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Drip. Drip. Drip.

8 Dec
It’s almost the end of the year, just one more script left to write, and then I can hang up my satirical pen until January. But before I do, there’s something I want to talk about.
It’s something that affects me pretty much every day of my life. And I don’t normally bother talking about it, because, truthfully, there are more important things to worry about.
Imagine if you had a drip over your desk, and once a day a drop fell down your neck. It’d annoy you, but you wouldn’t focus on it, just brush it off and move along. Maybe one day there’d be a couple of drops, but never enough to make you get up and do something about it.
As a woman who dares to have an opinion, and tries to be funny, I am harassed online by men every day. It ranges from mild antagonism to rape and death threats.
It’s exhausting.
Just yesterday, something I wrote caused rather more drips down the back of my neck than usual – three hundred and nine rape and death threats. Three hundred and nine men who took time out of their busy day to threaten me.
Yes, these people are idiots.
Yes, they’re not worth my time and energy.
Yes, men get threats too, although not generally the rape ones.
But it’s exhausting.
I have no answers here. No solutions.
I know for sure that I’m going to keep having opinions, and trying to be funny, and I’m definitely not shutting up. I know for sure that there are people in this world that I want to rile, that I want to make uncomfortable. And if I succeed, these people will probably threaten me.
But it’s exhausting.

What Rumpelstiltskin Means

8 Jan

Anyone who knows me will know I have a thing for words. They intrigue and inspire, they amuse and alarm. But there is seldom anything more satisfying than finding a single word which sums up neatly a situation or emotion. This is why “petrichor”, the smell of the earth after the rain, sticks more easily in our brains than, say “zugzwang”, a term used in chess to describe a situation where you have to make a move even though you’d be better off staying put. Zugzwang might have many useful metaphorical applications, but practically speaking, most of us, well, don’t play chess. But most of us have smelled the earth after the rain, and been struck by the sensory nature of that experience.

And so we collect these words which neatly sum things up, which are apt, and help us define and describe our worlds. This is why we fall eagerly upon lists of “untranslatable” words – because so often they manage to fill one word with an entire sentence of meaning. Who would use “being pleased at the misfortune of others” once they’d heard “schadenfreude”, or “to hesitate as you’re introducing someone because you suddenly forget their name” once you’ve encountered “tartle”?

But the joy of finding a word that explains something you’ve not before been able to express clearly outside of your own head extends far more deeply. How about learning the word “heartbroken” for the first time as a child? Learning that your heart could break, holding that concept. And then, at a point hopefully years later, feeling that word. Or, as my friend told me last night, what about learning the word “gay” for the first time, and knowing that was what describes an aspect of you?

In the tale of Rumpelstiltskin, knowing his name gave people power over him. This is an old trope of magic and fairy stories. And it’s a magic I believe in. Knowing the names for things, no matter how big or small, empowers us. Without words, ideas, emotions – even our very essence – can get lost inside us. Words, however fallible and feeble, allow us to hold things outside of ourselves, in a way that others can try to share. Choose your words carefully. Wear them like jewels.

 

Herrah

2 Aug

Women of our nation, have you been feeling more relieved than usual when taking your bra off at day’s end? Felt a little flutter of excitement at buying your “feminine hygiene” products? Well of course you have! It’s women’s month! And what a glorious month it is, August, the gateway drug to Spring.

What does women’s month mean, you ask? Why it means cocktail parties! Poetry readings! Events with “women” in their title! It means the world is pinker and frillier, and more inclined to be whimsical about things. It means discounts on makeovers and spa days!

This women’s month is even more exciting than usual, because, wait for it, we are naming the machines that will be printing the new ID cards after women that contributed to the struggle! That’s right, their contribution will no longer go unacknowledged. There’ll be an event on 9 August. There’ll probably be photos in the press and everything. I can barely contain my excitement.

You know what else women’s month means? Those silly chauvinists, griping about how there’s no men’s month! Aren’t they just adorable ladies? Don’t you just want to go on a diet, spend your month’s salary on beautification and new clothes, and then go on a date with them and giggle at all their jokes? I’ll bet you do.

Another simply fabulous thing about women’s month is that we get to hear from women about all sorts of issues in once off guest columns or interviews. Of course, we could never expect them to have opinions all year round, that would be ridiculous, but it’s spiffing to get an annual injection of femininity into the national discourse.

We also get to hear our politicians pay lip service to rape, domestic violence, sexism, and other trifling inconveniences that women face – and not only the Department of Women, Children and People with Disabilities, or those insightful minds at the ANC Women’s League, in August we discover that just about EVERY politician is doing things to help women. We just forgot to notice them.

