation. However, when Perdeby asked students what their views were on gender inequality and stereotypes, a few students actually confessed to subscribing to beliefs that some people would label as sexist. Amir Jacobs, a Muslim second-year BCom Law student, says his religion has very deeply entrenched laws regarding gender roles and that even though he lives in a democratic country, he still upholds some of those laws. “It’s very hard to reconcile the religion I was raised in and the constitution of the country that I live in. I try to stay faithful to my family’s beliefs but at the same time I don’t want to seem backward.”
Anelisa Ntombela, a first-year law student, says, “My mother was never married, but she raised three children all on her own and people still look at her like she’s a freak.” Ntombela adds that she does not feel like woman empowerment movements in South Africa have done enough. “Instead of commending independent powerful women, we look at them like they’re committing crimes,” she explains.
Arthur Monaheng, who is completing his final year in education, has a dif ferent opinion. “Obviously the president can’t tell women what they can and can’t do, but it’s true that there are some jobs that women do better than men and vice versa.” Monaheng says that varsity is the perfect example of how men and women have different biologically inherited talents that influence their career choices. “I’m not saying that women belong in the kitchen and men should be breadwinners, but just looking around on campus, you see more male engineering students and more female consumer sciences students. Is that what they call it – consumer sciences?”
It’s an irresistible dream: the husband standing at the braai deflecting a stray soccer ball from his son while the wife hovers over her daughter’s first attempt at a family recipe. For centuries, toy companies and fairy tales have done an incredible job of perpetuating this dream. Men and women are fundamentally different, but only for biological reasons. The twenty first-century man is more likely to be able to buy groceries than to set up a tent or start a fire. The twenty first-century woman could probably run a country better than she could organise a brunch. Does this mean that we’ve lost sight of the dream or just that we’re dreaming along with a rapidly evolving world?
*Name has been changed.