“You want to understand how power works in any society, watch who is carrying the shame and who is doing the shaming.” – Shailja Patel
I am currently reading Rape: A South African Nightmare by Prof Pumla Gqola in a hope to better understand where we are as a country on the subject of rape, and from that discern what my role is, because we all can and must do better. The one part that has gripped me is where Prof Gqola speaks on Shame; and how it is a “function of oppression”, and how the act of shaming speaks to “who is valued and who is invisibilised in any society”. Which got me thinking on the concept of grievability (as discussed by Judith Butler); the idea that certain lives (read women in this case) cannot be held as being injured or lost, and in the case of rape violated, if they are not in the first place held as living – because how do we grieve someone, and what they have lost in being violated, that was essentially never alive to begin with? Therefore there is a need to interrogate the shaming of women and black women specifically, as it relates to sexual violence; because it is only logical that the ones who should be shamed and ashamed are those who have behaved badly – the rapists. It is therefore evident that shame is the creation of dehumanisation; “and [that] all the systems [such as patriarchy] of violent oppressive power produce shame in those they brutalise”. An example of this dehumanisation can be seen through the idea that there are people who can be raped and those who cannot, which goes back to the issue of grievability. Black women fall into that category of people who cannot be raped because their very existence is hypersexualised, and their lives are not seen as legitimate unless linked in some shape or form to that of a man – especially in relation to satisfying the sexual pleasures of men. The magnitude of Shame that they experience when they speak up about their violation, is not surprising, because how dare they defy the powers that be by acting like they matter in any way. And that further emphasizes that those that are favoured by patriarchy do not necessarily live in fear of being sexually violated – “they have been taught safety” – because they are the ones who hold the power to use sexual violence to communicate the magnitude of patriarchal power, to enforce submission and to punish those who dare to defy it. So how do we go about disrupting this narrative? I think we can achieve this by learning to not make shame a negative emotion but one that is a catalyst; because our failure to do this will ensure that the narrative surrounding Shame in relation to rape will continue to be illegitimately held and our stories will never be told in the ways that they should be. We need to be more proactive in breaking the silence; and by that I mean that we actually need to start talking about rape (specifically looking at dispelling the myths), talking about the micro and macro aggressions of rape culture, that we name and shame rapists (because the time of pretending that they are people we don’t know, who come from a different planet is over). And in addition to the abovementioned, and all the other strategies that exist (such as protests), we need ways in which to reclaim Shame that dismantle the current power dynamic – ways that change the dominant narratives and responses to sexual violence, ways that move the South African society to understand that rape is something that actually happens because our in our country, especially in relation to rape, “ to treat women as though they do not matter is deeply engrained in our culture…”.