One of the things that I’ve had to face as a white South African is that the many advantages I had were largely due to my privileged position – the apartheid government spent more money on my education, made sure the hospitals I went to were better and allowed me to live in leafier, safer suburbs than black kids my age. These were not things that came to me because I was a better person, but merely because I was white in a society that oppressed black people.
Something that comes when false privileges are built into society is a sense of entitlement. White South Africans had to let go the notion that they deserved their privileges and have had to adjust to the concept of earning them. White South Africans have also had to step back and allow the previously disadvantaged time to catch up – hence the government’s policies of affirmative action and social equity.
On Sunday night, a blogging friend of mine marched with 2000 other women in London’s Reclaim the Night march. They were marching against sexual abuse and violence against women and for women’s rights to walk the streets in safety. While on the march, while surrounded by other women and police, she was sexually abused. It is hard to believe, but a man – apparently one of a number who had been jeering, cat-calling and making lewd gestures at the marchers – pushed through the barricades, knocked her aside as she was marching and grasped her breasts. You can read her post here, and that of the friend she was marching with.
It is staggering and sickening to believe that an individual was so threatened by a group of women marching for their rights that he found it acceptable to assault one of them.
It shows that the streets still aren’t safe.
It shows that there are many men out there who still believe that they are entitled to abuse, jeer, grasp, grope, comment and instill fear.
It shows that we have to fight not only the privileges that still run artificially through society, but the entitlement that goes with it. (For anyone reading who may not know what male privilege is, let this blogger tell you. Here’s his checklist.)
And to the man who abused my friend, let me tell you that groupthink is not going to save you. The march goes on. We will march, both literally and metaphorically, until you understand that we are not for your taking, until you understand that our bodies are not yours, that you may not comment or point, that you may not approach, or turn violent when rebuffed. We will march until the night is safe again.
ETA: Those of you who live in London and want to show your solidarity can join tomorrow’s vigil in Trafalgar Square at 7pm to mark International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women.