The third and and final VIP Debate Club event for 2014 took place at the usual spot: the Bannister Hotel in Braamfontein this past Tuesday. Although this may be our last for the year, don’t despair, we are back again bigger and better next year. The turnout – like in past Debate Club sessions – was great, with a full house of over a hundred people showing up to discuss the A-Gender of the day – gender.
Interestingly, there was something different about this debate, people seemed as excited to engage as they were anxious, which was probably because of the topic. The discussion was around gender, so you could sense that some men feared being roasted by the women.
Facilitated by Live Magazine’s digital editor, Kay Selisho, the panelists for the debate were the founder and editor of Vanguard Magazine Panashe Chigumadzi, sexual health advocate, Zazi ambassador and representative for UNAIDS Nova Masango and VIP Campaign editor Lee Molefi.
Before the debate, we caught up with the panelists to find out what they looked forward to most in the discussion.
“I’m expecting it to go really well but what I’m really hoping for is that people will come through with their own very authentic experience of gender. That’s when I think the conversation will go forward when we are able to reflect in very real ways on how we experience the world as men, women and all in between.” – Lee
“I’m expecting us to have a really healthy discussion, I see there’s a lot of people here which excites me because a lot of people are going to be engaging with us. I think we are going to learn new things from each other and broaden each other’s minds.” – Nova
“I’m expecting fun and a lot of very honest, important conversation. I’m also expecting to learn quite a lot from both the panelists and the floor.”– Panashe
Kay kicked off the conversation by clarifying the fact that gender is largely misunderstood and often confused with sex. “Gender is more along the lines of socially and culturally constructed ideas about how people should behave according to what their sex is,” she explained.
After setting out the house rules, Kay began the debate in earnest by asking the panelists: “Are you a feminist? And, why or why not?”
Panashe began by saying, “Its really simple, yes I am a feminist. Feminism to me simply means the equality of genders but if I were to give you more complicated answer, I don’t identify as a feminist as much as I do as a womanist and that is a feminist that is a lot more concerned with myself as a black woman as opposed to purely [as] a woman.”
Nova responded, “Yes, I am a feminist and the reason I choose to identify as one is because I understand the disparities between genders in society, I understand male privilege, I understand that being born a woman or a man will mean that you get to be treated differently. These circumstances extend into your work life, school life, everyday life, basically from when you are born to when you die. It just kind of dictates the life you live, the kind of rights that you may or may not have, the way you may or may not express yourself. So understanding that we live in the world we do its important for me to self identify as a feminist.”
The only man on the panel, Lee, who is a three week-old feminist responded: “Yeah, I am a feminist, I’ve been a feminist for about three weeks now,” as the audience burst into laughter. He continued, “I think there is a lot that is problematic with how the world experiences women and as somebody whose work has predominantly been about race and the social and economic implications of systems of oppression, its very difficult to ignore how gender can become a negative experience in the lives of anybody. So yes, I am a feminists it is something I realize is more and more important.”
Kay then posed that same question to the audience. Which – in its lack of raised hands, seemed to still be in warm-up mode.
Forced by the silence and hesitation from the audience – probably because of nerves – Kay decided to pick on the VIP Campaign’s social media manager, Thapelo Mosiuoa for an answer. “I don’t identify as a feminist for a number of reasons. The primary one is that I feel that as a man…Yeah, I don’t know if I should say this because these are like back door conversations,” he says as he pauses and gets interrupted by the audience. “But anyway I don’t identify as a feminist because I’m very ignorant to the feminist cause, and because I cannot begin to understand the plight women go through on a daily basis so all I can do is empathize with women.”
After Thapelo’s comment, hands began to shoot up as audience members got more comfortable. The majority of women in the audience expressed the same sentiments as panelists, Nova and Panashe. Voicing their disappointment at how women have been treated in society and that they demand to be respected as human beings without having to contend with the ‘respectability politics’ that often encumber cross gender relations. Most men in the audience on the other hand, like Thapelo, voiced their confusion as to how they are supposed to behave as far as the feminist worldview is concerned.
As the conversation got more and more heated, Kay gave the microphone back to the panelists to comment on what some in the audience had said.
In response to an audience member’s suggestion that feminism is about women wanting to be at the same standard as men, Nova strongly responded, “Firstly I think we should get to talking about what feminism really is about. Feminism really isn’t about men vs women, because that’s too easy and too lazy. It is about patriarchy, it is a system which as pervasive as…like oxygen you don’t see it but its there and it sustains us all. It is really just about us wanting to be acknowledged as human beings. It was never about us wanting to be at the same standard as men, it is just about there being justice for all.”
Agreeing with Nova’s point, Lee admitted to being brought up in a patriarchal society that teaches men that women are supposed to be validated by men. “Aesthetically and even socially, that’s the reality. And in fact the simple truth is, from my observation, that a woman is considered a sister or a mother far sooner than they are an individual,” referencing comments made online during a Live Twitter Debate on Kim Kardashian’s “Break the internet” photo shoot on Paper magazine.
Kay then opened the next segment of the debate – which was about a range of phrases which often come up in discussions on gender. Phrases such as “Angry feminists”, “not all men”, “women hate women”, “men don’t do enough” and “feminists hate men”.
The debate grew increasingly heated as people picked a phrase and shared their experiences with the term. Audience members came out guns blazing as they picked their different phrases. “The quote that stood out for me most for me is ‘the angry feminist,’ an audience member passionately stated. “I think that as a young black woman who is supposed to be growing up in a democracy that is supposed to be all inclusive, I am perfectly justified when I find myself angry and when I see that society is actually so patriarchal. [I’m angry] when I witness my fellow sisters being excluded socially and economically in our country when we are the people that actually bear the burden of raising families.”
The conversation closed off with Kay asking if government has been doing enough to ensure that there is equality among men and women. As you would expect, the majority of people felt that government is not doing enough. Live Magazine’s Mpho Lehlongwa however, had an interesting response to offer to the question. “Before we can even speak about laws and policies, I really think that we need to look at ourselves first before those policies can work for us. What is going to happen if they start implementing those policies and we haven’t practised them socially? It can’t really work,” Mpho concluded.
As per usual, a number of hands were still raised high by the time Kay was forced to bring proceedings to an end.
After the debate, we caught up with the panelists again once more to gauge their impressions on how the debate went.
“I think today was great, it was really so necessary, thank you Live for doing this. This is the work that we need to do so we can construct each other, debate each other and challenge each other so this is really a step in the right direction,” – Panashe
“I think it was really good to see authentic comments come out like people saying what they really think. I think thats the purpose of such debates that people come through and generally reflect on things. So I’m really happy and looking forward to next year,” Lee.
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