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Archive for October, 2009

The internet is no meritocracy

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Meritocracy, noun, “a system in which the talented are chosen and moved ahead on the basis of their achievement.” — Merriam Websters.

The internet is not an equal playground. I thought this is obvious to all but I was wrong. Many think that as long as you’re online, you are just a line of text. And that your awesome content, eg, will rise to the top. This thinking claims that we cease to exist as men and women, white and black, African and American; we become citizens of the net. And that we can all be achievers, if we’re good enough.That’s what the Internet Founding Fathers thought back in the beginning.

But that isn’t true. There is plenty of misogyny online; POC bloggers are still left behind or shunted off to virtual reserves; and expensive bandwidth still prohibits many people all over the world from becoming active on the internet. It helps to be a white man in a white collar job who has access to fast broadband that doesn’t switch off every half an hour or so. It really does.

So please do not think the internet is the Great Big Hope. Yes, sure, we can’t see that someone is fat but when you write a fat acceptance blog or when you write a personal blog that upset people — for whatever reason — you do put your safety at risk. Even  software programmers can receive death threats.

This myth of meritocracy is so entrenched that very few are aware of it. Similar to fish swimming in water. Or the Matrix. And everyone has been born into this prison for the mind.

Racism on the internet

Blogging While Brown isn’t always fun. Whenever someone at a newspaper or an online media house makes a list of the top blogs, chances are that the list will feature very few POC bloggers. Gina McCauley, a WOC blogger,  said that

“Black bloggers link to other black bloggers, and progressive white bloggers link to other white progressive bloggers,”

There are few such studies on this subject, and David Sasaki’s blog post caused a big fuss in SA last year. But it’s true that white bloggers have mostly white blogging friends to whom they link. Either that or they just tend to read blogs that other white people write. There’s no branching out to read voices other than theirs, with experiences that differ to theirs. These apologists will claim that they read the best of what the web has to offer, regardless of who the author is. And they’ll probably also use the all-too-familiar catchphrase to ensure that we know they aren’t racist — “My best friend is black, ya know?”.

Sexism and the internet

Women are slut-shamed for the tiniest thing. Many comment threads — on blogs and on forums — start off  civil but  descend into chaos. Few of the tops users of any social community are women. Why? Could it perhaps be that men still have greater access to technology and that they still have more free time than women do? Women still do most of the household work and this means they have little time left for themselves, never mind editing Wikipedia.  But, I forget — “There are no women on the internet.” And the few women who are on the internet — who aren’t men with boobs, or boys — tend to get demotivated when they constantly observe how male-centric, ie,  old boys club,  the intertubes is.

And yes, social conditioning is also at play here. How often do young girls not feel that they aren’t qualified to speak or write about a topic? I see it in myself, too. I’d far rather edit a Wikipedia article than post a new one. Unless it is client related, of course. And most of the time I would only correct the grammar, not the facts. So perhaps it is based on personality and on gender. Not sex. Gender constructs shape our world and we all have to dance along; gender is a performance. And the perfect version of female gender — as per 1950s magazines and books — is unfortunately passive, coy, intellectually dull, and sexless.

Internet economics

Bandwidth isn’t cheap in most developing countries, some websites are considering limiting content to developing countries, and sometimes that interesting video you want to watch isn’t available or can not be viewed in your region. Other sites that restrict access based on geographics are Hulu, Pandora and Spotify. Techcrunch did a great article on how to get around these restrictions; however, the people who read Techcrunch are still an elite minority.

Lo-fi sites and broadband access

Computers are as big an indicator of economic success: not everyone can afford a Mac; fewer still can afford or be bothered to get proper software.

So yes, our hypothetical internet user has a 3G-enabled cellphone on which to use the internet. But the screen is tiny and the keyboard is as tiny; 2 things that might deter them from commenting on blogs or writing their own blog to promote their brand. Yes, they benefit by being on the internet already but very many things deter their full enjoyment of what the internet can offer: Flash websites, web browser compatibility, censorship, broadband cost.