A word to the wise though – don’t get carried away, and try and do womanly things in September or, heaven forfend, October, and expect anyone to be excited. Know your place. We have thirty one whole days dedicated to us, let’s not be greedy now.

Yes, August is a veritable whirl of womyn worship. And just think! Come 31 August we’ll be exactly where we are now. Only ever so slightly more jaded.

Odd Numbered List of Writing Rules

21 Jul

I have to confess that every time I see an article entitled “Seven Grammar Rules You Should Be Breaking” or “Five Steps To More Engaging Writing” I feel an urge to run for the metaphorical hills, find a nice dry cave, and become a hermit. I’d spend the rest of my days cackling at passing birds and developing a reputation for either madness or genius, safe from the tyranny of The Rules. It’s not the Incessant Capitals, nor the odd-numbered lists. It’s not even the likelihood that those articles will contain so much complex jargon that I’ll have developed a passionate and burning disinterest by the end of the first paragraph. No, it’s the veritable army of writing “gurus”, brandishing red pens and an absolute certainty that they know best.

It’s no secret that writers spend at least 50% of our time thinking “I could have written that better”.  As Romulus Linney put it, “There are three basic urges. Food, sex, and the urge to rewrite someone else’s play.” You’ve possibly thought it already in reading this, “bit ranty”, “not gotten to the point yet”. My point is: I have been writing for 14 years, and I’m not sure of much, really. I’m sure that I know excellent writing when I see it – and that bad writing is even easier to spot. I’m sure that most writing – including most of mine – occupies a murky middle ground. The good enough. The it’ll do.

What alarms me though is the way we try and terrify any new writer that dares put fingers to keyboard, and dream of a byline, a book spine, an author’s credit, their name on a poster. When I was starting out the established writers were either encouraging or indifferent. Some offered words of praise, some would be willing to give a serious critique of my work if I asked for it. As soon as I had work out there in the world, critics oozed praise, or harangued and decried.

But at no point did anyone hand me a rule book. Or insist that there was “one way” of writing. At most, writers would offer a “this worked for me” or “I learned this the hard way” anecdote. If I had been assaulted with endless litanies of dos and don’ts, checklists, taboos and best practices, as new writers are today, I doubt I’d be a writer. I’d probably have opted for marine biology after all.

It also seems to me absurd that people would impose the same writing rules on people writing novels as they do on those writing advertisements. A legal document must be clear and precise, and so must a poem, but the writing of the two is as different as chocolate and cheese.

How should you write? I’m not going to tell you that. But what I am going to tell you  is that if you want to write, you should. And that the only way you will get better is by writing, and sharing your writing with people. I worry that a generation of new writers are caught in an eternal internet loop of “9 Things Your Agent Should Tell You” and may never get to experience the thrill of:

“The End”

Radio Times

27 May

Recently, I’ve been whining a little about sexism in South African radio advertising. Okay, a lot. Many people have spoken out in agreement, many have shrugged their shoulders, some have called me a tedious obsessed feminist, some have tried to “explain” to me how advertising works. In particular, numerous people said to me “you might not be the target audience for that particular advert”.

I will happily embrace this notion. But I am not complaining about a single advert. I am complaining about an across the board stance as to how women feature – or, more to the point, don’t feature – in our radio advertising. Which brings us to that other gorgeous argument that was raised against me “the advertising is only sexist because society is”.

Ah, what a poetic defence. We’re bigoted because you are, society. We would love to be changing things up, really we would, but our hands are tied.

I call bullshit.

And why do I care, you may ask? I care because advertising – along with all aspects of media – shapes our cultural perspectives on the world. I care because my children listen to these radio stations – not just my children, but children in general, the children who will one day be running this country. And goshdarnit if we’re not jamming their heads full of our sexist notions.

But don’t just take my word for it – I decided it was time to back up my whining with some facts. And so today I sacrificed myself for the greater good, and I have been listening to the radio since 9:30am. I listened to 5fm for two hours, to Metro fm for 2 hours, and to Kfm for two hours each. And every time an advert came on, I made notes. Now, as tempting as it was, I didn’t note whether adverts are sexist or not, because that was liable to lead to arguments about objectivity. No, I went for something much simpler. I noted how many male voices I heard and how many female voices I heard.

malevsfemale

Yup. 71 male voices, 16 female voices. Or, if you prefer it, 82% male voices – this percentage stayed fairly constant throughout the day, and I’d venture to say it would have stuck in this vicinity had I had the willpower to continue.

And, because I couldn’t help myself, I also noted whether or not the gender of the “character” was referenced during the advert – ie mother, wife, girlfriend, husband, son. Any instance where the gender was not referenced was marked as “neutral”.

malevsfemale2

Of our 71 men, just 2 were in gender defined roles – in both instances they were part of a couple, in an advert where both male and female voices were in gendered roles. Of our 16 women, 7 were in gender defined roles. Leaving only 9 instances of women functioning in gender neutral roles.