Mobile web browsers are far more advanced than they had been 2 years ago. But they’re still getting a couple of things wrong. And the general public does not know that these browsers exist. Especially not with companies building  ‘lo’ versions of their sites. These versions are supposed to bring the internet to the masses. Um, OK.  How will that happen when the masses can only access a ‘lo’ version of a news site?

Internet reception is one of the biggest factors that limit uptake. South Africans get different signals, depending on where they are. The signal could change from 3G to EDGE by just moving the cellphone around a bit. That messes with the user experience and could lead to frustration aka ‘watching paint dry’. A few European countries — France, Switzerland, and Finland — have either declared internet access a ‘human right’ or have declared it a ‘legal right’. Other countries that have short-term and long-term broadband speed plans are Japan, South Korea, Sweden, Denmark and Taiwan. And the UK government has a 245-page pdf available on their Digital Britain initiative, which aims to introduce a universal 2 Megabit/s line internet access by 2012. And the Federal Communications Commission — US-based — released a 168-page report on how to get all American citizens wired up, and by when.

I’m not even going to contrast this to South Africa — with promises of broadband for the masses; however, there are a few private initiatives that wants the South African government to adopt a broadband strategy.

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Written by Joy-Mari Cloete

October 29th, 2009 at 2:28 pm

Now they’re using breasts to market to women?

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Um, yeah, I’m not lying.

It’s Breast Cancer Awareness Month yet again and everything’s awash with pink. Eew. Listen, I heart pink but too much of a pink thing is not as awesome as it may appear at first.

Innoxa ad

I’ve been seeing these pictures all over the place for months. And I’ve been fuming. But I never did anything about it. Until today. Today I’ve reached my tipping point — I saw the ad in two different women’s magazines: Fairlady and Marie Claire.  So I wrote to Innoxa. They have a contact form on their website; however, you can also write to them at as well as P.O. Box 71535, Bryanston,  2021 or, if you’re in the area, go say ‘Hi’ — 3 Muswell Road South Bryanston. This is what I sent to them:

I’m offended by your ‘You’ll want to show it off campaign’. You’re reducing women’s breasts to something that they should expose — literally! — to others. And the ‘others’ are probably cis men, though I could be wrong. I don’t know who came up with this campaign but it’s a slap in the face of any woman who has had, or who is struggling with breast cancer right now. I saw the ad in Marie Claire as well as in Fairlady and you advertised your wares with the obligatory pink ribbon for Breast cancer awareness month. Even when you don’t tie the product in with breast cancer awareness, it is still just another ad that relies on breasts.

Please reconsider using this campaign.

I should’ve added something like this:

Isn’t there’s an element of cruelty whenever a fundraising campaign uses mostly sexualized images of healthy breasts to “sell” breast cancer as a cause?

They try to justify their campaign in the press release. I don’t buy it. So what if a female creative team created this ad? That doesn’t make it less offensive. Their justification for using breasts falls flat on its face, too:

Just as you show a beautiful face when selling face cream – we felt it necessary to show off the part of the body that our product targets.

So would it be OK to show genitalia in ads that promote the specific products  associated with them? Why is it OK to show breasts in advertising? Are we not already inundated with too much nudity? Especially in ‘art’. Walk into any exhibition and you’ll probably see a naked woman. Because women’s bodies are beautiful. Funny, that. I find men’s bodies as beautiful but you rarely see a naked man in advertising.

Sex doesn’t sell; women’s naked bodies do.

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Written by Joy-Mari Cloete

October 28th, 2009 at 12:37 pm

Do you know what your natural hair texture feels like?

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I only realised I had curly hair when I was 10 years old. Really. I remember being envious of my cousin’s curls. I remember being envied because I had a gladde draad hare. I even remember asking one of the older girls at my primary school how I can get curls like hers.

So imagine my shock after I had had my hair cut. Suddenly my hair had volume. Suddenly my hair minces when it’s humid. Suddenly my hair is like theirs.

Yes, I know I’m not alone in this. I know there are many other WOC who wish they could have straight hair.

But I’ve had some strange happenings with my curly hair. I once walked into a Kloof Street hairsalon to find out whether I could be one of their hair models. This was years ago. Probably in 2002. One of their stylists had recommended I try something new — a different colour or a new style, or something — for free.

So I nearly cried when the lady — dunno whether she was a stylist or whether she was the hair salon owner –  told me “Sorry, we don’t use people who have ethnic hair.”  She hadn’t even touched my hair; she just assumed my hair is too coarse. And that none of the stylists will know what to do with my ‘ethnic’ hair.

So, yes, I was confused for a long time. I used to date a guy who wanted to believe I’m not coloured. I saw it as a compliment, by the way, back then. So he kept dissing my hair. And he kept telling me I should blow dry it so that I can look ‘white’.

Walk into any hair salon in a coloured neighbourhood and very rarely does someone walk out with curls. The women who do are mostly older; the young women prefer straight hair. You’ll find many women walk out with pin straight hair that had been relaxed or GDH’d to death. Oh yes. Ask one of the hairdressers for advice on curly hair and you’ll probably be greeted with silence. Or a frown. And a “you gotta suffer for beauty, luvvie.” Most of them just don’t know. Curly hair is not in fashion.

So what followed was 5 or so years of blow drying my hair straight. It isn’t painful nor does it take long — 15 to 20 minutes max — but eeep, why did I do it to myself?

These days I spend perhaps 5 minutes on my hair in the morning. I am no longer afraid of going to the beach. I like rainy days. And I’m saving money because I’m not buying all those haircare products that the media wants me to buy: I wash my hair with conditioner once every three days. And that’s that.

These days I see [more than] a few of my fellow WOC in Cape Town are embracing the natural look. I nearly always want to walk or run up to one of them and congratulate her on making such a good decision. And then I check myself. So I don’t. But I spoke to a WOC in Woolworths V&A — hi, Janine — recently about her hair. She was lucky: her parents had brought her up with an appreciation for her own hair.

But the women whom I see rocking natural curls appear to be mostly from higher socio-economic classes. Or perhaps I’m just not getting out enough to see WOC from lower income groups with natural tresses.

We do not fit into the mould of womanly beauty that the media have created for us. We aren’t white, most of us aren’t skinny, and we wear our hair in its natural state. And that doesn’t always mean ‘curly’ — some have afros.

My closest friends have all struggled with their hair. Their mothers, grandmothers, friends and even colleagues have all tried to box them: “You need to relax your hair”; “Pretty girls have straight hair”; “G-d won’t allow women with unrelaxed hair into heaven”.  Do you also notice how they never castigate men for wearing their hair natural?

I asked my mom why she had always gotten someone to blowdry my hair. She told me it’s because I have ‘goeie hare‘, ie, good hair. And once or twice she complained that my hair no longer looks pretty. I think she used the word ‘takhare‘, which is a massive insult to an insecure young girl, but not as stinging to a confident woman.

And then there’s something that really breaks my heart: the women who rave about my hair but complain that their hair can never be like that. They think their hair has no natural curl. They have been brainwashed into believing their hair is straight. Wake up, please. Your hair is damaged from blow drying, relaxing and those damn GHDs you use.

So yeah, it’s easy for me to preach the gospel of Natural Hair — I can have the best of both worlds: I can blowdry it and it’ll be sleek and shiny and tomorrow I can let it dry naturally and it’ll be bouncy. And yeah, it can be kinky, too. But just imagine not spending the entire Saturday at the salon. Just imagine dragging yourself out of bed and not having to spend two hours on your hair before going to work. Just imagine not being upset that your office staff party is at the beach. And just imagine how much freer you’ll be, how much money you’ll save, and how many more shoes you can buy with the money you used to spend on your hair.

So no, you don’t need to go natural tomorrow. But try it out sometime.

Here are a few resources and natural hair communities:




Written by Joy-Mari Cloete

October 26th, 2009 at 2:44 pm

Women: the patriarchy needs YOUR support!

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Men aren’t the only ones involved in the patriarchy; women, too, are involved. Women need to be involved in patriarchy, otherwise the power structure will collapse.