I can hear it already. You’re busy saying “So what?”.

So we are being bombarded every single day with further examples of male dominance. When a new technological advance is being explained to us, chances are it’s a man doing the explaining (Unless that technological advance involves laundry). The proliferation of male voices reminds us, every single day, that women are not yet equal in this country.

Is our advertising sexist only because our society is sexist? I don’t know. But it’s sure as hell sexist because our advertising industry is. And, call me crazy, but if you want to differentiate yourself from the advertising morass out there on SA radio, maybe try casting a female voice to tell us why your product is awesome. Just, please, don’t call her sweetie.

Today

27 Apr

My grandpa’s memorial service was today.

Today is Freedom Day.

Much of what was said about him was about his time as a principal in the 1960s and 70s.

And about his principles, of respect, dignity, justice, freedom.

He made public statements calling for open schools, dreaming of a day when children of any race could attend any school.

Decrying the evil of apartheid.

So many people said that his speaking out, had made them speak up too.

Maybe not that day, but when their day came.

They remembered those principles, and stood by them.

Today, “his” school choir sang, and not a single child was white.

Today is Freedom Day.

I hear people say that because POSIB passed, we shouldn’t celebrate Freedom Day.

That because our country still faces devastating and real problems, we shouldn’t celebrate Freedom Day.

Do you look out and see clouds and decide it’s already raining?

And stay inside, and not go out again?

Or do you take an umbrella but go out anyway?

And dance in the sunbeams?

I say because we face challenges, we should celebrate harder.

Because our grandparents and parents fought so hard for the freedoms we do enjoy, we should celebrate harder.

Because we want our children and our grandchildren to have the freedoms we have and even more, we should celebrate harder.

This is our day, and we must speak up.

Not give up.

Today is Freedom Day.

Today my grandpa’s soul is free.

But his principles remain: respect, dignity, justice, freedom.

Happy Freedom Day.

Can’t you take a joke?

15 Feb

“When I said that I’d be faithful

When I promised I’d be true

When I swore that I could never

Be with anyone but you

When I told you that I loved you

With those tender words I spoke

I was only kidding

Now, can’t you take a joke”

–    Weird Al Yankovic

Comedy and tragedy are old bedfellows. They are the very symbol of the theatre, the two sides of the human coin. Being human, we flip between them – and I believe it is essential that we do so. I am a strong proponent of comedy, of laughter, of a basic need for the silly, happy and cheerful in our lives. I believe comedy can serve many purposes, from lighthearted entertainment to thought provoking boundary pushing satire.

I particularly believe that we need laughter in hard times. When Charlie Chaplin made “The Great Dictator” he said “we must laugh at Hitler”. We need humour to help us survive. To give us perspective. To feel less alone. To give us hope. To remind us what it’s like to be happy. We need humour to cope. When I am feeling miserable, one of the things that helps me most is this picture:

piglet

But that basic human need for comedy doesn’t mean we should turn everything into a big joke.

What many comedians, jokers, and assholes seem to forget, is that just as you have the right to make a joke, I have the right not to laugh. Or even to be offended by it. Yesterday I tweeted that I couldn’t take the Oscar jokes, and I was going offline (which I happily did). That was my personal response to the situation, and it is just as valid as saying that some people cope with death or tragedy by making jokes. Absolutely, people do. Warren Robertson makes this point eloquently in his article on the same subject , where he looks at John Cleese’s eulogy of his friend and colleague Graham Chapman.

There’s a world of difference between joking in a context of friendship, knowledge, a career forged in comedy that treads the line of taboo, and making crass jokes about women “forcing” their boyfriends to kill them, or being “taken out” for Valentine’s Day. And these jokes, piled endlessly on top of one another, in a context of a country grappling with horrifying rapes and domestic violence, should not go unprotested. Too often any complaint about a joke being distasteful is dismissed as the complainer not having a sense of humour. In some instances, it may be the “joker” who is devoid of humour and compassion (or even a basic grasp of spelling).

Humour is one of the most subjective things there is. Sometimes I don’t find jokes funny because I think they’re weak jokes, or jokes I’ve heard before. Sometimes I don’t understand them. Sometimes they piss me off. Because often humour, especially black humour is very close to the bone. And the thing about bones is, my bones are different from your bones.

As the incomparable Weird Al so delightfully illustrates for us: not all jokes are funny. And this is particularly true of those which are at someone’s expense. If you want to make those jokes, great news, you can, you are free to. But don’t be surprised if someone has a funny bone to pick with you.