The system needs women to demean other women for being ‘slutty’, ‘easy’, or a ‘bitch’. The system needs women to believe they are ‘less than’ men on so many levels. The system needs women to demand they be given sole custodianship of their children after a divorce. The system needs women to demand they be given half their spouse’s assets after a divorce. The system needs women to demand goods in exchange for sex. The system needs women to pretend it doesn’t exist. The system needs women to objectify themselves to ‘boost the team’s morale’, or for ‘good times’.The system needs women to claim that sexist, racist, ableist, or classist jokes do not offend them. The system needs women to be very, very afraid of those humourless feminists with their massive vaginas and unshaven pussies. The system needs women to be afraid of being called a ‘lesbo’ or ‘dyke’. The system needs women to be obsessed with make-up, hair care, shiny objects, and above all, shoes. The system needs women to believe they’re incomplete without children. The system needs women to believe that all they need – all they really want! – is a nice juicy cock.

The system needs women to revere femininity. The system needs women to appreciate, and seek out, masculinity in a man. The system needs women to be highly sexualised playthings of men, whether they be young or old, rich or poor. The system needs women to believe that rape is their fucking fault for being so fucking sexy, bitch! The system needs women to believe that sexual harassment is a compliment. The system needs women to believe they’re so much better than those disgusting menz or that they’re dirty, dirty, dirty. The system needs women to accept glittery jewellery after an argument with their spouse. The system needs women to believe they deserve an abusive spouse. The system needs women to blame themselves for failing. The system needs women to think of themselves as individuals only sometimes; nearly always as part of a homogenous group. The system needs women to believe. The system needs women to believe in its god, God or gods of choice. The system needs women to believe that they are the Second Sex. The system needs women to believe that they are mysterious creatures. The system needs women to believe that they are fragile and in need of looking after. The system needs non-black women to believe that black men are brutes and white men are their saviours. The system needs women to believe that they can’t travel alone. The system needs women to believe that housework is part of a woman’s job description. The system needs women to indulge men. The system needs women to excuse men’s bad behaviour with boys will be boys and oy, the menz are a st00pid bunch, eh?

The system needs women to be happy wearing bikinis, high heels, and make-up. The system needs women to be content with unstimulating careers. The system needs women to enjoy being passive, coy and ‘nice’. The system needs women to dislike sex and to be asexual. The system needs women to be a whore in bed, a lady in the street and a chef in the kitchen . The system needs women to aspire to one day be a MILF or a cougar. The system needs women to downplay their intelligence. The system needs women to submit to their husband, their father land and to their God. The system needs women to breed strong babies who can die while performing nationalism and democracy in Iraq. The system needs women to sacrifice their goals, feelings, ambitions, time, love, bodies, and self-esteem in order that the system can survive. The system needs women to rely on men for money, love, shelter, food, children, approval, jobs, dignity, intimacy, entertainment, education, health, and to fight their battles for them. The system needs women as a scapegoat. The system needs women to berate men for not performing chivalry. The system needs women to be good little consumers. The system needs women to stay at home, barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen. The system needs women to diet. The system needs women to read fluffy magazines that teach them nothing about nothing. The system needs women to shut the fuck up, ho!

The system needs women to apologise for having ideas, for having feelings, for having period cramps, for being a woman, for not being a man, for being short, for being fat, for being too intelligent, for beating a guy at chess, for wanting link juice for her blog, for wanting a relationship, for only wanting SEX, for complaining at all, for killing their children, for holding their own in a debate, for living in their own flat, for not wearing high heels, for wearing ‘hooker heels’, for reading illicit romances, for reading feminist tracts, for eating too much,for eating too little, for being sad, for being bi-polar, for being sluts, for being nuns, for outperforming men in the workplace, for being the cause of the downfall of the menz in general, for not being on the internet, for not fucking potential rapists/serial killers and therefore sending tipping over the edge, ie, they go on a shooting/raping fest, for being all over the internet, for scouting for misogyny, for not caring enough, for being a humourless-man-hating-Birkenstock-wearing-Gloria Steinem-reading-kinky haired-fat-black lesbian, for being poor, for being wealthy, for living in the Southern Hemisphere, for drinking wine on Sundays, for being unfeminine, for having an unattractive body, for believing in the wrong god/God, for not believing in any god/God, for having abortions, for having 8 babies all at once, for having curly hair, for having kroes hair, for having flat feet, for having thick ankles, for having cellulite, for having stretch marks, for having the audacity to demand change, for having the gall to refuse a white man a seat, for being a bad mother, for not being there when she was supposed to be there because her child had the nerve to fall ill yet again!, for spending too much on that ill-begotten credit card that she only took out because the nice man said she deserves to spoil herself every now and again, for dreaming about a comfortable life once in a while, for daring to think she deserves an education, for being cheeky enough to tell the teacher their calculations are wrong,”here’s my calculation”, for being herself, for not being good enough.

The system needs women to believe they don’t belong on the internet. The system needs women, women like you and me, to not do anything about other women’s oppression. The system needs women to believe they shouldn’t worry their pretty little heads about politics, economics, power disparities, gender equality, big companies creating havoc, corruption, or the darn lawnmower that’s being difficult. The system needs women to support their man in more feminine fashion, ie, fundraising when he’s running for office; prancing around in high heels to boost his flagging libido; bake cookies for the children so that he can watch television in peace after a long day’s struggle at the office; and to not ever refuse him sex. The system needs women to hate their curly hair. The system needs women to hate their straight hair. The system needs women to hate their kinky hair. The system needs women to want bigger breasts. The system needs women to want smaller breasts. The system needs women to want designer vaginas. The system needs women to believe that feminism in this day and age is pathetic.

Written by Joy-Mari Cloete

October 22nd, 2009 at 11:10 am

Don’t dis your own people

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Nearly two years ago I read – finally! – Steven Biko’s I write what I like. One of the items that most stood out to me was his view that we as POC sometimes try to ingratiate ourselves with whites or with those in power. These could be our white friends, colleagues or people whom we’re dating/seeing.

The people whom we’re trying to please could even be ‘acceptable’ members of our own race.

One of the ways in which we can do this is to dis our own people. We’ll say things such as “Yeah, coloured people are racists”. We do this so that the white people can feel better about themselves. No longer are they the only racists; their lone coloured tjommie told them that coloured people are also racist. This is, of course, a logical fallacy – coloured people [in South Africa] can be prejudiced but they can’t be racist. Racism = prejudice + power. But that’s a different argument for another day.

Another way to dis their ‘own’ is to beam whenever a white person says that they are so different to the other coloureds: their hair is so much prettier than; their accent is so much fancier than; and their way of thinking differentiates them from gam.

I do it, too. I was speaking with someone at the weekend when she mentioned she dislikes places – bars, clubs, and restaurants – that cater to gam. And I nodded. And then I felt bad – am I like ‘those people’ of whom Biko wrote?

This is similar to the N-word and how many African Americans use it to describe lesser members of their community.

This needs to stop. Today still. Next time I speak to that woman who distinguishes between herself and gam, I will say something instead of nodding. Next time someone mocks the alleged Cape Flats accent, I will say something instead of burying my face in my laptop’s screen. Next time I won’t write Cape Flets instead of Cape Flats. Next time I won’t get angry when someone thinks I’m from Delft or Bonteheuwel. Next time I won’t laugh along when someone jokes about how easy it is to get robbed in Mitchell’s Plain. Next time I won’t make fun of someone without front teeth. Next time I will make a bigger stink when Die Burger makes fun of coloured people. Next time I will make a bigger noise when someone complains about some other POC’s hair’s texture. Next time I won’t mock the structure of my nose. Next time I will get indignant when someone mocks a POC’s English accent. And next time, next time, my friend, I will wear my fluffy hair with pride.

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Written by Joy-Mari Cloete

October 20th, 2009 at 12:28 pm

Celebrate Black Wednesday on 19 October

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19 October 2009 is an exciting day in South Africa. It’s the day when fanboys and fangirls can pre-book their Kindle International. But that’s not what I want to write about today; 19 October 2009 is the 32nd anniversary of Black Wednesday, when the Apartheid government banned 18 organisations and 3 publications.

And I wonder why this is something I only discover today. I feel shame for not knowing it. And angry, too, that my school education had not included more information on the Black Consciousness Movement.

The events leading up to that day had been set into motion by the issue of the proposed Bantustans. Transkei had already been established in 1976 and the government wanted to establish Bophuthatswana as an independent state for the Tswanas. Many organisations opposed it and decided to write an open letter, signed by Cde Thandisizwe Mphiwa Mazibuko, the Secretary General of the Black People’s Convention, that was to be published in several newspapers.

The only editor who ran the open letter in its entirety was Tselito Percy Qoboza, the editor of The World; other newspapers commented on the open letter and ran excerpts from it.

This event was the tipping point — it led to the government banning The World, Weekend World, and Pro Veritate. The organisations they banned were the Black People’s Convention (BPC); South African Students’ Organisation (SASO); Black Community Programmes (BCP); Black Parents’ Association (BPA); Black Women’s Federation (BWF); National Association of Youth Organisations (NAYO) and all its provincial structures; Medupe Writers’ Association; South African Students Movement (SASM); Union of Black Journalists (UBJ); Soweto Teachers’ Action Committee (TAC); Zimele Trust Fund; Christian Institute (CI); the Association for the Educational and Cultural Advancement of African People (ASSECA); Soweto Students’ Representative Council (SSRC).

These organisations stayed banned until 1990, after Nelson Mandela had been released from jail. The World newspaper became The Post Transvaal, which the government closed in 1980. This led to the start of The Sowetan Mirror in 1981, which then changed the name to The Sowetan, one of the country’s largest dailies.

The government detained journalists such as Joe Thloloe, Peter Magubane;,Juby Mayet and Tselito Percy Qoboza; other were not as lucky: Mapetla Mohapi died in his police cell.

I believe there will always be – there must be – a tension between politicians and the media. A healthy tension, in which we keep a close eye on each other.

Mr T Sexwale, then Minister of the then PWV Province, on 19 October 1994.

Though there is still many things wrong with journalism in South Africa, there are also many things that are improvements upon the old regime: an opposition, a strong constitution and a belief in democratic ideals. Let’s use this opportunity to reflect on what we still need to do to create an even better media.

* Interesting read on the history of The Sowetan and the Mail & Guardian.

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Written by Joy-Mari Cloete

October 16th, 2009 at 11:19 am

Your lifestyle choices shouldn’t affect my budget

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I’m a bit late to this — 2 months or so. Helen Zille wants to debate the meritoriousness of providing state funded health care to those who make wrong lifestyle choices. Jack Bloom has a piece on this in today’s Politicsweb.

She starts off OK by talking about deaf people who need better assistance. This is a valid concern but then she mentions how the state cannot — and shouldn’t — afford to provide medical assistance to those who had inflicted the conditions on themselves.

There is a growing assumption that people have the right to behave as they like, and the state has the responsibility to pay for the consequences.

This is a fair point; however, there will always be a few who take advantage of things, especially things that the government provides.

Thus we spend 80% of the public health budget on the consequences of personal “life-style choices” ranging from unprotected sex, to alcohol and drug abuse, and the resulting trauma and violence.

Unprotected sex happens in marriages, too. It’s impossible to tell who got infected with HIV through their own carelessness. Why wear a condom if I believe that my spouse is faithful? And there are still many rape victims who are too ashamed to admit they had been raped; would these women ask for free Anti-Retrovirals when they’ll have to prove that they are blameless?

Consider two extreme examples. First, a healthy young man, fully aware of the dangers, nevertheless has unprotected sex with multiple partners. He gets Aids and asks that the state should give him antiretroviral drugs free of charge. Should the state provide?

Second, a baby is born partly deaf. Her parents ask that the state provide her with a hearing aid because they cannot afford it. Should the state provide?

We should give both free medical care. We can’t afford not to. The young man might go on to infect many other people if he doesn’t get treated. There’s no reason to believe that he will use condoms henceforth. And what’s to stop the young man from claiming that he got infected through some other method? Who’s going to investigate?

There must now be an equal emphasis on responsibility. The more we spend on treating preventable illnesses, the less there is for the unpreventable conditions that confront many of our citizens with severe challenges throughout their lives.

This is true but let’s also have a debate on which diseases are preventable and which are unpreventable. In that way we’ll have greater clarity. Where do we draw the line? The DA’s arguments are specious and illogical. The people who would be the most hurt by such policies would yet again be women and the poor. Not acceptable.

Mormons live a decade longer than other Americans. Is this because doctors who treat Mormons are better, or because Mormons avoid a lot of things that shorten people’s lives?

I’d like to see the source for Jack’s statistic.

Smokers have a tough time in Britain’s National Health Service as they are often denied heart surgery when over a certain age. Obese people are sometimes denied joint replacements. These decisions are defended on clinical grounds, taking into account risk factors and chances of survival.

This sounds like an appeal to popularity claim to me; they’re doing it over in the UK so let’s implement it here, too. Yes, we’re allowed to look at what other countries are doing and adopt their practices — but only if it makes sense, ethically and financially.

The debate we should be having is one about mismanagement of money, ie, corruption and theft. And let’s not forget about the poor salaries, which may be why state hospitals struggle to attract and retain staff.

Let’s give everyone an equal opportunity, whether they had intended to inflict pain onto themselves through bad lifestyle choices or not. Because, really, who lives a perfect life, full of the most perfect health choices?

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Written by Joy-Mari Cloete

October 15th, 2009 at 11:25 am

Posted in Governance,Politics

How strange it feels to call a woman a ‘woman’

with 10 comments

After nearly a year of reading progressive blogs, I am finally starting to speak of myself as a woman. Not a lady: that implies that I need to act in a certain way. Or it implies that I am someone’s possession. And no, I am not a female. Use female when you’re either talking about lower animals or when you’re involved in a scientific environment.

I am a woman. And I am trying to call other women that, too. But after years of being involved in the patriarchy, it’s difficult. It might be that I hadn’t been doing this for that long. It might also be that the word ‘woman’ sounds far more serious than ‘girl’ or ‘lady’. Or it might just be that every new habit takes a bit of time to ingrain itself into our conscious.

I do still tend to correct people – those who call a woman a girl – to say ‘lady’ instead. ‘Lady’ has a more ‘pleasant’ sound; it is not as ‘fierce’ and ‘threatening’ as ‘woman’.

But why am I doing this? Surely there are more important things to worry about? You know the drill: FMG, blatant sexism, children starving in Somalia…

It matters because using the word ‘girl’ to refer to an adult patronises and trivializes her. The usage of ‘girl’ infantalises women, ie, we never think of them as competent adults who could run for office or demand change in the work place. Such a woman will forever think of herself as less than the men around her. And the men, too, will see her as a play thing, an amusement; they have no reason to take her seriously. Which means they might not vote for her should she decide to run for office. They’ll call her other names, too. And they might even create a group on Facebook called ‘Hillary Clinton: Stop running for president and make me a sandwich.’ Or they’ll just call her a ‘racist little girl‘.

Why is it that so many women in my generation – 25- to 35-year-olds – have a problem with the word ‘woman’? Does it sound like something you’d call your mother or grandmother? And do you also call men ‘boys’ instead of ‘men’? Jezebel asks a great question in their article: When does a girl become a woman? Could it be that women, on average, are getting married at a later age than they had before? Do we equate believe that ‘woman’ should be paired with ‘married’?

And what about the menz? Why do they insist on calling us ‘girls’, as though we’re all still 14-year-old with crushes on that cute guy from Science class? Perhaps for the same reason that I mentioned above — ‘girl’ doesn’t sound threatening. By calling someone a girl, you’re reducing her worth and putting her several levels below your own.

We need a female version for ‘guys’. Guys is an awesome word that can apply to all penised creatures. ‘Gals’ just sounds horrible, but that’s just me. There are many women who don’t mind calling themselves and others ‘gals’. Ooo, and let’s not forget about Grrrl.

I’m in good company with Second Wave feminists, it seems — they, too, eschewed calling other women ‘girl’. Third Wave feminists, however, seem to be reclaiming the word. And others, too: ‘bitch’ and ‘cunt’. But I am not a Third Wave feminist; I am just a feminist. And identifying as a Third Waver does not mean that one should accept all the ‘tenets’.

Feel free to call me a girl; just make sure that you use the corresponding label for men – boys.

I will, of course, continue to call women just that – women. The more often I do it, the easier it will become. And hopefully I will have a few converts along the way.

Aluta continua

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Written by Joy-Mari Cloete

October 13th, 2009 at 9:25 am